My Ten Cents On: Rango

Okay! sorry for taking so long, had a few things to deal with. Anyway, I’m back with a vengeance with my review on Rango!

Usually, when I think of Nickelodeon movies, I think of every full length movie of all those nostalgic TV shows I saw growing up, namely: The Rugrats Movie, Hey Arnold!: The Movie, The Wild Thornberrys Movie, and The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, as well as Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and Nacho Libre, a couple of movies I really enjoy. So heading into the theater, I had no idea what I was in for.

It didn’t help that practically the entire marketing package of this movie floated around the key sentence: “Johnny Depp is Rango.” I know its a western, starring an out-of-place chameleon, but more than anything, I know that the lizard’s name is Rango and he is voiced by Johnny Depp. I would love to have been at some of the press releases.

Press Person 1: Can you tell us more about the main character of the film?
Producer: Johnny Depp is Rango.
*applause from the crowd.*
Press Person 2: What kind of tone is this movie going to take? It is produced by Nickelodeon Movies so, can we assume this will be a children’s movie?
Producer: Johnny Depp is Rango.
*applause from the crowd.*
Press Person 3: What does this movie bring in that we haven’t seen before?
Producer: Johnny Depp… is… Rango
*standing ovation.*

I honestly think that this is one big difference between Pixar and everyone else. Sure, you have big names sometimes, like in Toy Story or in Cars, but rarely are they the focus. Think about it, in the Dreamworks movies, you always see: “Jack Black is the Kung Fu Panda, Will Ferrell is Megamind, Steve Carrell is in Despicable Me“, and lets not forget the (back then) all-star cast of Shrek. While those movies are fun in their own right, I just wish that the marketing would be less star-centric and more story-centric. Look at two of the best CG animated movies to ever come out, Up and WALL-E. Their vocal casts were no where near as star studded as any of the others, but they are simply movies that will stick with you, because there’s so much more investment in the story. Go figure how much more you can spread across the budget when you spend 3-4 Million less on someone talking into a microphone.

That little rant aside, I came into this movie with a vague notion of a lizard in a Hawaiian button-down polo, that the movie was a fun parody of a Western, and the firmly set knowledge that Johnny Depp is Rango. Let’s begin, shall we?

+ Voice Acting

Just to clarify, I’m not against A-List stars voicing their characters, just so long as they’re good and they can vocally act. Its really more on the marketing, and how the actors (who aren’t even showing their faces) are paid so much for their voices, which they sometimes don’t even do well, mainly due to the sound-booth system of recording.

Most of the time, actors are put in a sound booth, with a headset, microphone, and the script, and they say their lines. Usually, the actors record their lines at different times, so there is occasionally a disconnect in dialogue, especially among actors who aren’t used to booth work. its not easy to have a conversation when you can’t hear the other person talking.

Rango did something different. They got all the actors and made them act in a room with each other. They shot the movie with everyone acting in a sound stage, so there’s more chemistry between the characters, simply because the dialogue is more authentic, and because the close-up shots of the live-action was used as the basis for the close-up shots for the final animated feature.

Gives a whole new meaning to voice acting

"So this is the part where the chameleon comes into the bar, so the monitor lizard, armadillo and you other guys, look here!"

This style worked really well for this film. The reason I say this, is because I didn’t notice it much, it flowed so smoothly. It was very much like dialogue you would see in live-action motion pictures. Apart from the acting method, the individual performances are also laudable.

The great thing about Johnny Depp is that he is himself a chameleon. You may recognize his voice, but since he does so many diverse characters, you don’t just stick with the idea that that is Johnny Depp, but you can picture Rango as his own character. I mean, when Luke Wilson played Lightning McQueen in Cars, all I heard was typical Luke Wilson. Eddie Murphy as Donkey in Shrek, was Eddie Murphy being himself, an ass. Sometimes it’s intentional, like the entire cast of Shark Tale, but what that does is it exposes the audience to the so called “fourth wall”. You hear these voices, you know the guy behind it, it takes away from the character and reminds you that you’re watching a movie.

Some could argue that its a cartoon, of course it won’t look authentic, of course you know its fake and it won’t happen. Well, let me retort by saying, when you were a kid, didn’t you at one time or another imagine yourself hanging out with your favorite cartoon characters, or being in their shoes? If your answer is “yes”, then cartoons can feel authentic. If your answer is “no”, then you’re a very sad person. Look back at some of the Disney classics, such as Aladdin, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast for example. When you think of the main characters, do you think of Scott Weinger, Linda Larkin, Matthew Broderick, Paige O’Hara, or Robby Benson? No, you know them simply as Aladdin, Jasmine, Simba, Belle and The Beast. Its cool to have character actors like Robin Williams, Nathan Lane and Samuel L. Jackson as side characters (Genie, Timon and Frozone respectively) because they’re not the main characters and using these kinds of people allows the film makers to skip character development, because you kind of know who they are already.

