Movie Review: Rango [2011]

Rango [2011]

Rango [2011]
Director: Gore Verbinski
Genre: Animation/Adventure/Comedy
Language: English
Country: USA

When I first saw the trailer for Rango, I immediately thought it was going to be another run-of-the-mill animated movie for children. Slowly, details started to trickle out and I heard about references to Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas and the Dollars Trilogy, among others. My interest was piqued, and it turns out that my initial notion was dead wrong.

Rango is a smart movie, one that caters toward adults and film buffs. Sure, kids will love its stylish and unbelievably detailed visuals, as well as Johnny Depp’s charming rendition of the title character, but many of the film references and “adult” level jokes will go over their poor little heads. I think that’s what made Rango so appealing for me — it isn’t “dumbed down” at all.

Rango [2011]

So yeah, Johnny Depp is the voice of Rango, a pet chameleon who accidentally becomes stranded in the Mojave Desert. Scared shitless by being alone amongst red-tailed hawks and other predators, Rango wanders aimlessly and eventually meets a desert iguana named Beans, who takes him into an Old West town called Dirt. It is here where the ever-imaginative chameleon develops his persona of Rango, posing as a tough outlaw who once killed all seven Jenkins brothers with one bullet. One bullet! The townsfolk eat this up, and after Rango accidentally kills a terrorizing red-tailed hawk, he is appointed as the town’s sheriff.

What ultimately unveils itself is a clever homage to the classic Chinatown, with the town trying to figure out what the hell happened to their disappearing water supply. Nods to old Westerns are also frequent, and the movie itself is nothing more than an animated spoof/tribute to the genre.

Not enough can be said of the movie’s visuals. This is one of the best-looking animated features I have ever seen, and it is clear that Pixar now has some competition in the form of Industrial Light & Magic. Do yourself a favor and see this on Blu-ray. It is mind-bogglingly sharp.

Rango [2011]

The voice acting is also quite impressive with Johnny Depp leading the way. Whereas other big name actors have been known to phone in their performances, Depp is on top of the game here and is clearly having a great time. Ned Beatty, Bill Nighy, Abigail Breslin, Stephen Root and Harry Dean Stanton also lend their talent, to name a few, and the casting overall is quite flawless.

I liked Rango and its eccentricities quite a bit, particularly the beginning and end sequences. The middle portion, while entertaining, dragged on a bit too long, and the overall feature suffers a little as a result. Still, there is a lot to like here. Kids will be pleased with the characters and the stunning visuals, and adults will love all of the references and gags related to other films. A spicier middle segment would have made this one of the top films this year, but it’s still a fun way to spend two hours.

7.5/10

Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas [1971]

Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas
Author: Hunter S. Thompson
Original Release: November 1971

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

This is quite possibly my favorite opening sentence from a novel, and it sets the tone for the drug-addled adventure that is Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. The story is an exaggerated account of Hunter S. Thompson’s pursuit of the American Dream in Las Vegas. Accompanied by “Dr. Gonzo,” his faithful attorney, Thompson (as Raoul Duke) is initially sent out to Vegas to report on the off road race known as the Mint 400. However, this work is quickly scrapped in favor of just getting blitzed and then becoming involved in random bizarre adventures.

Fear and Loathing is absolutely hilarious, and is certainly one of the funniest books I have ever read. Duke and his attorney find themselves in some very precarious situations. On their ride into Vegas in the “Great Red Shark” (their rented red Chevy convertible), they pick up a hitchhiker who quickly becomes scared shitless by their drug-induced craze. In Vegas, Dr. Gonzo brings a Jesus and Barbara Streisand loving innocent young girl back to their hotel room, where he proceeds to give her acid (when she had never even gotten high before). There is also an extremely amusing encounter with a hotel maid who stumbles into their room when both Duke and his attorney are stark naked. The dialogue is just incredible here, and Thompson’s unique way of writing makes everything even more entertaining.

As mentioned earlier, there is a lot of drug use in this book. The characters are frequently in a state of paranoia because of this, and often see some ridiculous hallucinations (which are brought to life by Ralph Steadman’s amazing illustrations). Just read their drug haul that they brought with them to Vegas:

“We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.

Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.”

If you think that sounds insane, well, you are absolutely right! Some people are turned off from this book because of the drug binges, but if you do so you are missing out on a wildly entertaining and witty novel that also indulges in biting satire. I have lent my copy of this book out to many friends and family members, all of whom have also loved this. Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas is one of my favorite books of all time, a rare novel that I can read over and over again without losing interest. If you are able, pick up the Modern Library version of the book, which also comes with two of Thompson’s short stories. I cannot recommend this book enough!

10/10