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Rango: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Rango (2011) movie poster Rango

Theatrical Release: March 4, 2011 / Running Time: 107 Minutes (Theatrical Version), 112 Minutes (Extended Version) / Rating: PG (Theatrical Version), Not Rated (Extended Version)

Director: Gore Verbinski / Writers: John Logan (story & screenplay); Gore Verbinski, James Ward Byrkit (story)

Voice Cast: Johnny Depp (Rango, Lars), Isla Fisher (Beans), Abigail Breslin (Priscilla), Ned Beatty (Mayor Marion Lynch), Alfred Molina (Roadkill), Bill Nighy (Rattlesnake Jake), Stephen Root (Doc, Mr. Merrimack, Mr. Snuggles), Harry Dean Stanton (Balthazar), Timothy Olyphant (The Spirit of the West), Ray Winstone (Bad Bill), Ian Abercrombie (Ambrose), Gil Birmingham (Wounded Bird), James Ward Byrkit (Waffles, Gordy, Papa Joad, Cousin Murt, Curlie, Knife Attacker, Rodent Kid), Claudia Black (Angelique), Blake Clark (Buford), John Cothran (Elgin), Patrika Darbo (Delilah, Maybelle), George Del Hoyo (Señor Flan - Mariachi Accordion), Maile Flanagan (Lucky), Charles Fleischer (Elbows), Beth Grant (Bonnie), Ryan Hurst (Jedidiah), Vincent Kartheiser (Ezekiel, Lasso Rodent), Hemky Madera (Chorizo), Alex Manugian (Spoons), Mark "Crash" McCreery (Parsons), Joseph A. Nuñez (Rock-Eye), Chris Parson (Hazel Moats, Kinski, Stump, Clinker, Lenny, Boseefus, Dirt Kid), Lew Temple (Mr. Furgus, Hitch), Alanna Ubach (Boo, Cletus, Fresca, Miss Daisy), Gore Verbinski (Sergeant Turley, Crevice, Slim, Lupe - Mariachi Violin), Kym Whitley (Melonee), Keith Campbell (Sod Buster)

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Repeatable box office success has opened the floodgates for animation. Wikipedia's massive, semi-reliable list of animated feature films contains more entries from 1999 to the present day than from the eighty years before then.
There are many causes behind that statistic (globalization, an ever-expanding marketplace, the cost-effectiveness of computers, the viability of direct-to-video releases), but the fact is animation remains one of the more popular and profitable art forms out there.

If we narrow our view of the present boom to theatrically-released American films, the most visible type of animation being made, we notice a surprising lack of variety. How many of these predominantly CG-animated movies aren't readily classified as a family comedy? Sure, that is a broad blanket and an insufficient way to describe movies as diverse as WALL•E, Coraline, and A Christmas Carol. But as far as recent CGI movies that don't comfortably fit into that label go, the most prominent ones I can think of are Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and 9, neither of which made a very large splash.

Rango (voiced by Johnny Depp) takes in the sights and sounds of the desert town Dirt.

This brings me to Rango. Yes, with its PG rating and Nickelodeon branding, it can be seen as a family comedy and, like much of the medium, one that centers on talking animals. But it's also a western, something you don't see everyday and almost never in animation¹. Rango doesn't earn that designation halfheartedly. It's a western first and foremost, made in the mold of that once-popular genre but told with a cast of lizards, turtles, rabbits, and such.

The title character isn't originally known as that. The film opens with our loopy chameleon lead (frantically voiced by Johnny Depp) performing an elaborate piece of theatre with his lifeless but personified companions on what appears to be a desert island. In fact, we come to find out that Rango is just a pet in a glass tank sitting in the backseat of a car on a highway road trip. An accident sets the chameleon loose in the sweltering desert on his own. He has almost no time to adjust to his surroundings before a hawk swoops down after him. He narrowly survives that attack, meets an independent lady lizard named Beans (voiced by Isla Fisher), distinguished by her involuntary freezing defense mechanism, and hitches a ride with her into the nearby town of Dirt.

