Mr. Beaks Meets Gore Verbinski's RANGO! New Teaser Trailer Embedded For Your Viewing Pleasure!
Published at: June 29, 2010, 7:59 p.m. CST by headgeek
"Do you know anything about this project?"
Gore Verbinski is standing in the middle of a room wallpapered with production art for his forthcoming RANGO, trying to figure out how to sell twenty-or-so jaded entertainment journalists on the uniqueness of an animated film that is not a game-changing, performance-captured, IMAX 3-D extravaganza. This is a crucial moment in the life of RANGO. What distinguishes it from the numerous computer-animated movies that vie for four-quadrant box-office dominance every year?
Verbinski continues. "RANGO is the story of a chameleon with an identity crisis played by Johnny Depp."
Star power of this magnitude helps, as does the idea of Verbinski re-teaming with the actor who powered the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise to $1 billion domestically, but there's got to be more to this thing. Looking around the room, I see an impressive collection of character sketches and concept art (all extracted from the fertile mind of design legend Crash McCreery), but nothing is really popping. It all just looks like above-average family entertainment with a touch more visual pizazz than we're used to.
But then Verbinski, in his thoughtful, soft-spoken way, starts teasing out the particulars of the story. "[Rango's] a thespian in search of an audience," explains Verbinski. "He's made 'friends' with the inanimate objects in his terrarium; he calls them all by name. When we meet him, he's in the process of putting on a play with the various objects in his terrarium. Things get out of hand, and the production goes down... literally."
It's at this point that Rango is thrust from his insular existence into another world. Not just a world, actually, but a genre. A western. One superficially derived from the films of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone, but tonally informed by the spoofy quality of Elliot Silverstein's CAT BALLOU. Rango becomes the sheriff of a frontier town called "Dirt" - an attractive position until you note that his recent predecessors are presently resting comfortably, side-by-side, in the local graveyard. Basically, though he's always been a hero in his own world, Rango quickly learns that it's difficult - and, in this world, potentially treacherous - to hold sway over creatures emboldened by their own free will. Furthering the CAT BALLOU connection, there's a mariachi band of owls who serve as a Greek chorus, frequently breaking the fourth wall to energetically sing of Rango's "ultimate demise". "They're incredibly unsupportive," says RANGO co-writer James Byrkit.
The more detailed Verbinski gets in describing this world, the more convinced I become that he's concocted something special. Though the director claims this was his opportunity to "get small" after the runaway success of the PIRATES films, he certainly didn't scale back his imagination. In fact, I'd say this is a return to the narrative inventiveness of underrated movies like THE MEXICAN and THE WEATHER MAN. It looks like Verbinski has, with writers Byrkit and John Logan, concocted a narrative that flatters viewers' intelligence by imbuing the tried-and-true Hero's Journey formula with heady ideas pertaining to identity and purpose. Verbinski's looking to connect, not cash in.
This becomes apparent after Verbinski screens an early-third-act sequence which finds Rango at the end of his tether, ready to end it all by forlornly walking across a perilously busy highway. There's ample opportunity to die, but Rango somehow avoids every tire that whizzes his way. When he reaches the other side of the road, he collapses into the desert dust. Perhaps now he'll perish of dehydration. But then, in a moment of peculiar beauty, he's carried off by a legion of just-awakened pill bugs. I don't mean to get too worked up over a single out-of-context sequence, but there's a spiritual quality to this that's worthy of Pixar at its best. It's a lovely moment of natural rebirth.
Early footage presentations are always unreliable barometers of eventual quality, but I'm willing to buy what Verbinski's selling - especially after watching the live-action story reel which informed a good deal of the animation. Once they were able to lock down Depp for twenty days of recording, they gathered a talented group of actors to come in and record a casually-staged performance of the screenplay (all funded by producer Graham King). To be clear, this was nothing like a table read; it was Depp and folks like Bill Nighy, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Stephen Root (who evidently plays a power tool salesman doubling as a proctologist - two boring professions that should be conflated more often), Harry Dean Stanton and Isla Fisher up on their feet doing a loosely-blocked run-through of the script that would serve as a reference for the animators. The exuberance and chaos of this footage is downright Gilliam-esque.
Verbinski's always been a talent - even after his voice got lost in the tumult of the PIRATES sequel. Look at THE MEXICAN again (seriously): the man loves a story uncommonly told. This is what he's after with RANGO. Just take a look at this trailer (which is a little different from the one currently hosted by Apple.com)...
There's a FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS callback, for cryin' out loud! What's not to love about Hunter S. Thompson and his Chevrolet Caprice Classic straying into a family film?
RANGO is a long way from finished (it won't hit theaters until March 2011), but there's reason to be excited. Hopefully, Paramount will share some of this footage at Comic Con in a few weeks.