I'd like to start off by saying that "Rango" had better get a nomination (if not the win) for Best Animated Feature for 2012. There, I said it.
Enter whiz kid Gore Verbinski, the man at the helm of the first three installments of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" mega-saga who also directed 2001's "The Ring." Then bring on the esteemed Industrial Light & Magic Company, the special effects pros behind such films as "WALL-E," "Saving Private Ryan," and "Titanic." Finally, add a little Johnny Depp to the mix - and what do you get? - you get "Rango," one of the best damn movies I've seen in a long time.
The movie opens with four mustacheod owls in the form of a mariachi band, weaving the tale of the legendary Rango. After being bumped from his terrarium and left in the open desert, Rango ends up in the small town called Dirt. The inhabitants of Dirt include all kinds of critters such as armadillos, turkeys, gila monsters, porcupines, hedgehogs, naked mole rats, foxes, and snakes. Being the talented thespian he is, Rango decides to put on an act for the townspeople, parading himself as a brave gun-slinger who can kill six enemies with one bullet. In reality, Rango is very much like Kermit the Frog with his worrysome nature and good heart. Rango's adventure is a real treat for those of us who remember the art of the Western. The movie does a great job of putting a creative spin on a very standard Western plot, combining it with a childlike sensibility with quirky undertones of adult material.
It's no surprise that Johnny Depp masterfully voiced little Rango. When the movie started, I couldn't really tell at first that it was Depp. With every character he plays, he somehow manages to evolve into an even more perfect human being. It's not fair.
Overall, the voice cast was excellent! Isla Fisher, Bill Nighy, Timothy Olyphant, Ned Beatty, Abigail Breslin, Stephen Root, and Alfred Molina - that's a solid list of names right there, and they were perfect choices. I was especially fond of Olyphant's role as The Spirit of The West, with his "alabaster chariot" and "8 gold guardians" (you'll get the funny side of it when you watch the movie).
Also, I can't get over how amazing the CGI looked. Every townsperson in Dirt was a different kind of animal, and each one of them was so detailed and so unique, it's hard to believe that they didn't use human face mapping! Each one of those animals was it's own design, with it's own outfit, it's own strut, it's own everything!
The action was so much fun to watch, too. There's a particular scene of gophers and moles riding atop the backs of bats, with machine guns attached to the makeshift saddles...it reminded me of the epic battle in "LOTR: Return of the King."
I would also like to add that I'm really glad that "Rango" was not just another 3D release. It shows that Verbinski was confident enough in his efforts to not rely on higher ticket prices. My only complaint? The movie was a bit long, with a slow lag after the climax, before the end.
I left the theater a very, very happy nerd. "Rango" is going to appeal to everyone, young and old, but you can tell that it was a movie made for movie lovers. And it feels really good when someone does that for us.