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Dr. Wostenberg's World of Cinema Reviews: Rango

My Favorite Animated Film from the Last Decade A Film Review of Rango by Christopher Wostenberg

Over the last decade there has been an explosion of great animated films. Disney has seen a resurgence producing such excellent films as Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and Zootopia. And their subsidiary company, Pixar, has consistently made great movies since Toy Story came out in 1995 with only a few miss steps. But there have been many other companies making well-received animated films recently like Illumination (Despicable Me series and The Secret Life of Pets), DreamWorks (How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek and Kung Fu Panda series), and Blue Sky (Ice Age and Rio series) to name a few. Plus, there are many more exceptional animated films coming out of countries from around the world. For many of us, animated films represent our introduction into films and as such hold a special place in our hearts throughout our lives. Therefore, I write this review to pay honor to my favorite animated movie from the last decade, Rango.

The plot of the film is the typical hero’s journey story within the genre of a western. The hero of the story is an unnamed chameleon that due to a car accident is abandoned in the Mojave Desert. The chameleon enters the town of Dirt, which is inhabited by desert animals. The chameleon pretends to be a tough western drifter with the name Rango. After defeating a hawk, by pure luck, the town mayor makes the chameleon the new sheriff and gives him the task of solving the town’s water shortage problem.

One reason I have picked Rango as my favorite animated film from the last decade is the detailed animation of the film. All the creatures in the film are depicted as anthropomorphic characters with a rough texture. Unlike other animated films with animal characters, e.g., Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, and Madagascar, the characters are not meant to look cute and cuddly with soft rounded edges. The rough texture of the characters’ look is great for echoing the tough and harsh nature of the western desert environment that the film takes place in. In addition to the characters, the animation takes care to utilize light and shadow, similar to live action westerns and film noir pictures. One example of this is the bar scene where cracks in the roof allow beams of light to enter the bar causing the characters to be obscured within the shadows. Similar scenes in Frozen at the trading post or various bar scenes within the Shrek franchise do not use the contrast of light in the same manner. Generally, the character’s features are still well-defined and only partly darkened. As I have briefly illustrated, the animation of the film is unique among similarly animated films.

Another reason I love Rango is that it does not appear to compromise on its premise. The film crew set out to make an animated film that went beyond just pure family entertainment. As mentioned above, the film hit its target of providing quality animation on par with Disney/Pixar. What sets it apart from other family films is that while entertaining for children, the movie is really aimed at the adult audience without the need for sex and violence. Besides the physical comedy of the characters, much of the humor of the film comes from references to classic films. This is illustrated best in the dream sequence when the chameleon meets the “Spirit of the West,” who looks like Clint Eastwood’s character from Fistful of Dollars and rides around on a golf cart with five golden trophies in the back. In fact much of the movie is based off a combination of Western films and other classic films like Chinatown. It is refreshing to see an animated film that is intelligent and on par with some of the best live-action films.

The unnamed hero is thrust from his isolated terrarium into the action of the film due to an unexpected car crash. Retrieved from Rango (Verbinski, G., 1963, Nickelodeon Movies), Scene at 00:05:06.

Favorite Scene: Though many scenes of the movie are great for their animation, my favorite scene almost makes me forget that Rango is an animated film. The scene appears after the unnamed chameleon is introduced, just as he is putting on an imaginary play within his terrarium. After mentioning the story needs an “unexpected event” that will “propel” the hero into action, car horns are heard. The initial lighthearted, comedic tone is thus broken and switches to one of danger as the audience sees that the chameleon is in a terrarium that is about to hit the pavement.

The scene is shot like you would expect for a live-action film where there is a car crash. The use of slow motion prior to the breaking of the terrarium emphasizes an impending doom and makes us reflect on the abrupt change from a fun, upbeat feel to one of worrisome apprehension. The slow motion is dreamlike as the audience perhaps cannot believe what is happening. After the terrarium breaks, the film returns to normal speed as everything settles from the accident, and we are presented with the new environment of the desert road. The sound of broken glass is heard initially and slowly fades until there is no noise left. As the narrated line that starts the scene alluded to, our hero is now literally thrust out of his vacuum into the real world with a real problem: survival in the desert environment.

Hopefully, you will get a chance to watch Rango and enjoy it as much as I do. Also, let me know your favorite animated movie from the last decade. I am curious to see what everyone picks and why.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, my next few reviews will be on some of great movies about love, starting with a tale about love that crosses cultures and ages called Ali: Fear Eats the Soul by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. My end quote this time comes from King Kong (1933), “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”

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