I’ll be the first to admit that I still enjoy a good kid’s movie every once in awhile. Emphasis being on the word good. The problem is that good kids movies that apply to a wider audience is a really difficult balance to maintain. Humor can’t be too juvenile or older demographics write it off as immature, but more adult themes defeat the whole point of a kid’s movie in the first place. With these boundaries in mind, the crafting of a movie that can appeal to both ends of the spectrum is no easy task and any minor success deserves to be recognized, and while Rango is far from perfect, it is a movie that strives for a larger audience and it succeeds.
As a general rule, I don’t normally watch CGI-animated movies. While everyone raves about how amazing Pixar films are, I refuse to watch them as part of my silent protest for the death of traditionally animated films. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Up, and I’m sure it’s a fantastic film, but I don’t believe CGI-films have the same craft associated with them that a normally animated film has.
In terms of kid’s movies, I subscribe to the Studio Ghibli philosophy – children are generally clever, and movies should never talk down them. Ghibli films tend to follow the same themes of growing up, flight, wonder, and nature, but they are presented in such imaginative and beautiful ways that even though the themes repeat, the stories never do.
Miyazaki has mastered the art of wholesome films that go beyond simple childhood messages. Visually, they are well-animated and charming in ways that a CGI-film simply cannot capture. Thematically, they are rich and beautiful. All in all, while not all Ghibli films are perfect, even the worst have more substance than the best CGI film (well, except for Whisper of the Heart . . . that was the worst experience I’ve ever had).
Meanwhile, Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a film that falls more on the adult end of the spectrum with dialogue that is snappy, witty, and full of faux-curse words. The film isn’t so much a kid movie as a movie for the child within adults. Still, I can see myself showing this movie to my children in the future, but only because I could watched it nonstop.
So, with Studio Ghibli movies being a great balance but maybe a leaning a little closer towards movies for kids than adults, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox being a film that leans more to adults than kids, where does that put Rango?
Strangely, Rango seems to be square in the middle of the adult/child dichotomy. In terms of humor, there are some standard fart jokes to make kids laugh, but those moments are few and far between. While I never laughed out loud during the film, it was certainly a charming movie that made me want to watch more.
This is in no small part due to the absolutely stunning animation. Again, I’m not a typically a fan of CGI-animated movies, but Rango was gorgeous to look at. All of the little critters were varied and unique. Even though none of the minor characters were particularly developed (not that anyone should expect them to be), they all felt distinct and unique. The film could have taken a simple route with a town of lizard people who all looked the same, but there is ambition in the animation and it’s really quite impressive.
Of course, it isn’t enough to simply look pretty, but animated features must have excellent voice acting in order to bring the entire experience together (no matter if they are CGI or traditional) and Rango has this in spades. It probably goes without saying that Johnny Depp does an excellent job as the titular character, but he really does. Depp portrats Rango with a sense of rougish charm that leaps off of the screen. Sam described Depp’s performance as being, “Fun without being too Johnny Deppy” which I think means “without being too pretentious.”
Depp isn’t the only excellent performer, however. Isla Fisher is wonderful as love interest Beans, Abigail Breslin proves to be infectiously cute with just her voice as the mouse Priscilla, and Alfred Molina disappears into another role. Most surprising of all . . . and I never thought I would type this words . . . Ned Beatty is particularly menacing as the Turtle Mayor. Please reread that previous sentence, note that I did not have an ounce of sarcasm in that sentence (because I didn’t), close your dropped jaw, and let’s move on.
All in all, it’s a charming film that is well worth the price of admission no matter what age you are, but there is one moment near the beginning of the film that is a particularly amazing easter egg. It’s THE strangest movie crossover I’ve ever encountered and proof that the movie isn’t just for kids. It’s a crossover that is a gentle nod to older viewers in the way that Looney Tunes used to refer to Warner Bros. actors in order to please an older crowd. I’ll say no more.
Go check it out and let me know what you think, or if you’ve already watched the film, let me know what you thought in the comments section!