The extras on the Blu-ray release may be a touch hit and miss, but the first animated feature from effects house Industrial Light & Magic and director Gore Verbinski is a grimy modern masterpiece, says Fernando Caire
Rango is Industrial Light & Magic’s first animated feature, and it shows – in a good way. Instead of the cute fluff we have come to expect from Pixar, this western tale drags CG animation into places it has never been before. Gritty, dirty, violent and just as hard-edged as the residents of Dirt, its central location, Rango is anything but a kiddies’ film. This is why it is, in this writer’s opinion, the best animated feature of 2011 so far.
Due to a series of mishaps, the film’s socially awkward protagonist Rango (Johnny Depp) lands in the middle of a desert where he then stumbles into the town of Dirt in the hopes of finding water. The residents are as ruthless as they are filthy, so in order to survive, Rango must blend in. Getting a tad carried away in his performance, he establishes himself as a fearless gunslinger who killed seven thugs with one bullet, which ultimately results in him becoming the town’s new sheriff. The bumbling hero must then not only fulfil the demands of office but must unravel the mystery of the missing water.
Watching the previews, you may be under the impression that Rango is a comedy with some western elements. Wrong. This is a true western that just happens to have comedy in it. Drawing inspiration from the classics of the genre, its suitably sphaghetti-fied take on the ‘seven kills with one blow’ tale is refreshing in its filthiness.
Nothing is clean in this movie. The characters are scared, beaten, rude, dirty, flawed – and an absolute joy to watch. This film does not shy away from violence either: people are killed off almost immediately, making you realize that no one, not even characters you like, is safe.
Johnny Depp is given a lot of breathing room for his voice acting here. Unlike the bland Vincent in The Corpse Bride, Rango is energetic and wildly imaginative, and despite being a compulsive liar, makes for a likeable central character as you see him grow into the hero that the town needs.
Isla Fisher, as the stubborn, strong-willed love interest, Beans, is as charming as she is intimidating, while the supporting cast includes a barely recognisable Alfred Molina as Roadkill the Armadillo, a typically creepy Bill Nighy as Rattlesnake Jake, and Ned Beatty, fresh from voicing Lotso in Toy Story 3, as The Mayor. Together, these fantastic actors flesh out some equally fantastic characters.
The direction is equally good: Gore Verbinski may be new to animated features, but he is no stranger to action. The aerial battle half way into the movie left my jaw hanging on its hinges, and despite a bit of a pacing hiccup at the beginning of the third act, it dropped again during the film’s epic finale.
Hans Zimmer did an excellent job on the film’s original score – as did Los Lobos with the unforgettable theme song – and the experience holds up well in Blu-ray’s lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. Hearing bullets flying past your head, or feeling a chill down your spine at the sound of Rattlesnake Jake’s metal tail, you quickly realise that this is what surround sound was made for.
The extra features
This is where the Blu-ray suffers a little. Despite some insightful behind-the-scenes features, each of the many deleted scenes adds only a few seconds of extra footage. The exception is the ending of the Extended cut, also provided on the disc – but that really should have stayed on the cutting room floor.
On the up side, there is some good commentary from director Gore Verbinski, writer James Ward Byrkit, production designer Mark McCreery, animation director Hal Hickel, and visual effects supervisor Tim Alexander. On the down side, it is only available on the Extended Cut.
A fantastic film with an equally fantastic soundtrack, Rango is not only my favorite animated film of 2011 so far, but quite possibly one of my favorite 3D animated films of all time. Action-packed, funny and completely different from usual CG fare, it has raised the bar on what can be done in animation.
Despite the somewhat lacklustre extras, the experience holds up well on Blu-ray, and the attention to detail that ILM has put into each character, prop, vehicle and environment cries out to be seen in HD.
Rango is out now in the US on Paramount Pictures Blu-ray/DVD two-disc set, and worldwide later this month.