Sunday, March 06, 2011

Rango

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.

31 comments:

Fisher said...
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Darrin said...

and what exactly is bugging you? I don't get it.. This sound like a rant about nothing.. What exactly are you saying... Spit it out! What is it exactly that you want to see... A Bold Film? What exactly does that encompass.
Edgy, dark, Twisted, Pointless? Help me understand because this post Keith is one that makes no sense to me.

Fisher said...
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Anonymous said...

...tell me why I ever subscribed to a cretin like you in my Google Reader feed?

Enjoy being a soulless anti-Pixar contrarian, you failure.

Fisher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
will said...

Yah, I have to disagree here. I can see what you are saying as far as every studio latching on to that idea of having an emotional aspect to their movies, and I totally agree that if the emotional aspect of the movie is superfluous and feels manufactured than that is wrong. But, to me at least, in all the Pixar movie's the emotional aspect serves to further the story. In Up the story would not have been the same without the opening sequence. The character's wouldn't have grown the way they did, it wouldn't have been the same movie. In Megamind, my favorite scene is the one in the rain and his reaction to the girl's rejection, ugh it was amazing. So, I really think that the emotional scene's in Pixar movies and Dreamworks for the most part have felt quite organic to me and are really part of what makes a great classic story.

atn1987pring said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
atn1987pring said...

Nice post, Keith.
Funny i say when i read your post because i have felt in the same way. :)
Although i haven't watch Rango right now. But what i saw animated movie in the past until right now, some movie i really love it like Lion King, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall-e (my favorite :D ), Tarzan, Up, Shrek, Kung-Fu Panda etc. Those movies were emotionally that can make me feel laugh, sad, and entertain.
But some movies really make me disappoint, example Shrek 4. The characters feel same though story is different than on the previous one. Maybe some of you don't agree with me, that's okay but Shrek 4 is a mess for me even the characters still have good act. In this case, i agree in some way. And for now, maybe Pixar movies have more emotional aspect than others but of course the others like dreamworks, blue sky, etc have good ones. :)

Although to me, for emotional aspect, Ghibli is the greatest!!! Spirited Away, about caring to others. Princess Mononoke about anger and hate. And Grave of The Fireflies, i really "hates" this movie because it makes me cried... :P

Cheers,

ps: all those write just my opinion, don't take seriously, please.... :)

Brian Horgan said...

Classy act there Anonymous, you're clearly a person who stands by their words.. except that maybe you're not as you don't even have the guts to state your name.

..anyhoo..

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I loved the 6 minute teaser and did get a feeling that it was something different at least as the characters aren't trying to be cute like the generic characters we're getting used to seeing in CG features. Proper scaly, hairy, smelling-looking beings.. hey just like real life!

I've enjoyed some of the recent fare from the major studios, but I totally get where Keith is coming from. The animation, lighting, texturing etc can draw me in on a technical level, but boy I'm sick of these movies that tell us 'all we have to do is believe in ourselves and our dreams will come true'. You know what? Life doesn't work that way! It's a lot more complex than that so why do 90% of films from big CG studios have the same tired, predictable message.

Eddy said...

"Film is a dangerously powerful medium whose greatest ability is to make people feel things. It's not particularly difficult to do, either."

I'm not so sure about that being not difficult. Although I'm simply a student at the moment the whole process of emotionally moving someone through film or animation is mystical to me. Perhaps it comes more naturally to a seasoned professional as yourself, so that you're more familiar with the manipulations in a film than others.

I've always felt quite moved and involved by Pixar films for all the usual reasons; aesthetics, music, deviously clever gags and, most of all, heart in story and message (although, Cars especially and Wall-E to a lesser extent didn't really do it for me.). This doesn't happen much generally speaking. I mean, film is such a risky industry precisely because touching emotional chords, making people laugh and cry, is incredibly difficult and rare.

I agree with you on the dreading the family CG movies of late, who are obviously trying to parrot the successes of Pixar/Dreamworks/Blue Sky, and failing dismally. Still, that shouldn't nor does it detract from the sincere love that is poured into each Pixar film, since they are about as far removed from gimmicks and cookie cutting as you can get.

I think I see where you're coming from though, that all these movies tend to be similarly predicated on big emotional turning points, and tend to go about it the same way. Hence you don't feel so excited about them any more. That's a shame. I might know the 'manipulation' is coming but at least I still enjoy the ride.

Still, can't wait to see Rango!

BxF said...

Great post and always a pleasure to hear honest and objective opinions.
I definitely agree but I'm often criticized by my peers when speaking out about the majors studios in terms of storytelling flaws, art direction and predictability. It seems like there's a climate that prevent people from having negative outlooks on the mainstream in this Industry.

Rango's definitely on my wish list.

Cheers.
BF.

Anonymous said...

Can you give examples of good films that allow for emotions without mandating them? I totally understand what you're saying, but I am having trouble thinking of strong films that encourage your to empathize without mandating it. On the one hand there are some films like ToyStory3 that hit you with a steams roller about it, and on the other there's films like Triplette's that just wave a feather in your direction.

Ochyming said...

you wrote:

""
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."'

What?

Since when designing characters define the story?
The story is the starting point.
You should know that.


There is nothing original or "groundbreaking" in Rango, at least for people who know David Lynch, Luis Buñuel, Alejandro Jodorowsky
It is a great movie, animation is not for children, it is a form of expression, that is WHAT it erasures. For the ignorants at least.

Jon said...

Hi keith, I never posted here before, but I read this a lot and I agree with you. The cookie cutter analogy is right on the money.

