Rango(Paramount Pictures DVD)
The hyper-realism of animation has afforded moviegoers such a rich tapestry of narrative possibilities that we should not be surprised that we are moved by sentimental toys, slick talking foxes, or existential lizards.
Don Quixote, Chinatown, Hunter S. Thompson's Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, and Clint Eastwood's High Plain Drifter all factor into Johnny Depp's character in the animated modern-day Western Rango. A world worth absorbing on the big silver screen and/or DVD.
Clever references litter the movie with enough frequency to keep most culture savvy adults on their collective toes. My two twelve-year-old companions missed most, if not all of them, making for some odd moments when I laughed and they just stared at the screen. Regardless, we both left the theater entertained.
NY Times film critic A.O. Scott recently observed:
One of the main purposes of modern feature-length animation is to blend together traditional film genres -- usually romantic comedy cross-bred with action-adventure -- and recast them as beast fables with ready-made merchandising potential. Animals who talk and behave like people are at least as old as Aesop, though of course neither Aesop nor Beatrix Potter had a reserve army of movie stars eager to augment their incomes by doing voice work.
I would add that in this parallel animated universe (somewhere between Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Pixar's animal/insect/toy universe), we the audience want to return to the proverbial Garden of Eden, where man lived with beast in perfect harmony. Where man vs. nature was only experienced via weather cycles. Where talking lizards are every bit believable and cool as your hipster aunt or uncle.
As we know and expect, Johnny Depp is not your stock Hollywood actor. He abandoned that mold long ago after he left his first TV gig on 21 Jump Street in 1991. He has afforded his resume a rich tapestry of eccentrics, both real and imagined -- Edward Scissorhands, Captain Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, Ed Wood, The Mad Hatter, Raoul Duke, et al. Now he's added another colorful character, albeit animated. As Rango, he even chanelled some of his departed friend Hunter, right down to his Hawaiian shirt.
Yes, we can get lost in the trials and tribulations of make-believe, knowing deep down that pain and suffering is as real in human life as it is portrayed in the world of animation, regardless if the audience is comprised of children or adults.