Review: “Rango” is fun for kids and adults

March 4th, 2011 at 12:01 am by under Entertainment

I’m not ready to crown this the early leader for Best Animated movie of 2011, but since “Rango” feels more like a movie than a cartoon, its certainly in the class of movies like previous winners/nominees “Toy Story 3″, “Up”, “WALL-E”, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, and “How To Train Your Dragon”.   “Rango” is better than recent enjoyable animated movies like “Kung Fu Panda” and “Despicable Me” that feel a lot more cartoon-ey than an actual movie.

However, if you’re watching this with a kid under 10, consider yourself warned, because there is an underlying theme of pending death that is, in one scene particularly, exaggerated … and that may be too much for younger kids.
  

   (My spoiler-free review)

“Rango” is a fun animated adventure that kids and adults can enjoy.  The story is set in the classic western format (with scared townsfolk, lawman, gunslinger, outlaws, bandits, showdowns) and puts you in that mindset with the opening titles and a mariachi band of owls as the narrators.

Our main character is easily relatable for kids as a “fish-out-of-water” trying to fit in, but the wannabe actor (perfect for consummate actor Johnny Depp) “Rango” is an accidental hero who is as clueless as he is brave.   The opening scenes gives us a lot of what we need to know about the main character before we get to the main conflict, but the writers continue to develop ”Rango” as the story unfolds.   The chameleon spends the entire movie trying to blend in figuratively and literally.  “Rango” is naturally colorful with his light green skin and Hawaiian shirt while the town’s people wear drab colors of gray, brown, and black.  “Rango” is also a charming and bold character while the scared western townsfolk are quiet and timid.

This spirited movie has a whole ecosystem of likeable and memorable characters – the filmmakers not only put a lot of effort into creating a familiar gritty western community, but the different animals playing different characters were brilliant choices.  A squirrel plays the banker, the wise old mayor is a tortoise, a crow plays the mysterious native-raven, and a fox as the mayor’s secretary - while snakes and scray lizards play the bad guys.

Clearly, a lot of thought was put into this movie that also features silly stuff for kids and other fun stuff for adults.  Some nice non-spoiler touches include: “Rango” shedding layers of skin in the desert sun, riding roadrunners for horses, the measuring for a coffin (inside joke often seen in westerns), a chase scene reminiscent of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, and Los Lobos singing the ”Rango” theme.

The voices of Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, and Ray Winstone among others add depth to the solid animation and development of the huge cast of characters.

“Rango” also feels less like a cartoon and more like a movie as characters realistically interact with the environment - the dust, the dirt, the water, the shadows, the heat – all feel real.   There’s also “camera shots” that are thought out for more than just storytelling purposes – they add depth to the scene and characters.  

THE BOTTOM LINE:

This movie may be set in the western movie format that adults will recognize, but its core is boiled down to the digestible basics for kids – classic good versus evil.  Because it plays so much more like a movie than cartoon, I give it a spirited 7.5 out of 10.

  “Rango”

(2011) (rated: PG for rude humor, language, action and smoking)
(1 hr, 47 min)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant, Ray Winstone

Director: Gore Verbinski  ["Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (2007), "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (2006), "The Weather Man" (2005), "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" (2003), "The Ring" (2002), "The Mexican" (2001) ]

Genre: Animated/Action/Adventure

The Plot: A chameleon that aspires to be a swashbuckling hero finds himself in a Western town plagued by bandits and is forced to literally play the role in order to protect it.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

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“Rango” poster courtesy Paramount Pictures

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