If you first saw those Rango posters and trailers and thought “What the heck is the deal with this cartoon about a Hunter S. Thompson-esque lizard and his little plastic orange fish?” I understand. But you should know there’s a lot more going for this strange animated comedy. That description is probably the biggest part. Sure it’s rated PG. It’s colorful. It has kid-friendly jokes. But it’s not a kids’ movie. It’s a hilarious complex and refreshingly dark animated story.
Director producer and writer Gore Verbinski had this little tale in his head since before he started in on the Pirates of the Caribbean series and when he finished the third film he was finally able to return to this passion project. Set in the town of Dirt a dusty little western hamlet outside of Las Vegas Rango follows a lizard — also named Rango — who is thrown from the comforts of his suburban lizard tank into the rough and tumble (modern) Old West. He quickly encounters the dangers of the outside world but when he stumbles upon the little town he accidentally makes himself into a hero thus putting the burden of their vicious drought on his scaly little shoulders. This tale offers a slew of new deserty characters all of which are somewhat cute in their own rights but you’d probably never want to pick them up and cuddle them.
There are two things that make Rango work so fantastically. One is the sheer visual grandeur of the whole thing. Without leaning over to the 3D side of things it looks unlike any animated features we’ve seen; rich colors incredible detail realistic imperfections and quirks swathed in a dusty southwest exterior make up the background for Rango’s adventure. But beyond the incredible landscape and creature features the cast is so full of fantastic actors it’s almost unfair. Besides hosting a long list of character actors including Stephen Root and Harry Dean Stanton we find big names like Isla Fisher Abigail Breslin Bill Nighy and Timothy Olyphant (to name a few) lending their able tones as well. Of course leading the charge is Johnny Depp who could carry just about anything (hey how do you think those limping Pirates sequels stay afloat?). He and the rest of the cast were filmed acting out the scenes in costume so the animators could capture their varying emotions and facial expressions onscreen and those efforts are extremely evident in the film.
Now as for the features this Blu-ray offers we’ve got plenty to work with. In addition to the 10 deleted scenes that you can watch separately or as part of the extended version of the film the Blu-ray offers a few fantastic extras. My favorite it probably the simplest: a picture-in-picture storyboard feature that lets you see each scene’s origins. (You may have to be a nerd to enjoy it but it’s pretty great.) Next we find features like the behind-the-scenes featurette which lets you glimpse the cast shooting those live action scenes mentioned earlier as well as featurettes about how the film came into fruition. There’s a quick little safari of the desert available as long as you don’t find the nature guide as obnoxious as I do. Finally there’s an interactive tour of Dirt which is probably a little more for the young’uns than adults but it’s pretty cute.
The features are great but the real treat here is seeing this beautiful film in 1080p high definition. Verbinksi and his team of animators have really outdone themselves and what could make something so beautiful just that much better? Johnny Depp as a lizard. Case closed.