There, the chameleon adopts a Southwestern accent and reinvents himself as "Rango." He accepts credit for killing the Jenkins brothers, soaking up a saloon's attention as he explains how he offed all seven with a single bullet. From there, the legend grows, mostly with dumb luck. Rango stands up to a local heavy, defies another hawk, and gets appointed sheriff. Among his first actions in that role is to inadvertently turn Dirt's serious drought problem into an all-out catastrophe, when he unwittingly aids a robbery of the town's limited supply (water is their currency). Rango, Beans, and other concerned citizens try to correct the problem, heading back out to the desert in pursuit of the bandits. The drought's answer, however, might lie closer to home.

Rango gets his first look at Beans' blank, frozen stare (an involuntary defense mechanism). The ever-theatrical Rango regales Dirt's saloon with made-up tales of derring-do.

Rango is utterly different from other animated movies in its look and tone. This is a film more interested in doing its own thing than in comforting the audience with warmth and familiarity.
Characters smoke, drink, spit, shoot guns, and use mild profanity. That's the western for you, and Rango is enamored with the genre. The movie drips with spaghetti western homage, from the faint squeaks of Once Upon a Time in the West to a Hans Zimmer score you can't believe isn't the work of Ennio Morricone to a powerful appearance by "The Spirit of the West", fashioned after Sergio Leone's "Man with No Name" and looking and sounding (thanks to Timothy Olyphant's solid impression) just like the Clint Eastwood of yore. Such touches will be lost on most of the film's young viewers, as will a drive-by cameo from Depp's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas take on Hunter S. Thompson.

It's as if Depp, his three-time Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski, and screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Sweeney Todd) decided to pass on focus groups, consumer products meetings, and studio guidance to simply make the movie they wanted to. That seems improbable on movie with a reported $135 million production budget, but it's one way to make sense of how Rango came to be what it is, a strange ride more fun for adults than children.

Reveling in weirdness heretofore avoided in animated movies (including an owl mariachi band serving as cautionary Greek chorus), it's surprising that Rango performed as well as it did in theaters. Its $123 million domestic draw easily made it the top grosser of 2011's first three months. The earnings are a testament to Depp's celebrity, the appeal of PG-rated animation, and the power of marketing. Ads made the film look eccentric but cute, not a very accurate portrayal. Given a month's breathing room between Gnomeo & Juliet and the April attractions of Hop and Rio, Rango had sharp timing and limited competition on its side as well.

Plus, the reviews were glowing, as they should have been. Having reviewed movies for several years now, I can tell you that variety is welcome in this line of work. Moviegoers might eat up more of the same, a fact proven yet again by all of this summer's top-earning movies (all sequels). Critics, on the other hand, want something different. I watch movies almost every single day. I know how they work. I've seen all the bonus features. I know about three-act structures, hero's journeys, misdirects, callbacks, and creating emotional stakes. Great movies use those things just as often as bad movies do. The trick is to get our attention by giving us something we haven't seen before. Rango does that.

A death-fixated owl mariachi band functions as Greek chorus to tell Rango's story. Rattlesnake Jake (modeled after Lee Van Cleef and voiced by Bill Nighy) may seem meant to make impact in 3D, but the film was neither made in nor converted to that format.

A little originality goes a long way and you needn't even be all that original; Rango's biggest idea is to make a spaghetti western with computer-animated critters. That's a different foundation and, with it, critics' ears perk up. Where the film goes with that unlikely fusion is enjoyable. Not top-to-bottom, grinning-throughout enjoyability like Pixar's best; an action sequence with bats and "Ride of the Valkyries" seems overdone and unneeded, for instance. But there are enough good ideas and sequences rolled out in a way that isn't predictable or hackneyed. DreamWorks Animation's better movies (Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, the first two Shreks) seem to hit a ceiling creatively on account that they want to be loved and have music videos and make sequels; they can be highly entertaining and aesthetically pleasing, but a certain personality and heart tends to be missing. Rango flirts with the DreamWorks ceiling and it's guilty of some star voice casting and fart jokes, but it narrowly breaks through on its spunk and offbeat charm.

