Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Good, The Bad and the REALLY Ugly -- Reflections on "Rango" (2011)

We are who we say we are.

 just may be the ugliest looking movie I've seen in a long time.

And I mean this as a compliment.

Gore Verbinski (The Ring, Pirates of the Caribbean) has taken his considerable talents to the animated feature and given us not only an excellent animated movie, but an excellent film. Rango may be advertised as a child's movie about a western chameleon, but it's really is an existential Western that draws influence from some of the greatest films ever made. The Good the Bad and the Ugly, High Noon, Blazing Saddles, and Chinatown are all on display here, but not in that wink-wink-nudge-nudge way that most children's animated movies seem to do when they want parents to feel like they're in on a joke. The influences are in the language of the film, the way the story's told, revealing the director's vision as opposed to showing how clever he is.

The story of Rango involves an unnamed chameleon who spends his days making up stories, re-inventing himself, and putting the moves on a decapitated Barbie doll. After an accident, he finds himself in the middle of the desert, thirsty and uncertain of his future. A series of events lead him to the desert town of Dirt, populated by the ugliest faces we've seen since Sergio Leone hung up his jock strap.

Dirt's residents are facing a water crisis, which gives our chameleon friend an opportunity to find purpose and re-invent himself as Rango, the badass town Sheriff, whose arrival ushers in an era of hope. Rango finds things a bit harder than expected as he has to deal with an group of outlaws, the shady town Mayor, and the wicked Rattlesnake Jake.

The plot hits some familiar beats, but the joy of the film is in the details. The faces of the people, so ugly, are distinctive and full of character. The design of Dirt is a marvel, looking like a place that has been lived in, despite being built out of junk left behind in the desert. And the moment of truth for our hero, which we knew had to come, leads to a great piece of dialogue: "No man can walk out on his own story." This film is pop-philosophy at its best.

Rango is a wonderful film for those who love cinema.

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