Movie Review: Rango

First of all, it’s my birthday! What does this have to do with Rango? I’ll tell you. This is one of those films I like to call “birth movies”. These fall into one of three categories: releasing theatrically on your birthday (The Fugitive, The Sixth Sense, Pink Floyd’s The Wall), released on home media on said day (Mud, MLP: FiM Equestria Girls) or as a birthday gift. This falls in the last category.

I saw this in the theater with my dad, back when I was looking at computer animation as a major. I was glad this was released on DVD in just enough time for my birthday that I asked and received. I kept it with me in a small DVD case during my freshman year. It turned out that one day toward the end of the school year, some classmates wanted to do something instead of learn. They asked if anyone had brought any movies. I gladly offered my copy and our teacher, surprised as he was, let us see it. Rango: Hero of the West and College Freshmen.

The film is beautifully animated. From the desert landscapes to the slow motion tumble of Rango’s world coming apart in the beginning of the film, this is a truly believable world. The character design is much more nature-based and life-like without going into the uncanny valley. The hodgepodge of traditional Western settings with a mixture of modern things, like the Pepto Bismol Port-a-potty and the vending machine in the second hawk chase scene, place the town of Mud in an almost timeless space.

I saw this again last night as it was a while since I saw it last. It makes a bit more sense after having seen Blazing Saddles. The comedy is mostly in the wordplay (“It’s a puzzle. It’s like a big ol’ mammogram!”) with some visual gags here and there. After a year or so since the release, it still holds up. However, that remains to be seen when it hits the ten year mark.

There are some line in there that still stay with me because they hold some basic truths about storytelling and movies. “The hero cannot exist in a vacuum.” “A hero cannot walk out on his own story.” Seriously, that’s some very important stuff right there. Without conflict, there is no story or movie. The hero, choosing to leave, puts the story at a standstill until whatever situation is at hand is resolved by others or by him returning to save the day. Core concepts that everyone can learn from.

Now as a Nickelodeon film, it’s surprising how far they’ve gone in terms of content. This is a hard PG, almost better off as a PG-13. Truth be told, this was petitioned to be an R film just on smoking alone; a “public health hazard” if you will. The only way I could see it being called that would be if smoking was allowed in the theater just for that movie, something that won’t happen short of watching it at home. The humor, just going on the Nick name, hearkens back to the “Golden Age of Nickelodeon” in the early 90’s: wild, adult, and wondering how in the world it happened. Just because there are talking animals and it’s animated doesn’t always mean it’s a kids film (Fritz the Cat anyone?).

The movie was smart in that it did not release in 3D. It would darken the carefully chosen color palette. Also, there aren’t many scenes where 3D would be needed. This was the smart option that I’d like to see more animated movies take.

If you haven’t seen it already, put it on your list. After all, it was the Best Animated Feature for 2011.

8.5/10

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