Depp adds to that, even if our first impression is that he'll be dipping back into the well of funny voices that has almost made him a billionaire this century. You'll hear bits of Captain Jack Sparrow and Willy Wonka in the performance, but Rango stands on his own as an appealing hero who's funny and not too self-aware. Apart from Depp and maybe Abigail Breslin, whose third billing is undeserved, the voice cast isn't very name-driven. Ned Beatty gets his second big CGI career boost in as many years playing Dirt's sketchy, wheelchair-bound Mayor. Other turns are from actors whose names you may know, but whose voices you probably won't recognize (except for maybe Stephen Root and Ray Winstone). The likes of Alfred Molina (channeling his inner Cheech Marin), Bill Nighy, and Harry Dean Stanton aren't here to put famous faces in promotional interstitials. They're there because they fit the local rogues gallery vocally or can stretch themselves to do so.

I haven't yet gotten to one of the most impressive aspects of the film: its animation. If you're a modern animation buff, you'll be surprised that such a polished-looking film doesn't bear any of the big studios' names. You may wonder, when did Nickelodeon launch a computer animation studio? Are these the people who made Jimmy Neutron and the Rugrats movies? No, Rango is the first animated film made by Industrial Light & Magic, the effects division of George Lucas' Lucasfilm. It is an auspicious debut, boasting visuals up there with Pixar's latest. It is strange then that ILM's name has been practically buried in discussions of the film, earning only a small logo on the back of the case that is overshadowed by those of Nickelodeon and Verbinski's Blind Wink production company. I, for one, look forward to what might be next from ILM, although at the moment it seems like they've only got their usual slate of high-profile live-action tentpoles (Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol, The Avengers, etc.) to enhance.

The assorted citizens of Dirt get behind their new sheriff Rango in hopes he'll solve the town's water shortage.

Eight movies and nearly seven months into 2011's Best Animated Feature Oscar race and Rango is looking like the frontrunner. It would end Pixar's streak of four consecutive winners, which is certain to end, since Cars 2 would have to become the least acclaimed film since Shark Tale to even earn a nomination in the category. Competition is much stiffer now than it was in 2004-05. Other candidates looking good right now are Rio, Kung Fu Panda 2, and the just-opened Winnie the Pooh.
Among yet to open films, Happy Feet 2's teaser makes it look out of the running (despite the fact that its predecessor was the last non-Pixar film to win), Puss in Boots is probably a long shot, and the motion capture techniques of Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin might render it ineligible. Arthur Christmas, on the other hand, has both the pedigree of Aardman Animations and ideal timing in its Thanksgiving debut. And who knows what small, endearing movies the rest of the world has planned?

Movie studios tend to avoid scheduling major home video releases for the summer, preferring to get holiday season hits out for Easter and summer blockbusters around Thanksgiving and Christmas. I've long found it odd that no one takes advantage of the lightened competition or recognizes that family vacations find more children in stores than usual. Today, smack in the middle of summer, Paramount tests my theory, giving Rango a decreasingly rare Friday debut in a single-disc DVD and the two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy we review here.

On Blu-ray alone, Rango is treated to an extended version. This unrated cut runs 4 minutes and 32 seconds longer than the theatrical cut and includes some brief reinsertions along with a dramatically prolonged ending. The weak coda accounts for 2 minutes and 27 seconds of the difference, changing the final line of the owl band's closing song, transitioning to a beach pan set to The Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" and concluding with an obligatory ride off into the sunset gag. Other changes are minor: Rango telling Roadkill of his need for lotion, two additions to Rango's first exchange with the Mayor, a lengthened version of the town's Hank Williams Sr. water dance, three extensions of the pipe exploration, Rango eulogizing a dead character to church organ score, and a one-line Rango hypothesis. Like most extended cuts, this doesn't enhance the film, but it does stand as consolation to those who worked hard on the scrapped bits and as something to check out on a subsequent viewing.

1. As far as animated western feature films, I could think only of An American Tail: Fievel Goes West and Home on the Range, plus you might count Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron.

Rango: 2-Disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Descriptive Video Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; BD Film Only: English for Hearing Impaired
DVD Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled
Release Date: July 15, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $44.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Rango boasts stunning picture and sound on Blu-ray. Each of the senses is exceptionally well served. The 2.40:1 widescreen visuals are expectedly flawless, but I don't think I've before encountered the kind of detail seen here. The picture is amazingly sharp and vibrant, allowing you to marvel at the fantastic foray into feature animation this film marks for ILM. From dust and sun to some of the most convincing water ever animated, the film is a feast. Don't be surprised if your mouth feels dry watching this. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is equally impressive, giving vocals fitting weight and in-the-room clarity. Sound design is an integral part of animation and Rango doesn't ever disappoint in that regard. Whether big and busy or slow and small, every moment manages to immerse you in the rich western atmosphere. Music too is distributed delightfully.

