Friday, March 18, 2011
Sunday, March 06, 2011
I just got back from seeing Rango with my son. We thoroughly enjoyed the film. Big congrats to those who worked on it. On the technical side ILM definitely showed off their chops, but we've come to expect that to some degree. However for me the real win for this film was the directing and storytelling. This is NOT your typical CG family animated film we've come to
dread expect over the last 10 years. This film is definitely not cut from the Pixar mold, and not in the Dreamworks or Blue Sky ones, either (those studios really aren't nearly as rebellious as some would have us believe). And that's why I loved it. It's probably become rather evident to those who insanely follow my scribblings over the years, but I figure I'll come straight once and for all-- I must confess to being more than a bit put off by most of the larger U.S. studio CG animated films over the last 5-8 years or so. It actually started with Finding Nemo. Outside the occasional breath of fresh air like The Incredibles or Kung Fu Panda (which hasn't held up as well with me over time as Bird's film does), in general I've been less and less interested in the Hollywood modern animated products as films. Mind you I am a CG guy, I think they're technically brilliant and aesthetically pleasing and all that, so this is not some nostalgic predilection toward anything old and hand drawn, a point of view that many vocal critics of modern CG films often tend to operate from. It's just that the films taken at face value as films (and not viewed in context of their being animated) are just not that rich to me. Worse still, they're not honest. Despite their obvious skill and success, over time Pixar's storytelling has become predictably, cynically manipulative-- something I resent as an audience member and think poorly of as a filmmaker. It feels cheap and slimy. I steadfastly refuse to tolerate being told when to cry or care. Film is a dangerously powerful medium whose greatest ability is to make people feel things. It's not particularly difficult to do, either. I don't like it when filmmakers are so brazen about that. To me it's a bit like wielding a loaded gun in a room full of people just to see them cringe at your power. It's unseemly, and not just a bit infantile and vulgar. However it has made them tons of money over the years so other studios have followed suit. It's pretty rare that I'll even go see a CG animated film in the theaters anymore. Or even watch it on Netflix later, actually. The last CG animated film I watched was Despicable Me, mainly because my son really wanted to see it for the minions and I wanted to see if the French director Pierre Coffin could bring something fresh and honest to the table (kinda not, even though it was a fun cartoon of a film). The thing I liked about Rango was that the director really didn't have those moments where he tried to evoke specific catharsis in the film. He let the characters play out their roles honestly (and I might add, oddly) and let you the audience member see the film on your terms. I liked the production design choice of making every character in the film just plain dirt ugly. It's clear to me that they decided that classic Disney inspired appeal would set the wrong tone and so eschewed it in favor of something different. The barrier to entry to getting to like the characters was set fairly high, and yet by the end of the film I found I liked them. They weren't cookie cutter design solutions making cookie cutter acting choices. It's not a perfect film, or even a great one. Rango has its flaws, like all films. It drags a bit in spots, gets a little pedestrian here and there and a few times clunkily sets up a moment just to turn it on its head for time tested plot turns or gags. The plot is as ridiculous as most films, but that's neither here nor there for me. For me it's about the characters- are they honest? Do they grow naturally? Do I believe in them, in their story, in the moments they live out? I liked the film simply because it let me watch as a real person, not as an emotionally underdeveloped consumer of plastic things who must be told when to laugh, when to cry and how to feel. For this reason alone it's already become a favorite. We'll see how I feel about it in a year.
Here's a 6 minute chunk of it in case you haven't see it online before.
Posted by Keith Lango at 12:56 AM