Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Beautiful Freaks, Mystical Cacti, and Isopods - Thoughts on "Rango"

We've hit a milestone here at the Obligatory Art Blog. This is post number 365: a full year's worth of posts. I declare this small triumph to be awesome.

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I will admit I had almost no interest in "Rango" when it was first announced. Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp making an animated film for Nickelodeon Studios of all things? The ads came out on the heels of things like "Alpha and Omega" and "Gnomeo and Juliet". The film was the first feature out of Industrial Light and Magic. Given some other films I had seen that were basically showcases for effects houses (what's up, "Disney's Dinosaur"), I wasn't convinced that this wouldn't be utterly terrible.


Then the good comments and positive word of mouth started up, and I became intrigued.

Then the
negative comments flared up and I became genuinely excited. Funny how that works out sometimes, eh? See, it didn't take me long to notice that nearly all of those negative comments were coming from people who were having conniption fits over seeing and hearing cartoon characters smoking and cussing and shooting and drinking in a "children's film". In other words, these were people who are under the delusion that animation is only for children, and the very saddest thing about people who perpetuate the animation age ghetto is this: when they see something that flagrantly contradicts the thought that all animation has to be only for kids, instead of realizing that they are totally wrong, they fly into a rage of "think of the CHILDREN! Protect them from this FILTH!"

If "Rango" made people like that angry, I needed to see it on general principle.

And oh, what a wonderful film it is. It does take a little while to find it's groove, but when it does, "Rango" turns into one of those movies you feel like being a fan of just for the fact that it even exists. Seriously, how the hell did this movie happen? Can you imagine the pitch meeting?

"So Johnny Depp is a cartoon chameleon who is basically him as Hunter S. Thompson and he's never been outside his terrarium. He's lost during his family's road trip through the Mojave Desert. Said family is never mentioned again and Chameleon!Depp gives no crap about attempting to find them --wait, stay with me! He winds up in a mash-up of spaghetti westerns and 'Chinatown' that takes place in a town where everyone who would normally be a cute cartoon critter of ambiguous species instead is based on a specific animal. And did I mention that even though the characters are cartoon animals, everyone's going to be realistic as all get out with buggie eyes and flaky skin and ragged feathers and even the traditionally cute species will look like the contents of a barfed-up hairball? Oh, and there's guns and death and swearing and spitting and weird heat-hallucinations and mystic cacti and existential themes and Joseph Campbell's Monomyth and smoking and shooting and drinking! Also, the female lead is a lizard in a wig who introduces herself in a monologue full of SAT vocabulary rattled off at great speed, there's a lot of cerebral stuff about the various personalities we take on in our lives, and there is this one other character who spends all of his time onscreen with an arrow through his eye socket. We want to do this as ILM's first-ever animated feature."

"An animated existentialist spaghetti western with a barfed-up hairball who has an arrow through his head you say? Brilliant!"

In short, this is one of those very rare case where "WTF?" is a drat good thing. Now, you know I don't hate CGI, but after a while CGI animation tends to look... too "neat", for want of a better word. This is the first CGI animated film I have seen that sincerely did not look like anything else out there and that alone makes it a gem. I got more of a first-season "Ren and Stimpy" feel from the movie. And the characters, as already implied, look less like they were designed to sell toys and more like something unpleasant out of a Jim Henson/Brian Froud collaboration.

The whole movie is beautiful in it's own weird-ass twisted way. I love how every resident of the town has their own little abnormality or other shamelessly weird detail. (If your going to render every single scale or feather or strand of hair on a character, the creators of "Rango" realized, it's going to look weird and unnatural if they're totally symmetrical and all "pretty". This is a problem that has plagued Disney's early CGI films.) The film may have another of my usual bones of contention: a cast made up mostly of "names", but each and every one of the characters is terrific and ceaselessly quotable (my favorites are the "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"-ish strolling mariachi band who cheerily sing of the hero's imminent doom). There are some terrific little gags I'd have missed without pausing. And the animation is just straight-up pants-sh*ttingly gorgeous. My good God, that road-crossing scene.

I should re-emphasize that the movie is as weird as all get out. It's good that it was even made in the first place, but it may not be for everyone. I can already tell I'm going to see some comments from the other end of the "love it or hate it" pool, much as I did with "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (which is due for a re-watch since it never got a proper review come to mention it) and "Where the Wild Things Are". It's cool, it's cool. But ask yourself if you'd rather watch "Rango" or another damn two-hour-long toy commercial.

By the way, if you loved the film too, here's a scene that never made it in and serves as a nice little epilogue.

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Sketch of the Day!

Random creature designs!

6.7.11 - Creature Sketches

2 comments:

Zach said...

Goddamn, do I love me some Rango. I don't think a more fitting voice cast has ever been assembled, and the visual gags and homages to other movies throughout are just brilliant. My favorite scene is when all the gophers pop out of the ground and the mouse on the canyon starts saying "Caw-caw!" The gophers ask what it means, and the cat says "That's 'the signal.'" and the horny toad, oblivious, says "Soemthin' must'a gone wrong!"

So great.

We need more animated movies like this. I initially cringed at the character design, but once I understood the direction they were going, I really took to it. My only real problem is that the Mayor shouldn't be able to wear a shirt. Where's that plastron supposed to be?

Trish said...

"Where's that plastron supposed to be?"

Fridge Brilliance: He's in a wheelchair the whole time, isn't he? Probably lost it in an accident.