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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Rango

July 11th, 2011

Rango - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

So far, it's been a rough year for digitally animated films with none reaching $200 million at the box office. This time last year, there were four such films that had either already reached that milestone, or were racing towards it. Rango wasn't the first CG film released this year, but it was the first to hit $100 million. But even hitting this milestone wasn't enough to match expectations. Did it struggle due to some weakness in the overall market? Or is there something wrong with the film itself?

The Movie

We are introduced to our hero, a pet chameleon, as he is acting out a play in his terrarium. He can't quite get a handle on his character and knows something is missing, but what? That's when it hits him. He needs some surprise event to push him into conflict, so that he can define his character, and himself. And that's when it hits him. The pavement. He's not just a family pet, but one traveling through the desert in the back of their vehicle. But when they nearly get into an accident, he's thrown from the vehicle and nearly killed.

After getting advice from Roadkill, an armadillo, he heads into the desert for a town called Dirt. On the way, he escapes a hawk, has a fevered dream, and meets Miss Beans, who might be as crazy as him. She does help him get to Dirt, a tiny town desert town that is barely surviving. At least is was barely surviving till the water started to dry up. Seeing this an an opportunity to reinvent himself, he announces his name is Rango, and wows the town with stories of heroics. When an outlaw gang comes into the bar, it's his chance to prove himself, and through a series of improbabe events, he actually manages to luck out and win. Now the town sees him as a hero and he even gets an invite from the Mayor. The problem with the water still remains and Miss Beans is determined to figure out where the water is going, and she's thinks the Mayor knows more than he's saying.

My first question about this film is, who is it made for? It's supposed to be a kids movie, I think, but a lot of the movie is going to go over the heads of most kids. There are small things, like the references to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Apocalypse Now that no kid is going to get. But there are also major parts of the movie that are there just for the adults. In fact, the essential plot of the movie is lifted directly from Chinatown, which is something the filmmakers talk about in the extras. Also, while much of the film is beautifully shot with amazing direction and cinematography (yes, animated films do have cinematography) it's also incredibly dark and gritty at times. One of the characters is a chicken with an arrow in its eye. Not only do you see the arrow in its eye, you see it sticking out of the back of its head. In fact, much of the character design seems to be created for the sole purpose of being nightmare material. These aspects of the movie are amazing, but some make me think the film is aimed at adults instead of kids.

Rango is blessed by an amazing cast, and not just the leads, but the supporting characters are all very talented and there is incredible chemistry on display here. (You get to see in the making of featurette how that came to be.) And technically this could be one of the most detailed animated films I've seen. That's not to say the film won't entertain kids, there are enough action scenes, humorous bits, and of course a classic story of a hero finding himself. But in the end I think adults might enjoy this movie more than kids.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary track with Gore Verbinski, the director, as well as James Ward Byrkit, Mark "Crash" McCreery, Hal Hickel, and Tim Alexander. It's a very informative track with the participants going into detail about nearly every production choice throughout. It is only available on the theatrical cut, if you have the Blu-ray. Next up are ten deleted / extended scenes, which are found in the extended version of the movie. Finally, there's a 22-minute featurette on the real animals of the desert that inspired the characters in the movie. This is a good amount of extras and enough to make the DVD worth picking up.

The Blu-ray has a Picture-in-Picture track (on the extended version only) that shows the storyboard to screen comparison. Breaking the Rules is a nearly 50-minute making of featurette. In it, we learn about the origins of the story, the design of the characters, the casting of the voices, the acting, and of course the animation. The acting is the most interesting part, because they didn't just have the voice acters in a booth reciting their lines, but acting out on a nearly bare stage. The results speak for themselves. Finally, there's a tour of Dirt where you can check out the locations and meet the cast. That's a substantial amount of exclusive extras, and two of the three bonus features push the technology. Additionally, the Blu-ray comes with a copy of the film on DVD.

As for the film's technical presentation, it's is mostly perfect. There are only two 'flaws' in the video transfer, there is some grain and the contrast is a little off; however, both are present as intentional aesthetic choices and can't be held against the Blu-ray. On the other hand, the level of detail on the Blu-ray might be impossible to beat. It's absolutely stunning. The audio nearly equals the video with very clear dialogue with good separation. The surround sound speakers will get a good workout in the numerous action scenes and there are some nice directional effects.

Finally we get to the price. The Blu-ray costs just $20, which is 25% more than the DVD. It also includes a DVD / Digital copy of the film, so it's an even better bargain. It's absolutely worth the upgrade.

The Verdict

There's a good chance Rango will end up winning the Oscar for Best Feature Length Animated Film this year, unless we have a late surprise from The Adventures of Tintin. It is certainly worth owning, while the Blu-ray is the better deal over the DVD. In fact, the Blu-ray is a clear contender for Pick of the Week.

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Filed under: Video Review, Rango