Friday, March 18, 2011


Ah, Rango. The movie posters up at a bus stop near you have a chameleon in a Hawaiian shirt clutching a wind-up fish toy and staring anxiously out. What message about the story does this convey? First, that we’re in a world where animals wear people clothes—and yes, they all do, but we never encounter any humans having a reaction to it—and secondly, that Rango and his pet wind-up fish are going to get up to all sorts of adventures. But alas, the poster lies, and those of you who are fans of wind-up fish toys in their movies are going to be sorely disappointed when he is cast aside within three minutes.

Of course the Wind-Up Fish Fan Club has a pretty small following but honestly, the advertising campaign for this movie has it all wrong. I went to see Rango because I’ll go see virtually anything that is animated (though the godawful trailer for Mars Needs Moms will nix that particular movie) but I wasn’t expecting much, just the silliness provided by the ad and a vacant-eyed fish that for all I know would end up talking a la Gnomeo & Juliet/Toy Story 3. I’m also a bit sick of Johnny Depp parading around in his current only roles as Ham In A Silly Hat, and as he voiced Rango, I expected Ham Via Voice Only. Instead of all that, Rango is actually totally incredible, from its flawless animation to the western/Hunter S Thompson in-jokes to the not-for-toddlers drama and violence. It is an amazingly funny movie, Johnny Depp is restrained—and unless you’ve got an ear for such things, you won’t recognise any of the other famous actors either—and it is so much fun you should barrel right over there to see it now. Quick, open another tab on your computer, see where Village is showing it near you (they have better popcorn, though Hoyts have a good point system. Join up and Palace is cheapest, however. Anyway do what I do and join them all. Memberships make me feel important.)

Depp is Rango, a chameleon cast accidentally out of his happy tank life on a trip through the desert. (That scene, of Rango flying along the ground on a piece of shattered glass, is one of the first visually magical moments in the film; there are at least a hundred more.) During his quest for water in a place so hot liquid evaporates on the ground upon contact, Rango happens upon a lizard named Beans (Isla Fisher, unrecognisably twangy), who alarmingly has bosoms, wears a prudish Southern dress, and freezes completely when alarmed. She leads him to her home village of Dirt, a desolate desert town where all the buildings are animal-sized (and all the animals sized the same as each other, but hey, it’s not like everything else is realistic here until that point) and the people all in desperate need of water. But something sneaky is happening to the water, and Rango, the newcomer who uses his theatrical skills to pretend he is tough when in fact he’s a city slicker like you probably are (and I certainly am) is declared the salvation the town is waiting for.

This is Industrial Light and Magic’s first foray into entirely animated film, and I will throw down and say it’s the best-animated movie I’ve ever seen. We’ve all seen talking animals before, but all these animals are so gloriously convincing, full of expression and texture, that it will blow your mind. Seeing it on the big screen was really something else. Other than that (because really, half of my notes on the film were things like “it looks fucking amazing”, but you probably get the hint by now) I’d like to first express that it’s not really a film for the littlies, with nightmarish dream sequences and an armadillo squashed on the road in the first five minutes with a tyre print along his now-flat belly. (He’s actually fine—or at least a talking ghost, who knows—but I did hear a little whimpering and even some little gasps from the adults, and possibly me.) Another amusing scene ends up with a squished villain, which is funny, and a relief, but still pretty violent.

Cutting insults include “Missing your mommy’s mangoes?” and “If I see your face in this town again, I’m going to slice it off and use it to wipe my unmentionables”, and also confusing to small children would be this line: “We’re experiencing a paradigm shift.” (My favourite noted line was “I’m gonna strip away this mystery and expose its private parts.”) The start is pretty existential, though amusing all the same. And in case you didn’t already get a Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas vibe from Johnny Depp and his alarming shirt, an actual cameo from Duke and Dr Gonzo careening past in their car will get the point across.

My only issue with Rango was that it petered out a bit at the end once it started following a predictable storyline when Rango’s lies catch up with him—it’s a story we’ve seen before, and up until that point it had been so fabulously original I was sad to see it happen. It remained completely hilarious and entertaining, though, so I don’t really mind. And if this is ILM’s first outing, I am desperate to see their second.

In summary: Exceeds Expectations. An all-round wonderful movie and yet another lesson, started with KFC’s Colonel, that anyone wearing white in the dusty South is up to no good.

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