With Pixar releasing the rather unpromising "Cars 2" later this year it seems necessary to keep an eye on the rest of the animated crop. Having not yet seen a new movie this year yet, I couldn't wait to start everything off with "Rango", which looked extremely promising and was being critically lauded. Unfortunately, though "Rango" had quite a lot going for it, it ended up being an overall disappointment.
The film tells the story of an unnamed pet chameleon (voiced, of course, by Johnny Depp) with a propensity for the theater, who becomes stranded in the desert after his owners nearly get into a car accident. The chameleon soon finds himself in the drought-ridden city of Dirt, where he meets the sassy lizard Beans (Isla Fisher), and the rest of the town's rodent and reptile inhabitants, all of whom are struggling due to the drought. Seizing an opportunity, the chameleon takes on the name of Rango and becomes the sheriff of the town, where he soon discovers that the town's mayor has an evil plot that is keeping the town dry.
Visually, "Rango" is really quite stunning. Besides the fact that the animation is realistic to a fault, the film's "cinematography" is really fantastic - the design of each shot is full of gorgeous lighting and coloring, while the camera's own movements are some of the most advanced and interesting out I've seen in a CGI animated film (and that does include "Avatar". heh). It comes as no surprise that Roger Deakins was the visual consultant - his cinematographic brilliance really shows. Soundwise the film succeeds as well. Johnny Depp's voice is pretty much perfect for the role and the score was great as well (for Hans Zimmer, anyway. heh heh).
Unfortunately, as seems to always be the case, the screenplay was unable to live up to the film's visual scheme - so much so that it detracted from the overall success of the film (which is not always the case. Sometimes an animated film can get by on looks alone). Though I admire the fact that the film was able to avoid tripping over the big religious and environmental issues it tackled, that was about the only thing it did right. So many of the film's "jokes", which it obviously thought were hysterical, failed miserably. And though the film's first scene is littered with sharp dialogue and laughs, the film loses its steam not shortly after, with incongruities that are impossible to overlook, even through the lens of what I like to call the "family film forgiveness factor".
"Rango" is almost a surefire nominee for Best Animated Film next year at the Oscars, and I imagine it'll be this year's animated critical favorite unless there's a foreign entry. And while its writing was rather disappointing, its visuals are certainly something to applaud. Not a bad start to 2011, by any means, but definitely not what I would have hoped for.
See it: If you're disappointed by the lameness of the rest of what's in theaters, and you don't mind forgoing good writing for unbelievable animated visuals.
Skip it: If you didn't get a good night of sleep the evening before, and if you feel like laughing a lot.