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Critical Mass: 'Rango'

March 4, 2011 |  5:15 pm

Rango-mass1

Just when it appeared that feature animation was primarily a game for two players (Disney and DreamWorks), along comes Paramount Pictures and the animated animal western "Rango," which seems to have the critics yanking their scalps and chins and "Arrrroooo"-ing, like one of those Tex Avery wolves.

Times critic Betsy Sharkey seems entirely enchanted by this story of a big-city chameleon who ends up in a dusty western town, living out a dream that's fit for Clint Eastwood. Sharkey writes, "In a world choked with animated films -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- it's hard to be either original or great. Yet director Gore Verbinski has done both -- and without 3-D -- breaking the rules and new ground in the town of Dirt. In this time-bending, mind-bending, just-go-with-it fable, the story shifts from overcrowded freeways, Hawaiian shirts and modern problems to covered wagons, chaps and long-running issues of water rights, land grabs and greed. And in a genuinely funny way, it all makes sense."

If the positive reviews have anything in common, it's the critics' sheer disbelief that a film like this is as fun as it is. The New York Times' A.O. Scott lays out what should have been his standard critique for "Rango" -- something that he's written countless times for most animated films not made by Pixar. "But the odd thing about 'Rango' is that unlike so many of its peers, it is odd. In spite of a profile that should place it alongside 'Megamind' and 'Despicable Me' and the long list of other overblown, have-fun-or-else cartoons, this rambling, anarchic tale is gratifyingly fresh and eccentric. Much of the time you don’t quite know where it is going, which is high praise indeed given the slick predictability that governs most other entertainments of its kind."

Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday is as enchanted by the film's details as she is by the story itself. "A sun-baked symphony of rust and dust, 'Rango' has a spiky, unsentimental appeal, sending out slightly risque jokes to parents while staying safely out of the danger zone for kids. And for a cartoon, it possesses perhaps the most unlikely added value of all: authenticity."

But there may be no critic more impressed with "Rango" than Roger Ebert, who gave the movie a rare and coveted four-star review. "The movie is wonderfully well-drawn," he writes. "The characters are wildly exaggerated, yes, but with an underlay of detail and loving care. The movie respects the tradition of painstakingly drawn animated classics, and does interesting things with space and perspective with its wild action sequences." And he even uses the film to dig at one of his biggest pet peeves: 3-D! "Here's what I hope: Lots of families will see this. They won't have a single thought about its being in 2-D. They will pay ordinary ticket prices. They will love the bright colors and magnificent use of space. In a few weeks, they'll go to a 3-D movie and wonder, why did we have to pay extra for this?"

Not everyone is impressed or enchanted by "Rango's" quirks, and perhaps the most notable non-fan is animation enthusiast Leonard Maltin. He handily dismisses the film at the top of his review, writing, "It would be unfair, and inaccurate, to call 'Rango' a one-joke movie. There may be two or three; I didn't count." He complains, "there is sufficient story and character development to fill out a 20-minute short. Unfortunately, 'Rango' runs 107 minutes, and as it ambles along you can feel the life draining from it, like air slowly leaking from a helium balloon."

And desert dweller Josh Bell smells something he doesn't like in his Las Vegas Weekly review. He says the film "stops making sense long before the big finale." And says "It coasts on strangeness only so long before the novelty wears off."

Related:

Movie Projector: 'Rango' expected to shoot down the competition

Success of Paramount's 'Rango' could lead to end of deal with DreamWorks

Poll: Will 'Rango' be nominated for animated feature at the Oscars?

-- Patrick Kevin Day

Photo: "Rango." Credit: Paramount Pictures