There are so many things to like about the new animated feature “Rango.” With a perfect cast, some very funny and memorable moments and a beautifully designed look, this is a film that rivals anything from Pixar or the first two “Shrek” films. While the film might play a little too much to the adult audience, it is still a jewel that is sure to be appreciated by youngsters as well.
“Rango” tells the story of a domesticated chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp) who accidentally winds up in the town of Dirt. It’s a town right out of the Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns - a lawless outpost in the Wild West in desperate need of a new sheriff.
The chameleon talks his way into the job, developing a persona named “Rango” - a sharpshooting, no-fear outlaw capable of standing up to any villain who crosses his path.
The townsfolk buy his story, making him the new lawman of Dirt. But Rango’s dream job quickly turns into a nightmare when he uncovers the shady dealings of the town’s corrupt mayor (Ned Beatty), who is using the town’s dwindling water supply for his own financial gain.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, the man behind “The Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Rango” uses stop-motion animation - having the actors act out their parts and then translating it to the animation process.
The result is a fully realized creation that is as wonderful as any recent animated film. I was really impressed with the details of the look of the film, with the town’s buildings made from everything from Pepto-Bismol cups and mailboxes to gasoline cans. This is a film that clearly draws its inspiration from the Eastwood Westerns, with a result that pays homage to the genre quite well.
The script is also quite smart for an animated film, with pop culture references ranging from “Chinatown” to Hunter S. Thompson and Eastwood among the film’s highlights.
It all could have been diminished slightly if the cast didn’t work, but “Rango” doesn’t have that problem. Depp is as good here as he is in the “Pirates” franchise. He has plenty of support from Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Beatty and Alfred Molina providing some memorable work as well.
I will concede that the film sometimes seems more focused on entertaining its older audience and tends to play above young children. Ultimately, I don’t think that will be too much of a problem because I think there is enough to like for all ages.
That might well be the reason why “Rango” works so well. It’s a film that can play on multiple levels, and succeed at every turn.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is the Oscar winner from director David O. Russell, “The Fighter” (A-), a gripping family drama with a strong cast.
Based on the true story of boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), “The Fighter” follows Ward’s rise from fringe fighter to world champion and his troubled path to glory that includes a domineering mother/manager (Melissa Leo) and his half brother/trainer Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a former boxer himself who is battling a crack addiction.
Marketing for “The Fighter” has centered on the boxing element of the film, but what really makes this film work are the strong family dynamics and two Oscar-winning performances that overshadow solid work from Wahlberg and Amy Adams.
Leo won the Academy Award for best supporting actress, playing a character who is a far cry from her tender and quiet work in “Frozen River.” Leo strikes all the right notes, even managing to get a little sympathy out of a character who is hard to like.
But Bale (who won the Oscar for best supporting actor) is the real star of “The Fighter,” giving a career performance as a man still living off past glory (his claim to fame is a disputed knockdown in a fight against Sugar Ray Leonard in the 1970s). At first, Bale feels a little cartoonish, but as the film progresses the performance evolves.
Bale’s performance alone makes “The Fighter” worth the rental price, although there is so much more at work here in one of the best films of 2010.
“The Fighter” is rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality, and will be available on DVD on Tuesday.