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*For those wondering, yes, I've seen this movie (legally, of course) and thought I'd beat the critics to the punch for once. Don't worry, there are NO SPOILERS here, but there's a summary of the earlier parts of the plot.*
It won't take long for you to realize this isn't your standard Nickelodeon animated film. Previous efforts(?) such as Jimmy Neutron and Barnyard were passable at the best of times, Rango is something entirely different. It isn't cheap slapstick, wisecracks and bathroom humor (maybe a little on that one, but in more conversational ways), this is a full-blown western through and through, never is it afraid of saying things like "I'll put this bullet through your head" and things of that nature. This is a Nickelodeon movie that adults will probably appreciate more than children.
Rango tells the story of a chameleon (voiced by Johny Depp, in a very unique Johny Depp manner), who prides himself as an actor, with the rest of his "troupe" consisting of a headless, one-armed, no-legged Barbie doll torso and a toy fish. On the road to...somewhere, Rango is tossed out of his owners' vehicle and is stranded in the desert. There he meets an armadillo named Roadkill (Alfred Molina), who speaks in metaphors and tells the chameleon to traverse the desert to find what he's looking for.
During his desert travels, the chameleon has a couple of run-ins with a vicious hawk, whom he runs into again once he makes it across the desert into the town known as Dirt. After some big talk and a very fun action sequence with the aforementioned hawk, the people (errr...animals) of Dirt take a liking to the chameleon, and after he gives himself the name Rango, the people appoint him sheriff of Dirt.
But all is not well in Dirt. Water, the town's most valued recourse (their bank contains water as apposed to money) is running dry, with the citizens of Dirt being lucky to find even a drop of it. Of course, being the newly appointed sheriff of Dirt, it's Rango's job to uncover the mystery of the disappearing water.
I definitely enjoyed the plot for being a true blue western, There's nothing sugar-coated about it. We even get to see a couple of shootouts and wagon chases. And personally speaking, the more the movie delves into its plot the more similarities I see it has with the video game Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath. I'm not saying Rango is a ripoff or anything (Stranger's Wrath is one of my favorite games, seeing similarities to it is hardly a bad thing), but if I were to hear the filmmakers of Rango had never played the game, I'd be shocked.
I also enjoy Rango as a character, Johny Depp's vocal work is superb, and the character actually has some good moments of depth (the whole actor charade he carries on is mostly his way of trying to find his identity). And he is joined by a group of memorable characters like the desert iguana Ms. Beans (Isla Fisher), the tortoise mayor Tortoise John (Ned Beatty) and the villainous Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy), who sports a machine gun on his rattler.
But possibly the biggest star of the movie is the animation itself, which is nothing short of stunning. It isn't often that I can say I've seen something in a movie that I haven't ever quite seen before, but Rango is definitely deserves such praise. The visuals remind me a little bit of LittleBigPlanet for some reason, and yes, even Oddworld, but it is still something entirely its own.
The movie has something of a gritty, yet colorful feel to it. Rango, as green as green can be, is surrounded by so many clashes of earthly grays and browns. And the look of the scales, fur, and feathers on the characters are immensely detailed, with each character's appearance being something wonderfully intricate.
What's also interesting about the Rango's visuals is how it combines realistic animal appearances with some cartoonish exaggerations. Take Rango himself for example, his face looks more true to a real chameleon than that of Tangled's Pascal, but his bulbous head is inexplicably supported by a crooked pencil-like neck.
And also take note that none of these characters are made to be cutesy. These characters aren't trying to be kid-friendly, they are who they are, and they're more unique for it. Take for example, the vulture who has an arrow stabbed through his eye, which protrudes out of the back of his head. Or the family of moles (who are a family as big as an army), who are as ugly as ugly can be.
Again, there's nothing sugar-coated about Rango. If an animal is ugly, the character will also be ugly. Even if the animal is cute, the character will be ugly. But it's an endearing ugliness that makes the film stand out all the more.
Really, I could go on and on about the visuals. They are absolutely beautiful (in terms of character design, ironically so) and unlike anything I've really seen before. It's at the same time realistic and exaggerated, it simply looks fantastic.
But all the great visuals would mean next to nothing if there wasn't also a great story to serve at its backbone. And despite a couple of predictabilities, Rango delivers a memorable story that is a western through and through. And with Johny Depp's Rango we have a quirky and original hero who is never trying to be an in-your-face, wisecracking animated character. When he's funny it's through his actions, not because he's pandering the audience for a laugh. And frankly, Rattlesnake Jake is already a frontrunner for the coolest movie character of 2011 (he has a machine gun on his rattler, but that's just a bonus that accompanies Bill Nighy's performance).
Really, there's a whole lot to love about this movie. The voice-actors are top notch, the animation is superb, the character designs are stand-out, and its story is good old-fashioned western fun. Seriously, this is an animated western with striking visuals starring a Johny Depp-voiced lizard with a unique design. Just see this movie!
"Ain't no tango with the Rango."