Rango - The Lizard with no Name

Director Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp are back together again after working on the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies. This time it’s a fully computer animated feature film but this one is quite unusual and different from other computer animated films.

Visually this movie is much more gritty and realistic looking, both in the large variety of characters being portrayed and the environments. In fact it looks so realistic that it’s more like a live-action film except with characters that are all desert animals; lizards, chameleons, rattlesnakes, owls, armadillos, road runners, turtles, bats, rats but far from looking like cartoon characters, these animals all look very close to nature with quirky human traits.

The visual style is so strikingly real in all its intricate details that it will captivate you even when the story drags a little in places. Adding to the realism is the fact that eight-time Oscar nominated Cinematographer Roger Deakins was the visual consultant, so the lighting and photography is that much more immersive.

This movie is a western in the same style as the Sergio Leone ‘Man with No Name Trilogy’ spaghetti westerns with Clint Eastwood and follows all the classic western conventions. An outsider who is going through an identity crisis; trying to find who he is, finds himself quite suddenly abandoned on the side of a hostile desert road and is eventually pressed into service as the Sherriff of an abandoned, drought-ridden desert town called Dirt run by local varmints.

There are parallels to the Disney children’s story Brave Little Tailor (1938) here when the newcomer, a chameleon voiced by Johnny Depp, boasts of having killed 7 people with one bullet and then is made to confront the bad guys in a showdown in the middle of the town street at noon. By some fluke he gains the respect of the local citizenry when he accidentally kills a menacing hawk that preys on them.

This film can be enjoyed by adults but may be a little scary for younger children depending on how savvy they are. Children are definitely going to love the visuals and some of the visual gags but the film makers insist that children are much savvier than adults give them credit for. 

It’s definitely not a cartoony animated film and this could start a trend toward more serious and realistic looking animated films. I had the feeling while watching this movie that it was so unique and singularly striking visually, that it will probably become a cult classic of sorts.

This movie marks the first time that George Lucas’s company ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) has produced a full length animated film. The company has been at the forefront of the digital revolution that has taken the film industry by storm, pioneering computer generated effects for live action films since the beginning with movies like The Abyss (1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and the Jurassic Park trilogy (1993 – 2001) just to name a few, but until now has never ventured into full length animation.

Gore Verbinski had worked with ILM on the effects for all the Pirates of the Caribbean films and felt comfortable enough with their collaborative relationship to try something that had never been done before. The results are definitely brilliant.

By assembling the voice actors in a room and allowing them to interact with each other while playing out a scene, instead of the usual individual isolated recording of the voices, gives the movie a sense of spontaneity and awkwardness that makes it feel like you’re watching a live-action movie. Add to this the highly detailed characters and environments, plus the natural and realistic lighting and Rango becomes a visual experience you won’t soon forget.

I recommend you watch this movie on Blu-ray and an HDTV because the video quality is of the highest standard and really impresses with the stunning detail of the images in High Definition on a big screen.


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