The incomparable Johnny Depp voices Rango, a chameleon living as an ordinary family pet who dreams of being a fearless hero and is challenged to become just that when he inadvertently becomes the sheriff of a lawless desert town called Dirt.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
For his first foray into the world of feature-length animated films, Gore Verbinski delivers a delightful charmer that doesn't quite cut it as kid-friendly. Despite the Nickelodeon brand plastered at the start of the movie, much of the dialogue and action will easily fly over most kids' heads. There are even a few curse words used by some characters. It's nothing at the R-rated or even PG-13 level, but they're clearly expressed as harsh language and far from anything we'd ever expect to hear in a Pixar flick. Speaking of which, the basic story of 'Rango' isn't any more difficult to follow than any of that studio's other movies, but again, kids are likely to be bored by it and maybe even think it complicated.
Still, in this age of postmodern filmmaking, 'Rango' is an absolute hoot, and I loved every minute of it. From its plainly self-aware opening to its genre-nudging closing, the movie is a splendid joy to watch, as long as viewers keep to one caveat. That being it's a true western in every way imaginable and directed more at adults, especially those familiar with the genre and other classic films. Think of it as something of an animated Quentin Tarantino picture with less graphic violence or the long-winded, explicit dialogue. 'Rango' is one big, extravagant-looking mashup of references with nods to several Sergio Leone films, the Gary Cooper classic, 'High Noon,' and other great westerns. We even get a witty cameo appearance from the Man with No Name, voiced with perfect pitch by Timothy Olyphant.
Johnny Depp stars as the title character, a fast-talking chameleon with lots of imagination but lacking the proper outlet. Once released from the confines of his aquarial prison, which is a terrifically clever beginning that warns on being careful of what you ask for, the little green lizard in a Hawaiian shirt sets out into the harsh barren landscape in search of a meaningful plot to his life. Over the years, Depp has proven himself one of the most gifted actors in front of the camera and in 'Rango,' he also reveals he's a brilliant voice talent. He provides the perfect balance of slapstick farce and charm required in a silly comedy about an accidental hero meant as an amusing homage to Don Knotts.
The following day, the nameless but eccentric lizard comes across a quaint desert settlement named Dirt and soon surmises he's back in the Old West, quickly becoming the savior the townsfolk desperately need. During his time there, he meets Beans (Isla Fisher), another lizard frantically trying to save her family's ranch and incessantly suspecting a larger conspiracy is afoot, while being cross-examined by the precocious little lemur Priscilla (Abigail Breslin). Ned Beatty joins the cast as the source of conflict, providing the voice to a mayoral desert tortoise, and Ray Winstone is one of his outlaw henchmen, whose own gang includes a Klaus Kinski rabbit. Things really turn intense, however, when Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) and his Gatling gun tail arrive into town.
But before Rango is thrust into finding his inner hee-roe and fight off these no-good varmints, he must investigate Dirt's water shortage. For cinephiles everywhere, the plot wonderfully evolves into a cross between 'Chinatown' and 'Once Upon a Time in the West.' It's a terrific marriage of themes from two greatly beloved classics that works surprisingly well with a satisfying conclusion. Other than for Gore Verbinski, 'Rango' also marks the first feature-length animated film from ILM, and the results are astonishing. The incredible amount of visible, microscopic detail is spectacular, simply some of the best CGI work seen in years. And with a thoroughly entertaining story to boot, 'Rango' makes for a memorable animated picture parents and adults are more likely to enjoy.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount Home Entertainment and Nickelodeon Studios bring Gore Verbinski's 'Rango' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. Housed in a blue eco-case with a bright orange, embossed cardboard slipcover, the Region Free, BD50 disc starts with two coming-soon theatrical previews and a promo for two video games. Afterwards, the normal menu selection fills the screen. When pressing "Play," viewers are asked to select between the 107-minute theatrical release and the 111-minute extended version. The difference is extra dialogue, a few extended sequences and the alternate ending which can be watched separately in the deleted scenes section. The second disc is a DVD-9 of the movie with digital copy.
'Rango' debuts with a phenomenal AVC-encoded picture that is sure to make jaws drop.
