Johnny Depp lends his voice to the portrayal of the title character, an adventurous family pet who leaves home to learn more about himself, in this family-friendly animated adventure directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean). The star-studded cast of vocal talent also includes Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, Alfred Molina, Ray Winstone, Harry Dean Stanton, Ned Beatty, Stephen Root and Bill Nighy.
Rating: 8 out of 10
This is a storyline we’ve seen before. It’s classic mythology. Weak protagonist is thrust into being a hero, meets girl, loses girl, faces tough times only to rise again as the hero and get the girl in the process. But it works.
Rango thinks he’s an actor. Right from the beginning, while living in his safe aquarium, Rango lays out the exact story arch that’s about to happen while creating a play. He thinks he’s an actor. When he’s thrust into the desert after the car he’s riding in has an accident, he pretends to be a gunslinging bad-ass in a Western town he finds called Dirt.
The aforementioned storyline unfolds, but it works because we get lost in the characters and the world that drips with detail we seldom see in animation. It’s an old west town inhabited by desert animals. But they aren’t just cuddly bunnies wearing ten gallon hats. Their teeth are yellow and chipped, their boots worn to the soles, the buildings are made with splinter-filled wood, and the animals feel real from each scale and feather. It’s a tough life in the desert, and lack of water and death are central themes. It’s rare in animation targeted at children where characters and creatures regularly die throughout the film, but without it, we wouldn’t get the depth and breadth given to this world.
The film also has an excellent cast, led by Depp, who keep the film fun, fast, with some emotion when needed. This film will bore very young children or maybe scare them. But 10 and older should be just fine.
Puss in Boots
Voiced by Antonio Banderas, the dauntless feline of legend goes on an animated adventure to purloin a priceless golden-egg-laying goose. To help him on his mission, Puss brings along his friends Humpty Dumpty and the super-stealthy Kitty Softpaws.
Rating: 9 out of 10
This is by far smarter, funnier, more clever, witty, and fun than any of the Shrek films. Each of its unneeded sequels got dumber and dumber, which is why I ignored this spin-off completely. That was a huge mistake.
There were moments where I genuinely laughed out out loud. I delighted in the equisite detail of the animation and the backgrounds that drip with color in a Spanish-inspired fairy tale world. And I adored the theft of classic cowboy and Spanish films that no doubt inspired director Chris Miller (Shrek the Third). There is so much love poured into this film, and it’s obvious in all the detail that layers this movie over and over again.
And the performances are great, from the self-afacing Antonio Benderas, who is lampooning himself in the title role, to Salma Hayek, Zach Galifanakis and Billy Bob Thornton. It’s an awesome cast with a compelling storyline wrapped in a wonderfully crafted film. It’s one of the best animated films I’ve seen in years.
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