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Reviewed by Alan J. Porter, © 2011

Format: Movie
By:   Gore Verbinski
Genre:   Western
Review Date:   March 14, 2011
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

" The Lizard? He is going to die."

It's not often these days that a movie takes me completely by surprise, but that's exactly what Rango did. Going in to the screening I knew little about it beyond the fact that Johnny Depp supplied the voice of the titular animated lizard, and that the plot was something akin to a Western.

What I was hoping for was a fun kids' movie that may have a few one-liners for the adults to enjoy.

Instead I got a mythic, meta-fictional western that played to all the great tropes of the genre with a mix of reverence and parody that displayed a deep appreciation of the form. The movie delivered an experience that was both surreal and sublime, taking chances that no mainstream studio movie would dare attempt.

The plot borrows heavily from Chinatown mixed with the underlying mythos of the heroic stranger of the Man With No Name trilogy, which sounds like a disaster, yet here it works on a whole new level that gives the movie a shine of originality despite its clearly derivative sources.

Johnny Depp's vocal performance as Rango,the misplaced lizard who finds his true purpose, is for once subtle, and even introspective, giving the lead character a degree of pathos underneath his thin veneer of bravado.

The rest of the casting is equally note perfect providing both the depth and range of an exceptional ensemble piece, where individual moments shine, but the overall story remains the true focus.

Equally note perfect is the movie's visual tone, from the color palette to the lighting, and the amazing detail of the animation itself from special effects house ILM. These are simply some of the best rendered animated creatures (and humans) I've yet seen on movie screen, making even Pixar look slightly dated.

The soundtrack was almost perfect, mixing numerous styles and genres, classical, rock, country, western movie themes, in a blend that was almost as surreal as the visuals they accompanied.

Rango is obviously a labor of love, and maybe a vanity project for director Gore Verbinski. It may even be an indulgence as a thank you for his Pirates of the Caribbean run.

Whatever. It's a perfectly idiosyncratic movie that is like nothing you've seen before, constantly playing with theme, setting, time, and place in ways that challenge you to figure out just what sort of movie you are watching.

Any reservations I have are about how well this plays to a general audience, without a recognizable brand beyond Depp's name. I'm not sure who will go see it.

Most of it may go over the kids' heads. Among those who might most appreciate it, they may skip it, writing it off as just a kids' movie.

It's far from that. It's one of the most entertaining, challenging movies I've seen in a while. It just happens to have a cast of animated critters.

Here's the Rango movie site. And here's Alan J. Porter's site, which has fewer lizard pictures.

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