For Johnny Depp, It Really Is Easy Being Green

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I have never read the Arizona Republic. I did go to Arizona once, although it was for a stage performance and we were there for less than 20 hours so all I remember was the Holiday Inn, the Chilis and the CVS. However of the many reviews circulating about Rango (which is my new favorite movie of 2011) The Arizona Republic has offered up the most telling and spot-on comment yet:

“It’s refreshing to see an animated movie that doesn’t look as though the idea for the Happy Meal came first.”

There you have it. Rango is tremendous fun for kids and adults alike; it’s smart, it’s hilarious, and Johnny Depp is a complete revelation. It used to be that TV shows – and even movies – had animated characters that used the voices of normal, ordinary non-famous people. Then we got into the Disney movies and the Pixar films and suddenly if it didn’t feature Tim Allen or Chris Rock you couldn’t convince even the smallest of children to go see it. Such is the norm today and we’re used to it but even so, the big names don’t always lend much – if anything – to a film’s quality. They ensure it stays around longer because they’re, well, movie stars but beyond that, the impact is debatable. Johnny Depp is Rango and his voice characterization of the movies’ titular chameleon is so compelling you’d have no trouble believing the star was somehow encased inside the lizard on camera. He’s that good, that quick, that mercurial, that lovable and that sad. The whole movie is a joy to watch, and as directed by Gore Verbinsky (who brought Pirates of the Caribbean to the big screen) it zips along and is frequently all over the map but this matters not. Basically, Rango is a chameleon (species: Ordinarius Housepettus), with a very active imagination. After a freak automobile accident he finds himself in the Mojave Desert and unwittingly becomes Sheriff in a town called Dirt, and he must find out where the community’s precious water supply has gone. If this sounds like a familiar plot, it is, and there are many more allusions: Rango pays delicious homage to everything from Chinatown and True Grit and Star Wars to Three Amigos and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (just to name a few). In fact, spotting the references to great and spaghettified westerns is half the fun. As is beholding the lizards, possums, ghila monsters, rattlesnakes, prairie dogs and other miscellaneous creatures voiced by Ned Beatty, Isla Fisher, Alfred Molina, Abigail Breslin and lots of others parodying both films in general and themselves. (Isla Fisher’s character does bear an unfortunate and more than passing resemblance to Jar Jar Binks, for unknown reasons.) There’s even a lateral nod to Toy Story 3. The whole movie is worth watching, maybe even more than once in order to catch everything, and the animation is truly remarkable. Not surprisingly, Rango trumped everything else at the box office this past weekend, and I hope it sticks around for a while because it’s just one of the more delightful films I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Voice your choice in today’s featured poll and tell us which of these animated films is your favorite:

1)   Rango

2)   Ratatouille

3)   Up

4)   Wall-E

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