But since the main character is the one who develops during the story, the character himself should be a bit more devoid of these out-of-movie associations, especially in animation. And Johnny Depp’s creation of a character + very good lip-syncing by the animation crew made Rango a very believable character. The rest of the cast was good too, They breathed life into their characters and it didn’t seem out of place, Isla Fisher and Abigail Breslin were the other big names attached to this project, but I did not recognize their voices, so their characters had more life there. Of course the strength of the character was only partly due to the voice, but had a lot more to do with the…

+ Animation

Its clean. You know you have a good animation sequence when everything is moving. When characters are talking, you see the chest rise and fall with every breath, the hair and clothing continuously blow through the wind, and even small things, like the wind blowing a wind chime far in the distance, are animated. Rango has this in Spades. It really shows off the technology of its generation, with animation, layouts and designs that are very detailed. They get the characters down to the saliva that sometimes pops out of their mouths while their shouting, everything is moving, at no point does it feel like the work has been lazy. Just to illustrate, there’s no better example than American Cartoons from the 80’s. We’d see these awesomely animated openings of Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Denver the Last Dinosaur, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Jem and the Holograms, only to find that most of the scenes were characters who talked only with their mouths and their bodies were just frozen. And there was no excuse, not when Disney have been producing animated pictures since the 20’s.

What makes animations look alive and not robotic are simply the smaller motions. A twitch of the muscle, turn of the tongue, different levels of blinking and the shifting of eyes. These are what separate robotic looking cartoons from those that have life. For a good example, look at WALL-E (if you haven’t seen it yet, do it NOW!). When you compare him with some of the other robots that look more robotic, there are minor movements he makes that just make him look alive. Not to spoil, but you will be able to compare WALL-E to another WALL-E robot that is emotionless, and you will see the difference (which is, by the way, one of the reasons why WALL-E is the most amazing animation I’ve seen so far)

My point is that Rango really shows the effort that was put into the animation. The character motions are complex  and the animation captures all the little movements that make these characters come alive. Of course, you could animate something so well but it would still look like crap if not for the…

+ Character and Set Modeling/Rendering

I use the term modeling here because I want to split it from the term “design”. The modeling refers to the executions of the designs. I’ll get to why in a moment. The detail on the characters are amazing. Their skin and their clothes are so well defined that its almost distracting. The locations are so detailed that you can really get lost in the sweeping visuals. When they go through caves, or ride across the desert, or go through the town, the detail of the set just overwhelms your mind. At some point, you will forget, even for a second, that you’re watching an animated film. I mean, look!

I think my eyes just wet themselves.

+ Cinematography

The cinematography was amazing. With CGI, animation was able to step into the world of 3-D, and though that was really advantageous, it gave many animators a different challenge. You could make the 3-Dimensional world, but people would still see it through a flat screen (3-D glasses or no). So they would have to, now choose how to show what’s happening on the screen. What angle would it look good, should I zoom in for a close-up or zoom out for a wide angle shot? These things had to be taken into account, and they chose the “camera viewpoint” well in this movie. When something looks epic, its not just in what you see, but in how you see it. The camera here plays with close shots and wide shots to awe you one way or another. It zooms in close and you’re like: “Wow… these guys are animated so well.” then the camera pulls out and you go: “Holy crap the place is huge.” The movie knows so well to play with the camera just so that you can appreciate every second of it.

I think a lot of this has to do with the movie being shot in real life, and using that footage as a base for how the animation would look. Sometimes when making animations, people get myopic. They’re so involved with trying to make all the bells and whistles shine and sparkle that they forget that they’re still making a movie. by using the footage as a peg for all the shots of the movie, the animators already had the great shots in front of them, they just had to turn Johnny Depp into a Chameleon.

Whew, okay, on to the cons!

– Character Design

This was why I wanted to differentiate it from Character Modeling/Rendering a while ago. While the characters are so well detailed and their designs were executed perfectly, the designs themselves could have been a bit more creative and ambiguous. The problem of this movie is that the good guys look like good guys, the bad guys look like bad guys, and the movie still tries to hold you in suspense as to who the bad guy is. The twists in the movie are pre-empted by the way the characters look, when they came, and the movie finally reveals the bad guy, there are no surprise AT ALL.

Its not like in 101 Dalmatians where the movie lets you know right away that Cruella de Vil, this movie still trys to convince you that its holding you in suspense, and that didn’t quite work for me.

This is the mayor of the town, looks like one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, right? :D

– Deus Ex-Machina ending

This movie was a great homage to the Western. It got a lot of the conventions and made it pretty original, for the most part. The trouble is that they didn’t know how to end it. There were a few things that pop up after the climax that are very out of place with the rest of the movie. It was the little glitch at the end of an otherwise spectacular movie.

It wasn’t enough to ruin the movie, mind you, just enough to make you look at the screen in bewilderment.

My Cent’s Worth: 9/10

It was a great experience, a fun movie, and is absolute proof that Disney isn’t the only one to make decent animated features. It isn’t perfect, but it is a great watch. If you haven’t seen it already, you probably should! :D


Posted on April 3, 2011, in Film Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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