Rango (2011)

(In theaters, March 2011) From a distance, Rango feels like a family western: a stranger comes to town, fights evil and drives the bad guys away.  Plot-wise, no need to look for a complex structure or a complicated sequence of twists and turns.  But everything’s in the details and it’s in its execution that Rango becomes interesting to older viewers.  Director Gore Verbinksi has an unusual track record for off-kilter projects, and this one is no exception: Filled with references to other films, torn between comedy and action, often breaking the fourth wall and leaving full place to Johnny Depp’s equally-offbeat personae in a scrawny animated chameleon body, Rango surprises as much as it delights in surrealistic interludes, caricatures (most will recognize Clint Eastwood; nearly as many will catch the quick reference to Depp as Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), throwaway gags and quirky character portraits.  ILM’s first fully-animated film features top-notch animation; it’s a shame, however, that the cinematography and character design are often a bit too busy (and brownish) to be instantly enjoyable.  Still, it’s the film’s constant oddness that makes it a small delight to watch, keeping us alert rather than carried along comfortably by a well-worn plot.  It’s the first film of 2011 that’s not only worth watching, but re-watching a few months later.

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