Rango directed by Gore Verbinsi, written by John Logan
I’m not wholly smitten with the animated genre, but one of the reasons I loved the year 2009 to excess was because of the wide array of good animated films they had that year. My lateness in seeing Rango sort of represents my lateness in seeing almost every important 2011 flick. I didn’t go searching for reviews of it, but the quiet insistence that it was the first 2011 film to be assured of an Oscar nomination (for best animated flick) did pique my interest, somewhat. I couldn’t help but backtrack to 2009 when I was watching it, though. As a rule, I’m wary of animated films that become too overinvolved in having animals function as a stand-in for the film which becomes a spoof of a specific genre. The Fantastic Mr Fox is the exception to that, the situation works there because I’m much more willing to believe in the overall satiric nature of the situation there. With, Rango it’s a situation that’s much murkier.
Rango is a chameleon with an overactive imagination who gets lost in the desert and through a series of well-intended lies becomes the sheriff of a town in need of hope and with a debilitating water shortage, which is even more of a problem because water is the town’s leading commodity. I’m not altogether against films with plots that are easy to surmise, so it’s not a problem that you immediately know where Rango is headed. You know, almost immediately, that he’ll be a part of a series of hijinks where happenstance will assure the ostensible veracity of his outlandish claims until that fateful moment when all will be revealed where he will endure moments of severe self-doubts and then return at the end to save the day. It’s not an inherent flaw of the film, I could spew off a number of films which follow the same plot – some of them animated, some of them excellent. What Rango seems to lack, most obtrusively is a sense of humour and it’s a situation that’s especially damning when your film seems intent on being billed as an animated comedy.
…Not that Rango is an altogether humourless venture, though. The entire venture is permeated with a great amount of sincerity in that the film retains a sort of honesty, despite its spoof-like qualities. But, for me, that’s the problem when, though its heart is in the right place, it’s a bit too dour even in its attempts at hilarity. As obvious a character as it is, Ilsa Fischer’s loquacious lizard is a source of good laughs as is the faux Greek Chorus of mariachi owls. The first half of the film, wrought with a series of lucky mishaps on the part of our protagonist are well delivered. I’ve generally lost interest in Johnny Depp as an actor and Rango does sort of emanate that same sort of lazy shtick he’s become known for, post Sweeney. For the most part, though, the sincerity of the venture wins out and it works until somewhere around the two-third mark when the film seems to experience a sort of standstill which turns into a series of exposition-heavy turgid scenes. There is a brilliant action sequence in the desert where a carriage chase ensues and it succeeds as excellently as it does because Rango is beautiful to watch. It reminds me of how underrated animated films are when it comes to things like art direction and cinematography. But, after the craziness of that chase, the film seems to reach a halt. It doesn’t reach the point of being an unrewarding experience, there’s just that constant refrain on the tip of my tongue that this is a movie that could have been brilliant.
In the larger scheme of things, it’s hardly a dismal conclusion because Rango is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The animation is excellent and it occasionally rises to levels of smartness oft-forgotten in the animated medium. Is it assured of an Oscar nod? I don’t know. Maybe. I’m hoping for something a little better from animators this year, though.