Monday, March 7, 2011

Rango; Or Fear and Loathing Slightly Outside Las Vegas

Before anything else, you need to know this about Rango: do not take small children to see this film, unless they are among the small minority of kids that enjoy nightmares, Hunter S. Thompson references, and filthy sexual innuendo.  If they are, please report yourself to Social Services.  But if you are an adult looking for a bizarrely good time, go see Rango
The film opens on Johnny Depp being reliably insane, setting up the framing metaphor of a chameleon with identity issues, desperately trying to direct and star in a play of his own invention, cast mainly with the inanimate objects that litter his tank.  This isn't exactly a subtle image, but its a brilliant one.  Actors define identities for a living, but moving between roles can leave them without their own personalities, especially ones whose roles sometimes descend into impressions *cough*. The emotional themes of the film are loneliness, authenticity, and defining identity, and all of them are right there in one scene, before we have any inkling of plot, while still feeling relevant.  Just as a feat of screenwriting, that is admirable in its efficiency and eloquence, and a tribute to the talent of script craftsman John Logan.  Our reptilian hero is next ejected from the car in which he was apparently being transported, just as he came to the realization that any story needs conflict, and the post-modern credentials of the film mount further.  One in-retrospect-malfittingly-zany action sequence and Raoul Duke cameo later, and we're straight to the mexican armadillo with the ability to regenerate from bisection in a few moments time on a philosophical pilgrimage to find the Spirit of the West, and the plot is in motion.  Do you remember when I said this movie was not for children?  Its because its impossible to even make sense of a description of the events in Rango whilst sober.  Knowing that, I'm going to allow all of you to take a short break and ingest the mind altering substance of your choice.  In the spirit of the father of Gonzo, I recommend Peyote or Ether, whichever you happen to currently have in the trunk of your convertible (Note: I do not actually ingest or recommend hallucinogenic drugs.  Please do not report me to the internet police)

Back?  If these words appear to be crawling from the screen in order to attack you, you're still too high.  Go play with this until you feel better.  For the rest of you, rest assured that there's actually a reason behind this nonsensicality, which also explains the unique animation and the seemingly random call-back to Depp's previous, much more drug soaked role.  The animation, created in ILM's first foray into a full digital film, is advised and heavily influenced by Ralph Steadman, Gonzo artist extraordinaire and the animator behind the images that have become forever associated with HST's books.  The sense of weirdness and absurdity inherent in that style infects every aspect of the film, from the gleefully mad, pitch perfect voice acting to the hypnotically kinetic action to the gorgeously colored acid trip-esque landscape.  Ultimately, that is a good thing.  Rango has no major faults, and is unlike any other experience you'll have at the movies in the foreseeable future while still being accessible and acceptable on a tween level.  Its gorgeous to look at, fun to watch, intellectually rewarding on its postmodern levels, the best western satire since Blazing Saddles, and a great western in its own right.  With heavyweight Pixar's only scheduled film this year a sequel to their least critically well received film ever, Dreamworks serving up a Shrek spin-off and a Kung Fu Panda sequel, and Disney taking another Robert Zemeckis guided trip into the uncanny valley, the Animated Film oscar might already have been won for 2011.

Oh, and for those of you either still on the fence or still tripping, I'll leave you with this:
Yes, that is a gigantic, black-hat rattlesnake with a gattling gun for a rattler.  Let me repeat that - A giant. Rattlesnake.  Gattling gun for a rattler.  Played as a perfect western villain.  By Bill Nighy.  If that alone is not enough reason for you to see this film, something is wrong with your sense of awesome

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