Unilaterally Sarcastic, Dangerously Cheesy

Film Review – Rango

Rango might be a film that’s a little too smart for its own good. It’s a film that suceeds as much as an ode to the western genre as it does as an animated kid’s film. I doubt that many of the younger audience will understand many of the film’s sly references. They’re far too grounded in the pop culture of the past than the yuk-a-minute pop culture references of something like the Shrek films which act as sort of the opposite of this film where the story is meaningless and serves only as the springboard to launch a million references to whatever is currently worth poking a half-hearted satirical stick at. With Rango, Gore Verbinski brings us a film that has almost as much emphasis on the story and character development as your average Pixar film. At the same time, the film acts as a loveletter to the great westerns of the past. Through the tone, the imagery, and even the direct “hey, look at that” references. From the singing owls that echo the chorus singers of Cat Ballou, to the Lee Van Cleef inspired Rattlesnake Jake, to the surprising character who appears towards the end of the film as “the Spirit of the West.” It doesn’t hurt that that Roger Deakins came along for the ride as a visual consultant.

I give Rango a lot of credit because it heavily works against the grain of what you would expect a film like this to be. One would expect the film to be a throwaway entity, one with no real substance that only exists to provide a quick burst of entertainment and then ride into the sunset. The problem of course is that with people like Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp involved you can also expect to get something out of the ordinary, and so the film becomes a bit of a pardox in and of itself because of the clash between expectations and what is presented. I think that children will enjoy a good bit of the physical comedy and the action sequences are certainly quite good. Nobody will ever accuse the movie of boring the little ones. But to truly appreciate a film like this it really helps to have grown up on a steady diet of Sergio Leone. Honestly, this is one of the better westerns of the last few years. Many of that genre are small-budget castoffs that get sent straight to Netflix nowadays but every once in a while we get one that really nails what’s so great about the genre. Stuff like Open Range or True Grit. This falls squarely into that category.

I also have to give the film props for not going with a gimmicky post-conversion to 3D scam. Every damned trailer before the movie was for some 3D spectacle and the novelty is beginning to wear off, if it already hasn’t. Rango lets the experience stand on its own merit without resorting to parlor tricks with ugly glasses. I don’t think anything could have been gained from going 3D and I don’t think that not having the option will hurt ticket sales all that much. If it does, it says something really sad about the way movies are packaged nowadays.

But the real point I’m trying to make is this; just go see the movie. It’s worth your time and that’s more than you can say about a few other films in wide release this weekend.

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