Fri, Mar 04, 2011 - Page 16 News List

Movie review: Rango

Director Gore Verbinski discusses what it took to get the animated western ‘Rango’ made

By Dave Itzkoff  /  NY Times News Service, New York

Photo Courtesy of UIP

After directing the blockbuster 2003 adventure film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and two hit sequels, there was only one movie that Gore Verbinski wanted to make next: an animated feature about a talking chameleon who thinks he’s a western hero. Why? We’re still not entirely sure we understand, but that’s the story behind Rango, which stars Johnny Depp as the voice of the titular lizard, who is liberated from his terrarium and finds himself in a ramshackle frontier town, populated by desert critters (whose voices are provided by Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty, Bill Nighy and many more).

If that premise isn’t sufficiently off the beaten path, Rango is also the first cartoon feature that Verbinski has directed, as well as the first full-length work of animation created by Industrial Light & Magic, the pioneering special-effects film company. Verbinski spoke recently to Dave Itzkoff about why he jumped ship from the Pirates franchise to make Rango, and why he fought back against making the film in 3D. Following are excerpts from that conversation.

Dave Itzkoff: Where did the idea for this film even come from?

Gore Verbinski: I was sitting with my good friend David Shannon, who is a children’s book author, and the producer John B. Carls. We were just batting around ideas, like: What do you want to do next? What about an animated western with creatures of the desert? That was basically the sentence. From there, there’s got to be the character who’s an outsider in the classic sense, and if it’s the desert, what if he’s aquatic? If he’s aquatic, what if he’s a chameleon? If he’s a chameleon, then should he be an actor? And I was like, whoa, hey, this is an identity-quest movie.

Film Notes


DIRECTED BY: Gore Verbinski

WITH THE VOICES OF: Johnny Depp (Rango/Lars), Isla Fisher (Beans), Abigail Breslin (Priscilla), Ned Beatty (Mayor), Alfred Molina (Roadkill), Bill Nighy (Rattlesnake Jake)

RUNNING TIME: 107 Minutes


DI: I don’t think it’s said what kind of lizard Rango is, but he’s definitely a chameleon?

GV: We take great license but, yeah, he’s a chameleon in terms of his ability to change color, but also his ability to perform different roles.

DI: Having never made an animated feature before, how did you then turn this idea into a film?

GV: I wrote a 12-page outline in 2003, and then went off and made two other Pirates movies. So that sat dormant for about four years, and then I looked at my notes and said, “I just want to do this.” I got seven artists in a house, and we just worked for 16 months. It was extremely low-fi: pencil and paper and a Macintosh, a microphone and some guitars. You’d work for six hours, play a game of bocce ball, cook hot dogs on the Weber grill, take walks. It was just fantastic.

DI: You’d just made three lucrative movies for Walt Disney, a company that knows a thing or two about animation. Why didn’t you bring Rango there?

GV: I think their animation pipeline is really full. I think we’d be in queue. It just seemed like, at that time, Paramount was a better fit for us.

DI: What did you show to Paramount to pitch the film, and to Industrial Light & Magic, so the animation could be created?

GV: We could basically play the whole movie to them with temp voices. It was a bunch of pencil drawings, but you got a sense — if you could use your imagination — of the protagonist, his journey, his quest, his exile, epiphany and resurrection. You were looking at pencil and paper, and it was my voice and not Johnny Depp’s. The accurate sketch, just without all the flavor of the entire film.

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