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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


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Sunday, March 13, 2011

entry arrow9:43 PM | Existential Lizard Stumbles on a Western



It is perhaps wrong to think of Gore Verbinski's Rango [2011] as a mere cartoon, although it is indeed animated -- and gloriously so. It is a certified Western with a serious bent on the existential (the question "Who am I?" keeps echoing all throughout the story), and the only cartoonish thing to it is its use of talking animals and the deadpan comebacks and witticisms that litter the screenplay by John Logan. Beyond that, this is John Ford meets Clint Eastwood. Which is an astounding thing to claim since this is about a pet lizard (voiced by Johnny Depp) with thespic aspirations, left to fend for his own after being left accidentally in the desert. He finds his way to a troubled town called Dirt, calls himself Rango (from Durango), weaves a legendary story to his name to win the trust of the suspicious (and dangerous-looking) townfolk composed of down-and-out amphibians and moles and turtles and birds and what-not -- and somehow becomes the town's sheriff after accidentally killing the hawk that has plagued the town, which is also plagued by the problem of a drought. Other shenanigans ensue, and hilarity, too -- but the film draws you in with its faithfulness to the genre, with its playing straight man to its subtle comedy, with its quirky characters drawn on a landscape that rivals the breathtaking cinematography of John Ford's films. And of course with its tale of a conflicted (and accidental) hero -- an actor, really -- who has to confront time and again the specter of existential angst. That it is Depp doing the wrangling provides an anchor we can easily sink our teeth into. Of course, it also helps that the film knows its genre so well, it weaves in without straining many iconic images and tropes from the tradition of the Western, from High Noon to Star Wars, from Red River to Unforgiven, from The Quick and the Dead to Chinatown, from The Three Amigos to Shane. This is the first animated film I've seen this year, and with this the rest of this year's slate -- animated or not -- has a high bar to contend with.

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