DVD of the Week – Review of Rango (2011)


Rango is some kind of miracle. An adult-themed Western that’s also geared towards children because it’s 3D animated, it’s the most gorgeous looking 3D animated film I’ve ever seen.

After an accident occurs a nameless chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp) with aspirations of being a great stage actor is left on the side of a highway. A run-down (literally) armadillo (voiced by Alfred Molina) tells him that a town by the name of Dirt exists to the East. The chameleon is told that his destiny awaits him in that direction and, excited to be surrounded by an audience, he heads down there to find a bite sized Western-themed town where all of the citizens are animals that would be found in a desert environment. The chameleon quickly names himself Rango and takes on the character of a hero. After accidentally ridding the town of an attacking eagle he is made sheriff.

Rango learns of the water shortage problem that the town suffers from and attempts to find out what can be down about it. Seeing that the water only arrives once a week from a magical spout, Rango believes that there’s a foul plot afoot and that it may or may not involve the Mayor of Dirt (voiced by Ned Beatty).

Echoes of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) abound. Actually, the plot of Chinatown is stolen directly and used within this screenplay and the Mayor, although a turtle in this film, resembles John Huston’s character quite a lot. He is even quoted as saying, “Water, Mr. Rango. Water.”

Borrowing from a great source is one thing but actually making something good out of it is where this film excels. We care for the inhabitants of Dirt as they battle an unknown enemy that’s stealing their water supply and buying up their land. For the diehard action film fans there is an action sequence, masterfully conceived and shot, involving a giant water cooler container loaded onto a wagon, a handful of Dirtonians, and roughly a score of bats chasing one another though a massive canyon.

Director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy) teams up with George Lucas’ special effects company Industrial Lights and Magic in their first ever 3D animated, feature length film to deliver an action packed, masterfully shot and conceived Western that echoes and borrows from many other great sources and still manages to make something new. The voice talents are not just involved in ordinary motion capture- black suits covered with white balls that send signals to a series of computers that capture their movements and then later recording their dialogue in audio recording booths, but in a new process called Emotioncapture in which the actors act out their parts in full while wearing the motion capture suits. It allows the motion capture and sound engineers to capture both aspects in one swoop and the sounds of characters’ movements synch perfectly with the actors’. The final product looks and sounds seamless.

The animation and graphics in this film are stellar and as mentioned in the first paragraph, this is the greatest looking 3D animated film that I’ve seen. Pixar, long leading the 3D animation race around the world without any contenders, finally has a canyon-sized obstacle in its path.

Now, the thing that I love the most about this film is the fact that it pretends to be live-action. Although Dirt is inhabited by animals and the film is entirely rendered within a series of computers the motion capture of the actors is used to make the animated characters move like real ones do and the graphics go for a more live-action look instead of a cartoony one.

In summation, Rango is an animated film that prefers to believe that it’s live-action and as a result we have stunning graphics and animation, terrific performances, characters that we care about, a plot that makes sense, a bad guy that is steeped in a realistic form of evil and that exists in a recognizable realm, and, overall a really good time. This is one of the year’s best films so far and if I decide to make a top 10 list for 2011 I guarantee that I’ll leave a spot for this film in the top half.

Special features on the DVD include a never-before-seen ending; ten deleted scenes; a featurette called Meet the Real Creatures of Dirt; and a filmmakers’ commentary. The Blu-ray also adds a featurette called Breaking the Rules: Making Animation History; Storyboard Reel Picture-in-Picture; A Field Trip to Dirt; and a digital and a DVD copy of the film.

Helen Geib’s original Commentary Track review of Rango.

Other new releases this week: Arthur, Limitless, Take me Home Tonight


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