Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review Roundup: "Gnomeo & Juliet" and "Rango"

** Gnomeo & Juliet **

The idea of Gnomeo & Juliet is to take the story of Romeo & Juliet, but simply tell it from the perspective of two neighboring garden gnome communities in Britain, that just happen to be waged in a constant war between one another. Of course this movie is as much a tragedy as Scooby Doo. If you're wanting the most faithful adaptation on Earth, this isn't it, nor is it the most entertaining. While there are some occasional funny moments that will make even the adults in the audience laugh, the deficiencies of the story, animation, and voice acting, cannot be overlooked.

For starters, gnomes are kind of stoic to begin with, so they don't lend themselves very well to authentic emotional reactions, their faces often seeming stiff and unflinching. Not to mention, the voice acting does not help matters, with Emily Blunt and James Macavoy (as Juliet and Gnomeo, respectively) in competition with one another to see who can deliver the most stale vocal performance of the year. It is sad, seeing as how there is such great talent that lends their voices to this film, from Michael Caine to Julie Walters, but every voice just misses the mark and lacks any real fire beneath it, part of me thinking that these roles may have just been miscast from the get go. Then you get to the story, where it seems to just try and fly past any actual story beats to action sequences, that are well crafted, but when the story tries to slow down and get emotional, the emotional moments fall flat because we were never given anytime to love these characters before we were thrust in the middle of everything. (Plus, am I the only one that thought all of the re-purposed Elton John music was just out of place? Like using "Rocketman" as Gnome's theme?)

Gnomeo & Juliet may be a charming animation for the younger audiences, but for adults who adore the art of animation, this attempt at reimagining Will Shakespeare's tale just doesn't work.

I give Gnomeo & Juliet an F!

** Rango **

Rango is a movie clearly inspired by the works of others to create something that is a unique mash-up, and it actually works. The movie has fun with these various different styles of the Western, managing to never fall into spoof territory, but simply remain fun and entertaining. It does this through a blend of humor and sophistication that is rarely found in children's films. The movie seems to at times draw influence from films of the French New Wave or the Italian Neorealists, where it seems Rango is breaking the Fourth Wall and is communing with the audience, "Who am I?" After all, a chameleon with an identity crisis (and no name to boot) is something that is a tad sad, and existential.

Rango is a lonely critter, having no friends and no identity, spending all of his time in his cage creating stage plays with inanimate objects. But when this actor finds himself lost in the desert as a fascinating stranger in a small desert town called Dirt, he can fashion himself as a rough-and-tough, gunslinger named Rango, and be whatever the people want so he wont be alone. There is obviously a moral to this story, don't try to be what you aren't, just be you, and Johnny Depp's charismatic voice over work as Rango really makes this message ring true with the audience. There is something so lovable about how Depp plays Rango; he is funny, skittish, over-the-top in his mannerisms, and is essentially what makes this movie worth watching. No other character in the movie seems as alive as Rango, but there and again that is not a detriment to the other voice over performances, just high praise for Johnny Depp stealing the show.

Even if Depp steals the show, director Gore Verbinski keeps the movie rolling with some slick action set pieces, including a marvelous sequence near the middle of the movie where Rango and his "possum" (aka posse) are fighting off a swarm of badguys while trying to escape with a covered wagon. While these things seem so cliche to the Western film, the way everything is mashed together makes it feel fresh. The town of Dirt is imaginative, with the fronts of buildings being things like juice boxes or whatever, and the filmmakers never stop playing with these various desert animals and the stereotypes and odd eccentricities that they all have to make them funny. For example, when Rango sheds skin when he first walks out into the desert sunlight, these little touches with the scale of the world and the attributes of these characters keep the perspective where it needs to be in order for the audience to suspend our disbelief.

Of course, as much as Rango keeps things humorous with its existential studies and Western homages, the movie often dips into the bag of just plain old annoying bathroom humor at times, like fart or burp gags, just to try and get a cheap laugh from the child audience whenever things seem to be going a little slow. So what if the movie takes its time to develop its thoughts and emotions? That makes for a great movie, so don't ruin it with a fart joke! Even if that is tough to get over, did I mention the gorgeous, photo-realistic animation done by Industrial Light & Magic on their first ever animated flick? This is some of the most stunning animation I have ever seen, it is fluid, and the facial movements are spot on in relaying the emotion. Bravo to ILM!

I give Rango a B+!

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