I wasn't going to see RANGO until I heard a favorable review on NPR. I'd seen a couple of ads, and all it looked like was a new kids' movie—I figured I'd see it when it was streaming. But then Bob Mondello, while considering all things, told me what I needed to know—it has a story, it is beautiful, and it's for people who love movies.
If you love movies, go see this film.
Gore Verbinski (director of the PIRATE OF THE CARIBBEAN films) pairs with Johnny Depp again in this first feature by INDUSTRIAL LIGHT AND MAGIC. Light and magic indeed. Rarely do I like it when I'm actually taken out of a story by how visually amazing it is—I'm willing to make an exception here (I was not similarly moved by AVATAR, as there was no story to take me out of). Some of the shots are breathtaking, as Verbinski uses the "camera" in exciting and lovely ways. The textures make you want to reach out to feel what you're seeing (not in an annoying 3-D way).
The light and the dust/dirt are so real they're practically characters.
Our movie's chorus
This film is stunningly beautiful. Go see it on the big screen.
The story makes it worthwhile too. I'm not a huge Western fan (besides space Westerns [STAR WARS, FIREFLY], THE THREE AMIGOS, and TOMBSTONE); thus, I've been a bit wary of their resurgence. However, if they're all going to be like TRUE GRIT and RANGO, bring it on!
If you've ever watched a Western, you'll anticipate some of the tropes (like the worry about why the town never currently has a sheriff when our hero walks in). This is a loving homage to specific films in the genre and the genre itself, but it's not stealing anything wholesale—-it's just using the conventions of the form.
Our hero is a man with no name. Sure, we'll call him Rango, but we never know his original name. This is an important point. Rango's character harkens back to all everymen, all men with no name, all characters who just don't know who they are. The most repeated line in the film is "Who are you?" and with good reason—Rango doesn't know. Neither do we.
Here's what we do know, though. Rango is a chameleon. We only get to see him change colors once, but his being a chameleon is central to the metaphorical significance of his character (and this film know what a metaphor is—they talk about it). His being torn between figuring out who he is and trying to fit in by being like his surroundings is not clear cut—in other words, his search for identity is messy and confused, like it's supposed to be.
And if you're worried that Depp will just be doing his PIRATES' role, don't worry—if you didn't know it was Depp, you would just think it was a really good voice actor. He's a chameleon here, too. (This is true for most of the voices—you will not be able to guess most of the leads.)
If you're worried that this is a kids' movie, don't. When I saw the film on Sunday, the audience had a wide range of ages. Each age set had its own laughs. I think my age range laughed more than the young ones. The fact that there's a clumsy chameleon on screen who will keep young people entertained does not mean that this movie is for them. In fact, this movie is a bit too scary for the youngest of the young. Much of the dialogue will go over their heads; adults are speaking. Not every plot point is spelled out for the toddler set.
The movie references are for the adults as well. This movie is layered with them. One reference will come as a very fun surprise—I won't say anything else about it.
The dialogue sparkles with cutting wit, silly jokes, and that old-fashioned diction we expect from Westerns.
I can't entirely do this film justice in a short review, especially since I know I didn't catch every joke on the first viewing. I guess I'll have to go see the movie again. I hope to see you there.
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