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Director: Gore Verbsinki
Release Date: April 3, 2011
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

One of the most original mainstream feature films to come out of the United States in the 2010s was ‘Rango’, a Western with desert animals.

‘Rango’ was the brainchild of director and co-producer Gore Verbinski, a live action director of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ fame. The film was made at Paramount, which hadn’t had an animation studio of its own since the closure of the Paramount Cartoon Studio in 1967. In fact, the animation was essentially done at Industrial Light & Magic, supervised by Hal Hickel. Apparently, Paramount gave Verbinski a lot of freedom, because ‘Rango’ is a pretty quirky movie, boasting an original visual style and none too serious storytelling.

Star of this original Western is a pet Chameleon (Johnny Depp) with a lot of fantasy, who accidentally ends up in the Mojave Desert, where he poses as some kind of Western hero called Rango, prompting the villagers to appoint him as a much-needed sheriff. Rango then has to solve an aquatic crime, which he does cluelessly, but with much bravado.

The first thing that strikes ‘Rango’ as different from all other American computer animated films, is its surprisingly gritty visual style. Rango himself, for example, has a crooked neck and an asymmetrical head, while his love interest Beans is a lizard, whose curls do not hide the fact that she’s clearly a reptile. One of the villains, Gila monster Bad Bill looks particularly rough, while the mayor, a tortoise, looks uncannily like actor Fred MacMurray. Another curious addition is ‘the spirit of the West’, who looks like an aged version of Clint Eastwood’s ‘man with no name’ persona. The whole film breaths spaghetti western, especially in its cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s musical score.

‘Rango’ doesn’t really deviate from the familiar story lines of current American animated features, however. For example, there’s an ‘all hope is lost’ moment, a familiar trope in the 2000s and 2010s, but the story is unpredictable enough to entertain throughout. Moreover, apart from a unique visual style, the film boasts some off-the-wall story devices, like a band of mariachi owls, who bridge several scenes, frequently predicting the chameleon is going to die.

Although the crime plot is played with seriousness, the film never loses sight of its own silliness. There are some peculiar touches, like Rango talking to a halved armadillo, or Beans suddenly freezing mid-sentence. Much of the dialogue is delightfully funny, and there are plenty of references to Western cinema, as well as one to ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ (1998), which also starred Johnny Depp.

Despite the silliness, the film boasts surprisingly high production values. The animation, the cinematography, the rendering and the soundtrack are all of a fine quality. The film’s scruffy look may not appeal to everyone, but is a welcome diversion from the mainstream.

‘Rango’ was such a commercial and critical success, even winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature that Paramount was confident to create its own animation studio, releasing its first feature, ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water’. Nevertheless, until now the studio has failed to carve out a unique spot in the crowded feature animation field. It at least never again released such a quirky movie like ‘Rango’.

Watch the trailer for ‘Rango’ yourself and tell met what you think:

‘Rango’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: February 19, 1943
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Pluto and the Armadillo © Walt Disney‘Pluto and the Armadillo’ is one of the South American films Disney released in the forties after a visit to South America in 1941 (other examples are ‘The Pelican and the Snipe‘ and ‘Contrary Condor’ from 1944).

‘Pluto and the Armadillo’ is actually an outtake from Disney’s first South American ensemble feature ‘Saludos Amigos‘ (1942). This explains its use of a narrator introducing the armadillo and its Brazilian setting.

As the title suggests, this Mickey Mouse cartoon is actually devoted to Pluto. While playing with Mickey during a stop at an airport near a jungle, he mistakes the armadillo for his own ball. As in many other Pluto cartoons (e.g. ‘Pluto’s Playmate‘ from 1941 and ‘Canine Patrol‘ from 1945), Pluto is first suspicious of this new little animal, but then grows in love with it. This standard scenario would have led to a routine Pluto entry, if it were not for the armadillo itself.

The South American mammal is not drawn very lifelike, but looks like a very cute, feminine armed little dog. Her moves are accompanied by metallic and rattling sounds, as if her armor consists of loose mechanical parts, and she walks to an irresistible samba tune, which provides the theme music for the complete cartoon.

Because of her charming presence ‘Pluto and the armadillo’ is very cute and joyful, and a delight to watch, even though it’s not very funny.

Watch ‘Pluto and the Armadillo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 117
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Symphony Hour
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Squatter’s Rights

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