Oscar Profile: Rango

by Tom Ingram

Genre Comedy
People Johnny Depp v.; Isla Fisher v.; Stephen Root v.; Ned Beatty v.; Ray Winstone v.; Harry Dean Stanton v.; Bill Nighy v.; Timothy Olyphant v.; Vincent Kartheiser v.; Claudia Black v.; Gore Verbinski d.; John Logan w.; Hans Zimmer m.
/10 9

We never find out the lizard’s real name. He invents the name “Rango” while shooting the bull in the town saloon. Until then, he’s just a lonely reptilian actor with an indistinct past. In the bar, he decides to fake heroism. One moment of clarity later, he discovers that whether he likes it or not, this makes him a hero. Rango is a movie about establishing civilization and taming the abyss.

It’s also a rather silly animated movie in which Johnny Depp plays Jim Carrey as a lizard, even going so far as to mimic Carrey’s voice. Depp is so well-known as a sexy movie star that he doesn’t always get the credit he deserves for being a truly great actor. The filmmakers brought together an impressive slate of character actors for the voices on this movie and the result is a lot of fun. Subtle, take-it-or-leave-it references to older movies abound. This gets the inevitable brief smile, and the care director Verbinski took not to draw attention to them keeps the movie from seeming smarmy.

The film is a visual treat—painstakingly detailed, but still stylized. Apparently it wasn’t released in 3D, but I can imagine that it would have been enhanced by it, unlike many films. My theory is that while 3D’s effects are most obvious (and gaudy) when it’s used with objects in the frame that pop out of the screen and make you go “whoa”, its best uses seem to be in starkly empty shots—How to Train Your Dragon, for instance—to emphasize the seemingly endless expanses. This is why Hugo‘s bustling train station did not accept 3D well.

The script is standard family comedy fare, except when it isn’t. It’s never inappropriate for children, but there’s a lot of thought in it that only adults are likely to appreciate. The music is Western sand-choked guitars and a Mexican mariachi band. One chase scene remixes the usual suspects for classical music in the movies. Hans Zimmer did this film, though he was not nominated. A slate that featured John Williams, Howard Shore, and Zimmer would have been an interesting thing to see, but Zimmer’s work on this movie was merely serviceable, not awe-inspiring.

You’ll hear no complaints from me about Rango. I think it’s a lock for Best Animated Feature and could even contend with a real Pixar movie. Between Rango and last year’s How to Train Your Dragon, there’s an encouraging trend of excellent animated movies coming from other large studios. This is good. While Pixar has shown us what animated movies can be, they’ve only shown us one thing that animated movies can be, and there’s plenty of room for more perspectives.

Up for Best Animated Feature.