Industrial Light & Magic’s first foray into the world of animation hits all the right notes for Rango is an endlessly fascinating recreation of the Wild West that brims with cutting-edge animation and is just as accomplished in its technical aspects as it is structurally sound in its narration. Jam-packed with clever references to classic spaghetti westerns yet retaining an originality of its own, the first feature-length animation film from the pioneering VFX firm is one of the best westerns to surface in recent years.
Set in an Old West town populated by desert fauna, Rango tells the story of its titular character, an ordinary chameleon who winds up in the desert town following an unforeseen accident and in order to blend in, presents himself as a tough drifter. As the lawless outpost is in desperate need of both water & a hero, the thirsty chameleon takes up the role of sheriff in order to solidify his own image amongst the residents and selfishly leads an investigation into the town’s missing water case that ultimately makes him confront his own demons.
Directed by Gore Verbinski (best-known for Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy), Rango marks his first stint with the medium of animation and he does an excellent job at it for the story is deftly scripted, the plot is character-driven, there’s a precision balance between its moments of action, comedy & drama, and just like the best spaghetti westerns, it is never in hurry to bring its tale to completion. The characters themselves exhibit interesting arcs & their roles are concisely defined plus the very themes of identity, heroism & adaptation are skilfully addressed.
Industrial Light & Magic is best known for its groundbreaking visual effects in live-action films and yet the top-grade computer animation it puts up here shows that it is capable of competing with both Pixar & DreamWorks if things ever comes to that. Every rendered frame stays within the realm of its genre. The barren desert landscapes, rugged characters, no law or order & other little details only enhance the look n feel of its story. And also admirable is its good dose of exciting gunslinging action & occasional staging of duels that add to the overall experience.
From the technical standpoint, Rango gets nearly everything right. The set pieces are reminiscent of lawless outposts with little to no civilisation. The camera showcases a frenetic energy whenever it is required, the warm colour tones, improved contrast & apt lighting further enhance its imagery while the movements are fluid & expertly handled as per the scene & its requirements. Editing trims out what the story can do without but there are still a few slow patches in the final print. And Hans Zimmer’s inspired, energetic & exhilarating soundtrack uplifts the story by a further few notches.
The contribution from the actors who give these animated characters their voices n more is often taken for granted but its importance is realised in this picture. Featuring an impeccable voice cast spearheaded by Johnny Depp himself, every actor does justice to their respective characters with Depp & Bill Nighy impressing the most. Depp has given us some truly eccentric characters in the past, many of whom turned out to be bigger than the films they appeared in, and Rango is certainly no exception for Depp’s colourful voice input plays a vital role in making the chameleon stand out.
On an overall scale, Rango is an ingeniously crafted, endlessly witty & beautifully animated western comedy that’s refreshing, enjoyable & entertaining from start to finish, and for an animated feature, it is a surprisingly mature entry that’s more aimed at well-versed cinephiles but it nonetheless promises plenty of fun & laughter to those who might be oblivious of its countless references & homages to past classics. Cleverly directed by Verbinski, bolstered by Depp’s sensational vocal performance & meticulously brought to life by ILM, Rango isn’t just one of the best films of its year but is great enough to rank amongst the finest examples of western filmmaking. Highly recommended.