For director Gore Verbinksi, fans of his Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy were probably wondering where this skilled director would go next after producing three huge action/adventure films that impacted box office records around the globe (while not continuing on to make the fourth Pirates adventure). Verbinski had previously dabbled in physical comedy with Mouse Hunt, then helmed the poorly received Brad Pitt/Julia Roberts R-rated comedy The Mexican, then the popular horror remake The Ring, all before blending it all together for the Pirates series. He only broke once from the Pirates films between the first installment and its sequels for his attempt at drama with Nicolas Cage in the also poorly received The Weather Man. So it seems that Verbinski has finally embraced his strengths, but still tries his hat at something completely new as he ventures into the world of feature animation for Rango.
When you think "animated movie," you don't think of a film like Rango. The movie, which takes its name from the title chameleon character, pairs Verbinski up with Johnny Depp for a fourth time (soon to be fifth if his next movie, The Lone Ranger, comes together), proving that the team of Verbinski and Depp is a good match. The story of Rango centers on a pet lizard who finds himself stranded on the side of a desert road and soon wanders into a small western town of Dirt, which is inhabited by all sorts of rodents and desert animals. The plot borrows heavily from the all-too-familiar case of mistaken identity (more like -- lies about who they are that spin out of control. Last year's Gulliver's Travels was the perfect recent example of this), however, it is done in a fresh way through the use of unique characters and an overall bizarre world in which Rango inhabits.
The first thing you may notice about Rango is that the film's animation is one of the most stunning you'll see. From detailed landscapes and textures on everything to truly lifelike water and other effects, the best thing Rango has going for it is its visuals. At the same time, it enhances just how ugly the featured creatures in the story are. All of the animals lean more towards realistic than cartoony, but maintain just a hint of cartoon characteristics (instead of being cartoony with a hint of realism). All of them look rather ratty and disheveled - from wounded birds (we see a bird that lives with an arrow stuck through its eye!) to moles, shrews, turtles and bats. Even Rattlesnake Jake is a very realistic looking rattler with unique traits that adapt him nicely to that of an old west gunslinger. When he intimidates Rango, you certainly feel just how menacing the character is - right down to when he flashes his horrific fangs to fill up a class with venom. There is one human that we see in the movie and he's quite realistic with a hint of cartoony representation to keep in line with the feel of the rest of the characters in Rango, but his appearance also makes for one of the most fun and standout moments in the movie.
Rango is about as quirky as you can find for an animated film, probably on par with last year's Fantastic Mr. Fox (but probably not done quite as effectively). The ugliness of the animals coupled with the off-beat feel of Rango is likely to hinder the casual moviegoer's enjoyment of the movie, but it's still a unique experience. Also, some of the humor is about as off-beat, as well as off-color, as its presentation. Most of the jokes tend to fall flat and feel like misses than hits, too. Due to the western setting, there is just a bit of mild profanity, mostly the use of "h*ll" (several uses of the word, however, reference the place Hell), with also one "d*mn" and 1 semi-incomplete use of "Son of a..." (with the expletive said but mostly drowned out by the screech of a hawk). The few crude gags consist mostly of some innuendo that will go over kids heads, and Rango making some cracks to his "friend" which is nothing more than the topless, headless torso portion of a Barbie doll (for example, he points to the toy's chest and asks it "Are those real?"). Lastly, there is a decent amount of violence included as well. While most of it isn't lethal and isn't graphic, the worst instance is when we see an armadillo that has been hit by a truck lying on the road and we clearly see its insides between the flattened portion of their body where the tire ran over their body. Other violent moments include moles or groundhogs riding flying bats (yes... you read that correctly) as they fire chain guns at Rango's fleeing posse, and a brief scene where we see a dead townsperson (who's an animal) who they declare had apparently been drowned. We also see some intense scenes where a hawk is chasing Rango (on more than one occasion) and just about any time Rattlesnake Jake is on the screen is a pretty intense moment (in one scene, he starts to squeeze a character to death before he is interrupted). Overall, the content makes this one pretty dark and edgy for a kids film, so definitely don't show the kids this one assuming it'll just be a lovely little Pixar outing like Toy Story or Cars. This may be more along the lines of Monster House in tone.
