While I said that my Oscar column wouldn’t return for many moons (thank God), I was tempted to jump right back in after I saw ‘Rango’, the marvelous new animated feature by Gore Verbinski and the whizzes over at Industrial Light & Magic. So assured, so brilliant, so effortlessly strange is the movie, it might be the film that breaks the Pixar winning streak. Not that ‘Cars 2’ doesn’t look like a gem. (That was sarcasm.)
‘Rango’ is the story of our titular hero, a chameleon (Johnny Depp) whose suburban life is shattered, quite literally, when his terrarium gets knocked out of a family sedan. He’s stranded in the hot, harsh desert. What’s worse, he’s suffering from an identity crisis which has led him to question his very existential being.
He marches into the sand until he comes across Dirt, a classically Old West town that’s economically depressed (because its entire economy is centered around water). Seizing the stranger-in-a-strange-land opportunity, Rango identifies himself as a skilled gunslinger, and is quickly given the title of the town’s sheriff.
From here on out, the story gets considerably stranger. The story zigs and zags this way and that, eventually incorporating plot elements from ‘Chinatown’, a chase sequence that involves bats (which references ‘Apocalypse Now‘), and Bill Nighy showing up as a villainous rattlesnake. It’s sort of hard to keep up with the competing plotlines, but it’s always easy to enjoy.
The film was directed by Gore Verbinski, who made the similarly lush and odd ‘Pirates of the Caribbean‘ movies. This marks the first time that Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas’ wizardly visual effects house, has animated an entire feature, and boy is it a looker. Much of it was designed by Mark “Crash” McCreery, a noted creature designer with ILM. The film has a look all its own, which is great, because for long periods it just pauses and lets the characters stare into the camera, or talk amiably.
But what makes ‘Rango’ such a breath of fresh air is its unerring commitment to weirdness. I mean, this thing is bizarre. More than that, it’s wittily staged and executed. (The script is by John Logan, who has written everything from ‘Star Trek: Nemesis’ to ‘The Aviator‘.) It’s often quite funny, and a genuine pleasure to watch, unlike, say, 99% of the movies like this aimed at a similar audience. If you want something original, unique, and flat-out strange, ‘Rango’ is for you. I loved it.