Rango (Johnny Depp) is a chameleon with an enormous imagination. In his terrarium, he has developed a social network with inanimate objects that would be the envy of Castaway’s Tom Hanks. He essentially lives inside his head, but then reality (perhaps – the film maintains a certain ambiguity here) suddenly intervenes and he finds himself cast from his safe, hermetic world. Marooned in the desert, he arrives in the town of Dirt, where his inclination for the dramatic has him claiming to be a sharp-shooting, quick-drawing hero. When he accidentally proves his claim by killing, through sheer stupid luck, a hawk that has been terrorizing the town, he is enlisted by the townspeople to defend them from the tyrants who keep them oppressed and thirsty.
Another day, another self-referential computer-animated film, this one taking on westerns rather than fairy tales. And sure, there are more references than you can shake a stick at, to westerns or otherwise (check out the lightning-fast nod to Depp’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas during the highway scene). But this isn’t just a pastiche. The love of classic westerns is palpable, and the film is unapologetic in its adoption of the genre’s convention, but it does take care to fully realize its characters. Visually, the film is extraordinary, displaying a rich palette of colours and moods, an imagination as exuberant as its protagonist’s (a dream sequence becomes exactly what Salvador Dali would have imagined had he been a thirsty chameleon), and the detail work of the animation is bleeding edge. Not everything in the narrative is exactly a surprise, but some pleasures are pleasures precisely because they are familiar, and there are plenty of charming eccentricities to make us forgive the occasional lapses into the been-there-done-that. Certainly one of the better animated films of the year.
Both theatrical and extended versions are available here, the latter running four minutes longer.
I’ve gone on, in the past, about how the Blu-ray format sometimes does the movies a disservice, subjecting them to a precision of image that was never intended, showing us more of the actors or the FX than we should (or want to) see. The opposite is true, however, of animated features. Here, the care that goes into the film is really allowed to shine (and shortcomings, of course, will be apparent too), and in the case of Rango, that care is just stunning. The temptation will be strong to freeze the image to count the individual scales of the reptiles, each hair on the mammals. The texture is beyond sumptuous, and the colours are so strong they would be painful if they weren’t so pleasing to the eye. Contrasts and blacks are beyond reproach, and grain isn’t even a forgotten memory. The aspect ratio is the original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The AVC codec maintains a healthy average of about 25 Mbps.
Given the height of the bar set by the picture, it would be disappointing if the sound didn’t measure up. But it does. There is no distortion whatsoever, the music has been given a great, enveloping mix, and the surround effects are superb. When Rango’s terrarium hits the aforementioned highway, for example, notice how each individual ping of glass registers in the proper speaker. Wonderful stuff.
Audio Commentary: Present are director/co-writer Gore Verbinski, head of story James Ward Bryant, production designer Mark McCreery, animation director Hal Hickel, and visual FX supervisor Tim Alexander. Good luck keeping them all straight, but this is a track that goes deep into depth about the look of the film. Pretty technical, but thorough. It’s available only with the extended version of the film.
Breaking the Rules: Making Animation History: (48:52) A two-part making of. Good in-depth stuff, covering the character creation, the use of other westerns, and so on.
Deleted Scenes: 10 of them.
Real Creatures of Dirt: (22:16) As the title suggests, a piece that compares the fictional creations with the real-world equivalents.
Field Trip to Dirt: An interactive tour of the town and characters. It goes deep, so be prepared to spend some time with this one.
Storyboard PIP: Available only with the theatrical version of the film.
DVD and Digital versions of film.
A nice surprise, with big-name casting that isn’t just stunt casting, and that is a huge banquet for the eyes.