by Tim Ross
Animated films have been with us since the early 20th century and have always had a place in our Hollywood-loving hearts.
The technology that makes animation possible has evolved over that time from individual, hand-drawn plates to the computer animation we see today.
“Rango” represents the latest step in that technology. It’s simply the most vibrant, detailed and brilliantly rendered animation I’ve ever seen. If only the story was as strong as the art, it would truly be a film to remember.
Rango (voiced by Johnny Depp) is a chameleon who’s cast abruptly out of his predictable, comfort-filled life into a small town of other animals. Each creature, whether it be bird, badger or bat, is rendered in such detail, so saturated in color and so accurate in anatomical features, that it seems as if you are seeing the real thing.
Neither the animators nor director Gore Verbinski cheat on details with the use of too many long or group shots. There are extreme close-ups of every animal – every scale, feather and multi-colored iris in place.
Our little chameleon (who curiously almost never uses his power to blend in) is lost and among strangers in the town of Dirt. Its inhabitants are in desperate need of water and, most importantly, a hero to deliver it. Through a series of misadventures, Rango stumbles toward becoming the hero he fantasized about in his former life.
Depp inhabits Rango with a voice that dive bombs, goes falsetto and is peppered with dozens and dozens of squeals, burps, yelps, mumbles and ad-libs. His performance comes off as forced and manic. Perhaps this is his reaction to the laid-back nature of his recent roles in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, also directed by Verbinski, and his laconic turn in “The Tourist.”
Here again, technology trumps creativity as Verbinski and the sound design team break the rules of typical movie-sound recording. For “Rango,” actors ran, jumped and basically acted out the scenes, complete with movement, while crew members with recorders followed their every move. That’s generally unheard of in animation, where actors are placed in sound-proof booths to record dialogue.
Virtually every moment of the film is coupled with rich sound effects such as the scurry of paws, the rushing of water and the tick of a clock. The sound atmosphere is as beautifully drawn as the animation. But a film can be pretty to look at, fun to listen to and still have little to say.
“Rango” moves along toward a predictable ending where our lead will become a hero, the town will be saved and he just might get the girl, but there are too many diversions that distract from the narrative. Some scenes gave the impression that they were written just to show off the animation. Luckily, it was well worth showing off.
I brought my boys, almost 5 and 6 ½ years old, to the film and their attention wavered more than in recent offerings such as the “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole,” “Megamind” and “Tangled.” Perhaps it was the multiple threads of the story. Perhaps it was the tangents, such as the old Zen master popping up to vaguely discuss a spiritual quest. Or maybe it was the ridiculous scene introducing us to the Spirit of the West (I won’t play spoiler).
Maybe it was simply that the animation was so good we got lost in it instead of the story, but Rango’s tale failed to capture me. Luckily for moviegoers in search of a film to escape with this weekend, the look of the movie will be with you long after you forget the voice acting and the story.
Grade: 3/4 Stars