Gore Verbinski’s Rango riffs on the West and the Western, never quite escaping the gravity well of genre conventions; it also nimbly dances through the minefields of cheap reductive parody or punch(line)drunken gag-sap-gag-moral-gag-triumph which crowd the children’s animated film market, yet has the stray belch or manic action sequence or bow-wrapped final-reel redemption which keeps things familiar.

Who gives a shit? Look at that picture. This film is so lovingly, unprettily, idiosyncratically lush in its images — that perfect asymmetry of its protagonist’s googly eyes, blinking out of sync with one another, veering off in different directions. I’d watch this again in a heartbeat.

And I’d listen with even greater pleasure: plot be damned, let the critters chatter and mumble and carry on. Depp gets center stage, and is brilliant, but the film is horizon to dusty horizon of stray bits of wonderful crazed poetry. (“If this were heaven we’d be eating poptarts with Kim Novak” is a line that immediately burrowed into my frontal lobe and sat there tickling away, never settling into sense.) The film’s as extravagantly odd as the best of Looney Tunes, and I loved it.

14 thoughts on “Varmints”

  1. “The movie cost $135 million to produce and marked the first animated feature ever designed entirely by the visual-effects house Industrial Light & Magic. Despite stellar reviews, Rango garnered a dispiriting “C+” grade from CinemaScore audiences. Adults, in particular, didn’t enjoy the ride, with those 25 and up rating the movie a “C.” That’s rather odd since the PG-rated movie was stuffed with cinematic references and the kind of offbeat humor best appreciated by grownups.”

  2. …which confirms my long-standing theory that people are idiots. Because of them, Shrek 37: Shrek’s Explosive Diarrhea–coming soon to a theater near you!

  3. Explosive diarrhea in 3D I hope. I miss have younger kids so I would have an excuse to see this in theaters. It will have to wait for DVD for me.

  4. I liked this a lot. A really beautiful film, with creatures that are marvelous to look at. At times it’s silly and fun, and yes full of jokes an amateur cinephile will appreciate. But there are also moments where Rango comes very close to surrealism–of course never at the expense of the narrative, which moves along rather well (in part due to the plot elements it lovingly steals from other westerns, as well as from Chinatown and even The Music Man).

    My niece saw it and said “meh.”

  5. I thought Rango was completely eccentric and quirky and delightful (and I thought of you, John, while watching . . . I just knew you would appreciate it). Johnny Depp’s voice-acting was engaging and fully-dimensional. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure it was him at first as it didn’t “sound” like him at all. It sounded like Rango (I know, corny but true). Timothy Olyphant’s cameo was priceless. And yes, the surrealistic touches were much appreciated. Gorgeous production design. The shout-out to Roger Deakins as “visual consultant” made sense. Credit sequence was pretty damn fun as well. Still, my daughter didn’t think too much of it either. Given the less than stellar BO and word-of-mouth surrounding Cowboys and Aliens, is it possible that the western is really dead (even self-reflexive ones)?

  6. The questiona about whether westerns are dead is a good one, given that Denby’s extended tribute to Clint Eastwood turning 80 begins with Unforgiven, the last truly great western. I’d make no such claims for Cowboys and Aliens, but I surely liked it more than Reynolds. It burrowed deep into the genre in a manner that was simultaneously respectful and unnerving. The dark humor that periodically punctuated the laconicism (is that a word?) was character-driven, whereas Rango’s humor was simply poing fun at familiar tropes of westerns, something not so hard to do.

    I loved the surrealism of the opening scene of Rango, and bits and pieces of the imagery later in the movie, but, for me, it rapidly became tiresome and predictable. The townsfolk were too easily swayed, and the set-pieces too obvious. It was a clever idea in want of decent execution. And in one regard, I disagree with Jeff: there was never any doubt that Johnny Depp was voicing Rango because he did it channeling Jack Sparrow, even down to intonation. They were the same character: cowardly, looking to profit from the situation, but finding himself unable to overcome his better nature. Depp needs to re-discover his range; he played the same part in The Tourist (which was beyond awful).

  7. It is an intriguing question–but the western’s been dead so often I’m hesitant to say it’s doing anything more than pining for the fjords.

    I think both of the films being referenced are rather obviously, even tediously “western”–but both graft other approaches which do or don’t work, depending on our sensibilities. There’s the noirish/Chinatown edge, or just the film about the outsider, in Rango–but really I think the touchstone is looney tunes: weave Chuck Jones’ sensibility throughout a straight western. There is a lot of obviousness in the foreground–of plot, event, character. But the delight for me was in the pure surface (the look/style) and strange sideways and off-center business always going on. I watched this film out of the corner of my eye; I’m not sure it made me re-see (let alone re-think) the Western, but it was more of a kick…

    …whereas C & A managed to stitch one reasonable but grade-C vision of a genre to another grade-C vision of a genre, and neither really commented on the other. The aliens opened up opportunities to flirt beyond the surface “faith” chatter to think about technology and/versus the nostalgia for the west, or about the “indians” normally holding the spot after the ampersand, … On the other end, I could buy and accept the very respectful and relatively lovely western emphasis, but I was utterly fucking bored and annoyed by the ridiculously stupid sci-fi bit. Really: these aliens were as fucking dumb as the ones in Skyline. The sci-fi graft didn’t really invigorate the western part; it just hung there, rotting, and making me like the western elements less.

  8. I agree with you, Chris. I was pretty fond of what Takashi Miike did in Sukiyaki Western Django, too, and also loved the fantastic (but more familiar) The Good the Bad the Weird from Kim Ji-Woon. (And I’m keen to see where Tarantino takes the genre…)

  9. Reads more like a classic “southern” revenge narrative with slaves and their evil white masters (and the odd German bounty hunter). I’ve read that it will also be an homage to spaghetti westerns but that doesn’t entirely come through in the script. The nods to blaxploitation films are clearer. It will be an odd hybrid as is Tarantino’s want . . . but many suggested Inglourious to have been shaped by the spaghetti western as well. Short the music and some extreme long shots, I didn’t see it. I will admit to having little to no interest in “noodly tumbleweeders” but that’s just me being snobby.

  10. I don’t think the Western is dead, I just think filmmakers are getting lazy. What I want to see is a Western that finds the right balance between seriousness (which is a certain kind of fidelity to formula) and self-consciousness (which is another). I thought the remake of 3:10 to Yuma was probably the best I’ve seen in some time, next to the remake of True Grit. There will always be Westerns, of this I’m sure. Mostly because it is, along with Horror, the most flexible of the genres, and because of this the healthiest.

  11. I thought Depp performed Jack Sparrow with an amusingly affected British accent (something Keith Richard-sy with a bit of swish thrown in for good measure). I haven’t really seen any of those films so who knows, but I did not recognize Sparrow in Rango. If anything, I thought I was getting a more playful take on his work in Dead Man.

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