Although it devotes over 2 GB of disc space to digital copies, the DVD in this combo pack still offers an exemplary presentation by standard definition standards. Though definitely a bit less dazzling than the Blu-ray's, the picture and sound both still excite plenty. It must be noted that this disc loses the French, Spanish, and English DVS tracks of the DVD sold on its own, but it seemingly adds Portuguese subtitles to match the Blu-ray.

Isla Fisher, Johnny Depp, and Gil Birmingham voice their lines together for what the end credits call "emotion capture." In front of a wall filled with concept art, director Gore Verbinski brings ILM animators up to speed on the movie.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The Blu-ray's bonus features begin with an audio commentary exclusively attached to the extended version. It features director, writer, and producer Gore Verbinski, head of story James Ward Byrkit, production designer Mark "Crash" McCreery, animation director Hal Nickel, and visual effects supervisor Tim Alexander.
The discussion is fairly technical in nature, touching upon poses and designs. That makes it less entertaining for the general public, but perhaps more valuable to those eager to sweat the details of the fine animation. Some comments on influences catch your ear, but they're few and far between for something with so many allusions.

"Breaking the Rules: Making Animation History" (48:52) is a documentary thorough enough to carry that weighty title. The first half, "The Stage is Set" (28:22), takes us through the easygoing development conducted unorthodoxically inside a lush house. The cast rehearses and performs their parts together in western wear and, in interviews, they comment on the movie's world in-character. The second half, "Now We Ride" (20:30), brings us to ILM where the film is animated from the concepts and designs. They utilize and show off technology and deliberate over the many facets to consider. This comprehensive, insightful, and nearly feature-length piece treats the film and its fans with respect rare for animation. As the splits are probably out of contractual considerations, this can easily be thought of as one single documentary and one of the best on a single animated film.

Rango rides off into the sunset (or tries to, at least) in this never-before-seen ending. A chameleon is one of the least dangerous "Real Creatures of Dirt" Donald Schultz fearlessly observes.

A whopping ten fully animated deleted scenes (8:27) are offered. They appear with the same picture and sound quality as the film itself, with good reason; these are all of the extended cut's reinsertions. It's nice to catch them here instead of having to watch the whole movie again with a careful eye. The mostly short additions to existing scenes are given ample context as well.

"Real Creatures of Dirt" (22:16) has crew members discussing their desert and animal research, and cast members weighing in on the characters. More interesting than all that, daring South African biologist Donald Schultz (of Animal Planet's "Wild Recon") gets us close looks at lizards, rattlesnakes, porcupines, scorpions, prairie dogs, bobcats, and more, all in their natural element. Schultz and assorted authorities share information on each creature's behavior and design, linking back to Rango (clips of which infrequently and saliently punctuate points) and getting joined by the odd onscreen fun fact. It's a lively and memorable piece.

The theatrical version alone is treated to a storyboard reel picture-in-picture viewing mode. In a window almost one-quarter of the film, it displays the many storyboard drawings corresponding to the film, with a few camera and editing techniques. Surprise, surprise, they look a lot like the movie itself. My only complaint is that the storyboards could easily have been moved to cover less (and less significant parts) of the movie frame. I doubt you'll want to watch the whole movie this way, but if you should, there you are!

"A Field Trip to Dirt" takes you in and outside of the film's locations, letting you learn about the characters in the process. The film's stylish end credits imagery adorns Blu-ray and DVD menu alike, the latter (seen here) practically a bonus feature in the absence of on-disc ones.

"A Field Trip to Dirt" is a cool interactive tour of the town. You smoothly navigate in and outside
eight different locales, selecting characters or their likenesses for some facts, concept art, and a 360-degree turnaround of them. This fun, witty presentation of a wealth of information and images gets you better acquainted with the many secondary characters you'd need multiple viewings to keep track of.