From the moment it commences until the end credits light up the screen, viewers will be amazed at the incredible levels of detail. Every little nuance and variation on Rango's scaly skin is plainly observable, and all the other furry critters roaming about the town of Dirt come equipped with sharply distinct hairs that seem to move independently of each other. The facial and body movements of some creatures are simply astounding with breathtaking realism and lifelike motion. The architecture of the town is also sharply defined with exceptional clarity, exposing every tiny imperfection, splinter and grain on the rotting pieces of wood. There is so much information to take in that the picture quality alone demands repeat viewings.
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the high-def transfer displays a gorgeous array of colors. Struck directly from its digital source, primaries are richly saturated while the softer hues show a vivid glow throughout. Not quite as dynamic as other animated features, but they're a deliberately artistic choice that's as equally striking and dramatic. The palette is expressive and beautifully arresting, leaving viewers with something to remember it by. Contrast runs intentionally hot and brilliant, but it's crisp and right on the money from beginning to end, allowing for superb visibility of the most miniscule details in the far distance. Black levels, too, are intensely inky and luxurious with elegant gradational detail. A case in point is Rango's initial arrival to town and when entering the saloon, nothing is obscured by the dark, dingy shadows. The transfer also exhibits some of the best three-dimensional depth we've seen in a while, making it a top competitor for this year's best video presentation.
Gore Verbinski's first animated feature comes blasting out of the gate with a thoroughly enjoyable DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
Admittedly, the design carries a noticeably front-heavy presentation, but it also seems to be an artistic choice. Nevertheless, the quality is splendid with an endless display of activity all across the soundstage, providing the screen with a warm and inviting presence.
The lossless mix as a whole feels spacious with a very wide expanse in the imaging. Room-penetrating dynamics are crystal-clear with amazing clarity detail that perfectly differentiates between the highs and mids. One fantastic scene is when a dress-wearing Rango hangs from a rope while flying through the air. The sudden shift from intensely loud action to a whispered tranquility is absolutely smooth and highly dramatic. When we switch back to the thunderous mayhem, the track never falters or loses perspective, maintaining a sharply clean mid-range throughout. A powerful, walloping low-end is also there to assist with spotless response and an appreciable full-bodied extension.
Amid all the noise and commotion, dialogue remains intelligible and precise, so viewers never miss Depp's many funny lines. Rear activity is filled with several discrete effects, but it doesn't always offer a fully immersive experience. Instead, atmospherics and movement into the back seem employed so as to open up the soundstage and enhance the soundfield. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with this because it makes for a wonderfully satisfying mix in a terrific animated film.
'Rango' hits store shelves day-and-date as its DVD counterpart and shares a few of the same supplements.
- Audio Commentary — Available only on the extended version, the track features a satisfyingly informative chat with director Gore Verbinski, writer James Ward Byrkit, production designer Mark "Crash" McCreery, animation director Hal Hickel, and visual effects supervisor Tim Alexander. The conversation is generally focused on the technical aspects of the production, like the animation and design of characters and the town. A few comments are related to the story, motivations and its themes. It's an interesting discussion full of insight into the world of computer-generated animation and design. Fans will surely want to give it a listen.
- Real Creatures of Dirt (HD, 22 min) — Exactly as the title suggests, this is an educational piece on the animals featured in the film, with interviews of filmmakers and hosted by an animal expert.
- Deleted Scenes (HD) — Ten scenes which didn't make it to the final cut are collected here, but they can be seen in the extended version, especially the alternate and arguably better ending.
Gore Verbinski's 'Rango' is a thoroughly enjoyable postmodern western that essentially celebrates the spirit of the west. With voice talents, ranging from Johnny Depp and Isla Fisher to Ned Beatty and Bill Nighy, ILM's first animated feature is a comedic blast that may or may not perform as well with the kiddies as it will with older cinephiles. Nevertheless, it's a fun movie with a demo-worthy video and audio presentation that will viewers dumbfounded by its immense beauty and detail. The bonus collection is also an entertaining look into the making of the film, making the entire package highly recommended for fans.
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