Monday, March 28, 2011


In honor of Rango being the first movie of the year to break $100 million (plus we finally got around to seeing it this weekend), here are my observations on it. I will avoid spoilers.

This is the first full-length CGI movie by Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). Their experience in ground-breaking special effects really shows. This is an amazingly ambitious movie. Where Tangled went for a hand-drawn animation look, Rango is photo-realistic. No other CGI movie has come close to this level of detail.

It is also the first movie shot in what director Gore Verbinski calls "performance capture". Normally the voice work for animated movies is done with each actor recording his lines by himself in a sound booth. The other end of the spectrum is motion capture where the actors wear special suits that follow their movements. This is something in-between. What Verbinski did was to gather the entire cast and have them act out their parts using minimal costumes and props. In addition to recording their voices, their performance was captured on video tape. This became a reference for the animators.

So, it was a great technical triumph. But how is the movie? Hilarious.

The movie has a constant stream of jokes on multiple levels. Rango himself is funny as are the inhabitants of the town of Dirt. The town is a clever mixture of old west sets mixed with some modern items. Since the inhabitants are all small animals, items from the human world are oversized. For example, a five gallon tank from a water cooler becomes a water tower.

Finally, there are numerous references to other movies. Many of these are very subtle and you don't have to get any of them to understand the movie (except for the Spirit of the West).

The movie itself is a Don Knotts-style movie complete with references to one bullet. A hawk has a silver beak just as an evil gunslinger in Cat Ballou has a silver nose. One character is on a Don Quixote-style quest and carries a walking stick that looks like a lance. When we first see Rango he is wearing a Hawaiian shirt. One of Johnny Depps' earlier roles was "Raoul Duke" who wore Hawaiin shirts and saw talking lizards.

The result is a movie that works for all ages. Adults need not be ashamed to see it but the kids will love it, too.

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