I feel inclined to also mention one scene in particular where a depressed Rango looks on at a busy highway and decides to cross it despite traffic whizzing past him - and over him - at high speeds. He walks to the other side and collapses, but he doesn't get hit by a single vehicle. Depending on the impressionability of the young viewers watching, you won't want your children thinking they can just slowly march across a busy highway without looking in either direction at all and safely make it to the other side of the street. But this is also an example of the tone that Rango bears -- it just doesn't really feel like a kids movie.
After seeing it, Rango does feel like it's lacking something. Whether its darker tone may rob some of the fun from the movie, or the fact the characters are mostly hideous things, or perhaps it's just that the script isn't quite as strong as it could be and the jokes just aren't that funny; it's tough to pinpoint the film's main flaw. With Industial Light & Magic turning in their first - and very impressive - feature-length animation effort, I'm anxious to see what this studio can do next. Given the right material, they could give any other animation studio a run for its money. Unfortunately, I don't feel like Rango offers the material to do that with.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 7/9/11)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
As I said in the film review, the animation is just plain stunning on this Blu-Ray release and the quality of the transfer on BD is just fantastic! It's the ideal film to use to test out your home theater's picture. On the Blu-Ray combo pack (which includes a DVD and digital copy as well), we're also given two versions of the film. The theatrical film kind of ended abruptly after the resolution of the story, while the extended version includes a sort of epilogue at the end where we get to see what Rango is up to now as well as a few seconds of additional material scattered here and there throughout the film. The character's little monologue at the end as he rides off into the sunset is a fun addition to the film and leaves viewers with a laugh instead of what was otherwise a bit of a dissatisfying ending.
Breaking The Rules: Making Animation History - This is a revealing, very in-depth look at the birth of the concept of the film and how Verbinksi drew the inspiration for the movie. They show clips from a meeting where the writers and director hash out the details for the film's story and execution. All of the major voice cast - and then some - appear here to talk about their characters. We also see some great footage where we see the voice actors in the film literally acting out their scenes together instead of just recording their voices in the studio. It's a very extensive featurette and an animator's dream. And it's one of the best behind-the-scenes featurettes on an animated movie I've seen to date.
Oh, and if it isn't enough to have one featurette, this piece is actually separated into two hefty chunks: "The Stage Is Set," which covers all that I mentioned above, and then "Let's Ride" which shows Verbinski going to ILM and presenting what they've visualized and designed for the studio to actually bring to "life" via animation. There's just as much detail here as the first half offered. In this section, we get to hear more from the actual animators than the producers and designers. The segment wraps with Hans Zimmer talking in-depth about the score, his inspirations for it, and even about some of the players.
Deleted Scenes - There are 10 deleted scenes. It appears that each one of these are included in the "Extended Version" of the film on the Blu-Ray disc. The deleted scenes are titled as such:
"Seeing My Insides," "The West Is The Best," "Destiny Awaits," "Water Dance (Full Version)," "Not What I Expected," "I'd Put That On A Tortilla," "Put A Cork In It," "Speak Now Or Hold Your Piece," "Rub Their Nose In It," "Coda - Never-Before-Seen-Ending." So if you watch the Extended Version, you've seen all of these added seamlessly back into the film.
The Real Creatures of Dirt - This is a pretty neat featurette that acts as something you might see on Animal Planet where a desert creature expert takes us on a tour of the real-life animals that inspired the creatures in Rango. During this featurette, we also hear from director Gore Verbinski and several actors from the film about their characters. It does bring an added element to the enjoyment of the film itself.
A Field Trip To Dirt - This is a video that literally walks you down the street of Dirt as if someone took a stroll through it with a camcorder. It then stops in the middle of the town and you're given four directional arrows to use your BD remote with. You can then choose several locations on the map - like the saloon, for example, and it'll show the storefront with several character profile choices on the outside, allowing you to see a 360-view of the character and character concept designs for many of the characteres featured in the movie. Then you can go inside the saloon where there is a still photo from the movie and you can choose six different characters, including Rango. It's a great interactive thing for anyone wanting to dig deeper into the details of the town and the characters in it. There's also an aerial view of the town and a menu of all the key places to choose from that include the Saloon, Mayor's Office, Barbershop, Hotel, General Store, Bank, Undertaker and the Clock Tower.
