Kids' Movies III

film 5 of 5


Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 10, 2015

This is almost obnoxiously referential. I guess there’s a sort of story about being yourself and finding your dreams and all, so that it’s not all and only soullessly intertextual. But clever seems to be the basic point. Don’t you get tired of that? (Cf. Fredric Jameson, 1984 and then 1991.) That’s fair, and it’s true. But still, the thing is that as tired as we all are with smart pants and all, clever can also, occasionally, be good. After a while Rango starts to seem like a pretty strong, effective example of this kind of thing, and since there’s room and reason for most any kind of thing, within reason, then why not?

For instance, note the range of reference here, the consistent wit and imagination with which they incorporate and proliferate their sources and satires. Also, and even more, look how very well they’ve visualized and staged and rendered it all. Since Sergio Leone is one of their main sources, and since they’ve actually really done their homework, and since Leone films are kind of visually amazing, then so is this one. That’s the visuals. Narratively, or dramatically, it’s the parts that succeed, as opposed to the whole. For instance, there’s lots of very good acting. Here is something new for Mr. Depp. (I believe they are referencing Don Knotts, which I like very much for its own sake, and for resonances beyond. This is much more than mere Keith Richards-like imitation, if you get my meaning.) Beans is funny. These two characters develop a nice relationship, and it also develops nicely. The first barroom meeting with the bad guys is great, especially when our hero accidentally incinerates his foe. Don’t you hate it when that happens? We all laughed at that one.

The starting stuff with the bandit bad guys is comically effective, and that confrontation out there on their turf is not only really virtuosic, but kind of affecting. (Some, or most of their insect/lizard/creature designs are quite absurdly, excessively, wonderfully grotesque.) What’s cool is that this actually becomes a Miyazaki-like situation. It all started out like the Stanton gang in My Darling Clementine. Then we find out that these particular bad guys actually have their reasons, and their courage and merit. Furthermore, later on, we actually get Budd Boetticher. That design may be Lee van Cleef, but Rattlesnake Jake ends up being Richard Boone or Lee Marvin or even Claude Akins like. (See our review of Comanche Station, q.v.) The conclusion of this particular situation is positively, stirringly chivalrous. Modern political, even? Robin and Marian, or In the Line of Fire—the leaders fall fatally short, but we must, we can still be honourable men.

Chinatown? A strain. Clint Eastwood?  Ridiculous!  But finally, in the end, is Rango so postmodern? Maybe post-modernism is just the setting, or the prevailing cultural sensibility. I’m thinking about the Beckett-like opening (Act Without Words, 2,most specifically), in which we so strikingly find this sheltered post/modern who has insulated from everything. It may be that more than rootless post culture, the people who made this film are thinking about theatre, about roles and artificialities, how longstanding and partial and poignant they are, and how there is actually a world beyond the confines of the rehearsal hall. Theatre, but more too. It’s Captains Courageous! In the end this is a kind of a treat, and why resist that?