For well over a decade, Pixar Studios, the makers of the Toy Story trilogy and Up, have not only been the industry leader in terms of how brilliant artwork in computer-animated films could be, but they've had little competition. That is until Rango came along earlier in the year. Led by director Gore Verbinski, Industrial Light & Magic's exquisite first foray into animated feature films is a stunning debut that may concern rivals but will certainly please moviegoers.
Johnny Depp voices a domesticated chameleon that finds himself in the rough and tumble town of Dirt, somewhere in the Mojave Desert, populated by desert animals. Dirt is experiencing a severe water shortage that has the townsfolk on edge. Wanting to establish himself, the chameleon creates a tough persona known as Durango. After an unintentional act of bravery, he becomes the sheriff. One of his responsibilities is to protect the remaining water everyone has secured in the bank. Naturally, that doesn't go well, but the bank robbery leads to even greater mysteries and dangers that might be too much for Durango to handle.
While animated, Rango might not be as accessible for kids as one might expect. It has more in common with older Westerns then modern-day cartoons and the story bogs down a bit in the middle. However, there is one intense, and slightly unbelievable in comparison to what happens before it, action sequence that brings to mind ILM's first film, Star Wars. That's just one of many references to past films. While Western fans will recognize a few and Depp's Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas makes a brief cameo, Dirt's water issue is the most notable as bring to mind Chinatown, especially since the Mayor (voiced by Ned Beatty) is outfitted like John Huston's Noah Cross.
The video is presented in a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at 2.35:1 and shows off ILM's marvelous work that requires a thesaurus to do it justice. The detail seen in the textures of the fur, feathers, and scales of the animals is outstanding. The same quality is seen in other objects like the weathered buildings and the sand grains blowing across the desert floor. The colors are wonderfully vibrant and the blacks are rich and inky.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 provides is very good compliment. The dynamic track delivers powerful loudness that doesn't overwhelm the system in a wild chase sequence. Bullets whiz by and the subwoofer provides great bass oomph as animals chase after a wagon. Yet soft, minor sounds like the jingle of spurs are delivered with great clarity as well. Cars pan back and forth across channels in an opening sequence. Amidst all the effects and Hans Zimmer's soundtrack, dialogue remains a priority and is normally clear and understandable.
The movie can be viewed in the theatrical or extended (by about four minutes) version. The audio commentary is only available for the extended and features Director/Story Co-Writer/Producer Gore Verbinski, Head of Story James Ward Byrkit, Production Designer Mark "Crash" McCreery, Animation Director Hal Hickel, and Visual Effects Supervisor Tim Alexander. Being such a technical film, no surprise that's the main focus of their conversation.
"Breaking the Rules: Making Animation History" (HD, 49 min) is a two-part feature, divided into "The Stage is Set" and "Now We Ride," that gives a great look at the making of the film. The former focuses on the pre-production of creating the story and design while the latter reveals ILM's involvement in the production. There are ten "Deleted Scenes" (HD, 8 min), though most are extension of scenes. "Coda - Never-Before-Seen-Ending" is one of the few deleted scenes that are worth seeing because it really should have been concluded the film since it wraps up the story and theme quite nicely. "Real Creatures of Dirt" (HD, 22 min) is geared towards children as it looks at the animals that inspired the film's characters. The self-explanatory "Storyboard Reel Picture-in-Picture," only available on the theatrical version, showcases the preliminary work of many talented artists. "A Field Trip to Dirt" (HD) is an interactive feature that allows users to move through town and learn about characters. It's something to occupy a kid, but is ultimately a waste of time. The second disc in the set is a DVD of the theatrical version and it contains a Digital Copy.
Rango is highly recommend to fans of animation and Westerns, and it's is sure to make a lot of year-end Blu-ray lists solely from its excellent video quality. It has been Oscar nominated in the Animated Feature category.