Storyboard Reel Picture-In-Picture - Available only for the theatrical version, there's an option to view the entire theatrical version of the film as a picture-in-picture of the storyboards in the lower right hand corner of the screen. It's neat for animation buffs and fans of the movie in general who might want to see some of the preliminary sketch designs for the scenes in the finished film, but it's certainly not a must-see feature. I think a picture-in-picture of the live actors acting out their scenes would have been an ideal bonus feature. Since the 2009 A Christmas Carol from Robert Zemeckis was caught in motion capture, the Blu-Ray disc included such a feature with the source footage. However, nothing like that makes it onto this release, unfortunately.
To wrap up the bonus material, we have a commentary with the filmmakers that is only available on the Extended Version and the theatrical trailer, credits for various features, and some other movie previews to round out the Extras. "Breaking The Rules" is the real gem of this set and worth picking up the Blu-Ray for alone if you're a fan of the movie. After seeing all that went into this production, I still rather wish it was a better movie, but you certainly could do worse than Rango.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 7/11/11)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Rango has a topless, headless torso of a Barbie doll in his fish tank. At one point he looks at it and comments "Are those real?"; We see a couple busty female lizards in the town of Dirt; Beans exchanges name-calling with another townsperson which includes someone calling her a "floozy" and "tart;" An Indian bird says he's molting because it's time to mate; While telling tall tales, Rango says that the snake Jake is his brother. When people question how that's possible, he comments that his mama had "an active social life;" While pretending to put on a traveling show, someone misunderstands the word "thesbians" (meaning actors) and comments that "thesbians are illegal in seven states!" (apparently meaning lesbians); A character comments that something sounds like a big "mammogram" (misuing the word for anagram). Rango then says something about stripping away a mystery and exposing its "private parts;" Someone threatens to cut off another's "giblets;" Rango and Beans kiss and she accidentally swallows something that was in Rango's mouth; The Indian bird, while tracking the robbers says he senses someone with a "large prostate." As the posse guess what they thought they heard him say, one of the animals steps forward, putting on a blue surgical glove and asks who needs to be examined; During the added ending, we see some animals in small bikinis or speedo-type bathing suits as they go swimming; In Rango's closing monologue, he says that he will be watching you, "sometimes at inappropriate times"
Vulgarity/Language: At least 5 "h*ll," 1 "d*mn," 1 use of "S.O.B" (where the "b*tch" is drowned out, but still partially audible, by a hawk's screech)
Alcohol/Drugs: People appear to have alcoholic beverages in a saloon; Rango drinks cactus juice from a bottle that seems to have a kick to it like alcohol
Blood/Gore: We see a gross-looking dead insect in a pool in Rango's cage; We see an armadillo lying on the road with a huge tire track down its middle, flattening its guts out. We see several prolonged shots of this and it's rather gross (the armadillo is still alive however and appears whole later on); A fly lands in a droplet of cactus juice and his eye bulges and pops out onto the bar top; A character that we see in several scenes in the movie is a bird with an arrow through one closed eye and sticking out the other side of their head. It's not bloody, but it's kind of gross; While telling weird stories around the camp fire, Spoons says he once found "a human spinal column in my fecal matter," to which someone said he should get that checked out; Rango catches a dragonfly with his tongue and we watch him pull it into his mouth as he eats it (it breaks in two); While neither bloody nor gory, we see four owls playing guitars and singing while hanging from nooses
Violence: Rango's aquarium cage shatters on the road when the truck carrying it hits an armadillo. We then see the armadillo, still alive, partially squished on the road; A hawk chases Rango and another animal. Rango hides in a glass bottle and taunts the hawk, who then picks up the bottle to drop it and break it. He then chases them some more and carries off the other creature; Rango tells a few violent stories about killing outlaws with one bullet, which he didn't do; Rango is chased by a hawk again, who slices open a room he's hiding in and crashes through a building. Rango accidentally fires a gunshot that causes a chain reaction of blunders that leads to an empty water tower falling on and killing the hawk; We see a large swarm of moles riding bats and firing chain guns at Rango and his posse; A huge boulder crushes a miscellaneous character; A large, menacing rattlesnake shoots up a sheriff's sign, flashes its fangs and fills a glass with its venom before threatening a person to leave town; Rango walks across a busy highway while cars are whizzing by, but he doesn't get hit; Jake nearly squeezes a character to death but we see they're OK; A man tries to kill another, but the gun is out of bullets; Jake wraps himself around a character and carries them away (presumably to kill them); We see four owls playing guitars and singing while hanging from nooses
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content
really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.