Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gore Verbinski: The Animated West

The Western, the most American of all motion picture genres, is not as dead as they say. We see it transmuted in shades permeating countless action, science fiction and thriller films littering the multiplexes across the nation. An actual western, though, is rare, so when an Open Range or The Proposition, a 3:10 to Yuma or True Grit crosses our paths, we must cherish it.

Gore Verbinski, to my mind an underrated big studio helmer, has shown himself to be a versatile craftsman of consistently entertaining and interesting mainstream films, including The Ring, The Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy and The Weather Man. Here he only adds to this with the excellent new animated film, Rango.

Johnny Depp delightfully voices the eponymous lizard hero, a jovial reptile who finds himself caught up in a Wild West land battle right outta the Lone Ranger, in a time proliferated by rodents and the like. Verbinski starts the film off brilliantly, with family pet Rango breaking the fourth wall and calling our attention to the very artifice of storytelling, and therefore movies in general. The sheer dynamism and pleasure Verbinski and his team of co-creators had in bringing this world to life is sheer and infectious, bolstered by an outstanding voice cast, including Isla Fisher, Ian McShane and Harry Dean Stanton.

The visuals pop along with the plot's stimulating originality, and it brings to mind even more the nauseating assembly line of anthropomorphous and alien CGI that's been done to death. Here, Verbinski is telling us, you can have those elements while retaining a spark of magic, lighting minds ablaze.

Hans Zimmer has fun with a saloony, mariachi tinged score, and Verbinski is tenderly referencing Sergio Leone, Hunter S. Thompson, John Ford, Clint Eastwood, Don Bluth and even Roman Polanski.

What he leaves us with is one of the best animated films to come along in quite some time.

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