Rango's full theatrical trailer (2:27, HD) is preserved, a welcome item, though the teaser should have joined it.

"Credits" for all bonus features are streamlined to a single self-navigated section of text screens.

"Previews" repeats the same four items with which the Blu-ray opens: trailers for Puss in Boots and Kung Fu Panda 2, and ads for Monkey Quest and Rango: The Videogame.

The DVD provided in this combo pack differs from the one sold on its own. That one includes the deleted scenes and "Real Creatures of Dirt"; all other extras are entirely exclusive to Blu-ray. In place of those features, the DVD here contains redeemable digital copies of the film in three formats (Windows Media and iTunes for computer viewing, and a lower-res WMV file for portable devices). DVD is the most portable format I need and if I hadn't replaced my dead DVD player with a Blu-ray, I'd probably be bummed not to get extras from the DVD here (and not even the commentary from the Blu-ray there?!). Still, those who value all three of the formats most commonly comprising combo packs will be pleased as punch.

The comparable Blu-ray and main DVD menus play the trippy imagery and surf rock score of the film's closing credits. The Blu-ray disc supports bookmarks, but unfortunately doesn't resume playback in any shape or form.

The two discs are packaged on opposite sides of a standard slim ecologically-cut Blu-ray case, with the colorless DVD covered by two inserts, one your code and directions for redeeming the digital copy, and the other promoting a Rango Tango Sweepstakes and supplying a unique code for getting a personalized Rango poster for free plus $1.99 shipping. The case is topped by an embossed slipcover that's bordered in Nickelodeon orange.

A tin can provides Rango with a brief respite from a hawk's pursuit.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you're thinking of getting Rango to entertain your kids, I don't know if that's the best idea. Though many younger children have seen movies more questionable than this hard-PG western, its charms will probably elude them. For the rest of us, though, this is a very good time with its love letter to the genre, quirky humor, and appealingly presented small-town mystery. Having tired of Johnny Depp's now signature silliness, I didn't expect to like Rango, but I wound up almost loving it.

Paramount's Blu-ray combo pack offers some of the finest picture and sound quality you'll find on the format plus a solid collection of entertaining and informative bonus features highlighted by a winning documentary, an enjoyable animal featurette, and deleted/extended scenes viewable on their own or as part of the film. This is one of the easiest movies and easiest releases to recommend thus far this year.

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Related Reviews:
Verbinski and Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy: The Curse of the Black PearlDead Man's ChestAt World's End
Westerns: Home on the RangeOnce Upon a Time in the WestTrue Grit (2010)The Apple Dumpling Gang
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Johnny Depp: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Criterion Collection Blu-ray) • Alice in Wonderland (2010)The Tourist
Ned Beatty: Toy Story 3 | Isla Fisher: Confessions of a Shopaholic | Timothy Olyphant: I Am Number Four
Recent Animated Films: Gnomeo & JulietTangledMegamindDespicable MeA Town Called Panic
ChinatownFantastic Mr. FoxCarsA Bug's LifeBoltRobin HoodJim Henson's Dog City: The Movie

Rango Songs List (in order of use): Mariachi Sol De Mexico De Jose Hernandez - "Rango", "Latin Lounge", Studio Group - "Ave Maria", Lard - "Forkboy", Rick Garcia - "Welcome Amigo", Hank Williams, Sr. - "Cool Water", Rick Garcia - "The Bank's Been Robbed", Nicholas Parker & Francis Silkstone - "Selenger's Round", Louis Knatchbull - "Ride of the Valkyries", Berliner Philharmoniker - "An Der Schönen Blauen Donau, Op. 314 (The Blue Danube)", Rick Garcia & George Del Hoyo - "La Muerte A Llegado", Danny Elfman, The Kingdom - "Finale", "Right on Target", Los Lobos - "El Canelo", Los Lobos Featuring Arturo Sandoval - "Walk Don't Rango", Los Lobos - "Rango Theme Song"

Rango: Music from the Motion Picture: Download from iTunesDownload Amazon MP3sBuy CD from Amazon.com

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Reviewed July 15, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Blind Wink Productions, GK Films, and Paramount Home Entertainment.
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