Sean K. Cureton

Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Conventions of Drama Through a Dirty Lens

In Movie Reviews: 2011 on March 21, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Theatrical Poster

Directed by Gore Verbinski
3 out of 4 stars

Gore Verbinski’s new animated feature is strange, to say the least. Starting at the beginning of the film, Rango ensnares its audience with a plot that plays with a person’s preconceived notions on what the standard conventions of drama are, and then distorts these conventions with numerous allusions to other films that only enhance the idea that Rango should not be taken strictly as just a film, but instead a clever satire of what film and drama are supposed to be.

In the first scene, the title character, voiced by Johnny Depp, is stuck in a fish tank, performing a play largely for himself, that evokes elements of the Shakespearean form. As the scene progresses, it becomes clear that Rango does not know exactly how this play will end, just as he does not know how his life on a grander scale will play out. This confusion then lends itself to the rest of the film, as Rango is hurled from his glass home, and finds himself in a vast desert, where he reacts to everything as though he were a player on a stage. In fact, much of the film consists of his having taken on the role of Rango for the Town of Dirt, a place where he knows he can create a whole new persona. He then embodies this persona entirely, and the rest of the film feels like a parody of various Western Dramas led by an actor who does not know his lines, but instead borrows lines from other great characters.

The fact that this film is animated makes it all the stranger, as the animation of the talking creatures is quite detailed and therefore a little bit frightening. The world created by Verbinski is familiar, yet strange and disturbing, and the Town of Dirt and the characters that inhabit it all feel real, probably because a great majority of them have been taken from other films.

Beyond that, the voice acting is quite fun, and again unnerving, in that the actors portraying the characters are meant to sound like characters from other classic films. From Ned Beatty evoking John Huston from Chinatown, to Timothy Olyphant eerily mimicking Clint Eastwood as the “Spirit of the West,” the voices contributed to the animation in this film add another layer of familiarity that sets this film so deeply in the mythos of the films that came before it.

Verbinski has been known to direct some strange films in the past, (does anyone else remember the third installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy?) but Rango is not just strange, it is so ingrained in what we conceive to be normal, that its abnormalities are all the more striking and noticeable. While kids might not understand this Nickelodeon produced picture, mature audiences will be sure to catch on to this acid trip of a Western, and will be glad they went along for the ride.