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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: Earl Hurd
Release Date:
August 26, 1922
Stars: Bobby Bumps & Fido
Rating:
 ★★★★½
Review:

Earl Hurd left Paramount for Educational Pictures, and with this move his style changed from pure cartooning to a very inventive and entertaining blend of live action and animation, starring his own little son as a live action director directing the cartoon stars Bobby and Fido.

‘Fresh Fish’ is a perfect example. The opening title card is already promising, reading “Bobby Bumps Film co. Feetures & Comydies. No admitence. Aplie at Offis.” Inside, we watch Hurd jr. filming Bobby and Fido, who are on a fishing boat. First the cartoon concentrates on the cartoon gags, e.g. with Fido pitying the poor fish, before the fish tantalizes the poor dog. This sequence ends when a live action cat catches the fish and runs away with it.

But then Bobby accidentally stands on the water, a fact Hurd jr. has to point out to him. At this point Bobby falls into the water after all. The idea that gravity only works when one is aware it should work is of course a familiar cartoon trope, but this is the oldest instance of this gag type I know of.

After the fall, Bobby blames the poor scenery, which, indeed, hardly indicates the presence of water. Thus, the young director places the scenery in a tub. At first Bobby and Fido are very pleased with the added realism, but they almost drown in it.

This cartoon features quite some very effective special effects, making us easily believe the cartoon Bobby and Fido are in the same room as the cat and the director. Especially the water splashing when Bobby and Fido jump into the tub is very convincing. The result is no less than delightful, and ‘Fresh Fish’ should be regarded as one of the highlights from the silent cartoon era.

‘Fresh Fish’ is available on the Blu-Ray/DVD-combo ‘Cartoon Roots: Bobby Bumps and Fido’

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