Gore Verbinski should only make animated features from now on. Or westerns. Or in Rango’s case, both.
Riding off the monumental success of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (the latter two of which are among the top ten highest-grossing films of all time, the world has very much become Gore Verbinski’s oyster, and audiences have waited with baited breath for almost three years for his next project. When I first heard that Verbinski was making an animated comedy that was also a western, I’ll admit I was as sceptical as much I was chomping at the bit, but after having viewed it I can honestly say that any doubt in my mind has been cast away. While it may be the furthest afoot from his previous work as possible, Rango shows no lack of swashbuckling.
Rango is the tale of an unnamed chameleon with some larger-than-life aspirations. Johnny Depp voices the titular character, admirably supported by a star-studded cast including Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ray Winstone, Billy Nighy, Alfred Molina and Timothy Olyphant. By accident, our as yet unnamed protagonist one day finds himself in Dirt, a small town somewhere in the Old West whose inhabitants are other desert animals, dressed like characters straight out of a Spaghetti Western. Having always dreamed of being a hero, he adopts the name ‘Rango’ and establishes himself as the lawman of the town, much to the distaste of the other inhabitants.
First and foremost, it has to be said that this film is by no means aimed at children; so those of you who were intent on taking yours and sleeping for an hour and a half, be warned – you will enjoy this film. For as much as it is an animated comedy, Rango bears many of the hallmarks of a classic Western, as well as some interesting elements of surrealism (think Lebowski-esque), and countless references to earlier films, including a fantastic blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from one of Depp’s earlier works.
To say that Rango hangs upon Depp’s talent though would be an outright lie. His performance is excellent as always, but the supporting cast members each give him a run for his money. Praise must also go to Timothy Olyphant, whose brief role as ‘The Spirit of The West’ is absolutely outstanding. The animation is some of the best I have seen in an increasingly impressive era for visual effects; the scenery and the prickly, almost palpable heat of the desert is stunning, as is the depth of detail in the animation of the characters. And in this era where 3D seems to be king, Rango is a superb example of how animated films can and have thrived without the added use of the 3D factor. Hopefully other film-makers will follow suit.
In Rango, Verbinski makes it abundantly clear how much he respects the nature and atmosphere of a western, whilst knowing exactly which boxes to check to please modern, younger audiences, as well as critics. He demonstrates a natural flair for directing animated films, having so ably adapted renowned writer John Logan’s quirky and hilarious screenplay. Come awards season next year, I expect Rango will grab more than a few nominations, and I hope Verbinski continues directing in such fine, gun-toting form.