I`m not a soulless anti_Pixar contrarian but I`m working my way up to it. In fact I think there`s a close correlation between Pixar movies, and the Fast and the Furious series. Cheap iterations of been there done that. I think there`s also close similarities between Pixar and Walmart. Fake phony emotions applied to zero substance. ( insert secondary comic relief animal character )Ok maybe I went too far, I`m just trying to get that anonymous guy to subscribe to my reader feed.

I think because of their target market. Pixar and friends are limited in what they say and how they say it. Think about your favorite live action movies. Unless they consist of Air Bud, Beethoven, or Benji, they probably wouldn`t be movies that would contain storytelling that could be used by Pixar. Pixar can`t make a No Country for Old Men, or a There Will be Blood. They`re stuck in a mold of their own doing.

Religious Pixar worshippers ( people who think pixar is perfect and untoucheable) make me think of clubbers thinking that the house music, which happens to be the same top 40 hits on the radio, is actually honest music and not music engineered and filtered to be catchy.

And in case you didn`t know, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Keisha, aren`t real artists, the music " they make " is a marketing product designed to sell. So is Pixar, and they`re amazing at it.

We`re closing in on a hundred years of animating princes and princesses. If you look behind you right now there`s a topic more interesting to talk about. Even if it`s just a plain wall.

To Darrin:
Thanks to the miracle of Copy Paste, we can solve the world`s illiteracy problem. Here`s me "spitting out" the answer to your confusion:

"Worse still, they're not honest. Despite their obvious skill and success, over time Pixar's storytelling has become predictably, cynically manipulative"

"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?"

Ochyming said...

@Jon


Nonsense!
Game aesthetic is anything original or vanguardist?
Isn't that what you are selling here?

Pixar is a Poser?

It is about the STORY, not character design.

You wrote:
"""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?"""

That is stupid.
Rango characters are one sided, and Rango itself is yr typical HollyWood type, a HERO.

The narrative is WHAT makes the movie enjoyable NOT the high def textures.

Thom said...

I'm with you, Keith. Perhaps it's simply because we're getting old, and don't like being treated like children, which, I have to agree, the Pixar style of STORY (seems it must be all caps) always does. Great stories, even for children, are never overtly manipulative -- that's part of what makes them great.

Ochyming said...

To Thom:

Nah!


Saying loud bad words makes Rango a grow up movie?

NAH!!
NO!

Characters in Rango are NOT well developed as characters from any Pixar movie.

Toy Story 3 is way BETTER than Rango.
Even the two Sylvain Chomet are better than Rango.

Story makes the characters, not the way around as this writer paints. No wonder USA buys European and Japanese's movie to make USA's versions.


BTW what is children movie?
You wrote?
""… Pixar style of STORY …""

Nonsense!
What that mean?

Any Pixar movie portraits universal themes, even the Western-esque Cars.

OH! That are NO big bad words?

Urchinator said...

I don't know, maybe my idea of what cute is is messed up...cause I think the Rango characters are kinda cute. (In a so ugly they're cute again way...like Cabbage Patch dolls. You just love them more for "charm" :)

lowlight said...

Well, despite many of Ochyming's more passionate replies to other bloggers here, I actually agree with his main counter-argument to Keith's posting; design alone does not a good story make (although it can hurt it under certain circumstances). Make no mistake Kieth, I respect your opinion on this but I'd be lying if I said I completely agree with it.

Jon said...

I think Pixar is like a well crafted marketing campaign extremely efficient at manipulating people`s emotion to go spend money.

From marketing campaigns the emotion generated in viewers is real and vivid, but the intent is manipulative and doesn`t represent the film-makers real values.

A comparison would be using women in ads to sell something completely unrelated. It`s dishonest in the sense that those ads create false associations between the women and the sold product when there isn`t any in the first place. And down the line they want to make money.

I have trouble believing with all the talent at Pixar, no one wants to make something that steps out of that mold. And if they do want to do something else, but make something marketed towards kids, then that makes them in some way dishonest.

Ochyming respond

Ochyming said...

@lowlight


I think i know what he meant to convey.
that is why my only criticism of him was:

•• Since when designing characters define the story?
The story is the starting point.
You should know that.


People who came here rushing to defend him did made him a disservice.
He is not afraid that ignorants will rush to crucify him without trying hard to understand WHAT he wanted to convey.

His fault tho.:
It is not Pixar fault, because they dignify animation!

Here is a genius animator that wants ignorants to take his love seriously, that is foolish, we're all ignorants, meaning lazy.
He should work on dignifying projects, those that elevates animation beyond game cinematic.
Cinema startet as animation after all, if i am not mistaken.

Rango characters are not painstakingly developed, perhaps he thinks that that DO NOT take ALL the joy that is subjectivity, but it renders the characters hollow.


@Jon

you wrote:
""" … A comparison would be using women in ads to sell something completely unrelated. It`s dishonest in the sense that those ads create false associations between the women and the sold product when there isn`t any in the first place. And down the line they want to make money… """

There is a perverse parallelism in Mac vs PC ( iOS vs Android also ) in your comment. If you take in account ads by Apple vs competitors.

Microsoft like Apple doesn't need to innovate constantly because it is constrained by its biz strategy that is unlike Apple's, which needs to create new technology or new niches in order to stay in biz or relevant. Who Apple competes with?

• All the PC hardware makers and Windows sellers cartel and now Google backers cartel and IT ( as you know they make biz with PC makers ) guys who are the ones people go @ in offices for advice at what computer to buy. So Apple competes NOT directly with Microsoft and Google, apple still use/publicity both companies' software after all, and they do not do the same for Apple.


With that what i mean?

• Your necessity makes you behave in a certain way, but if you are honest to your love/wife (AH!) you do not harm it/her, by bending to easy money.
You are living in a market driving country, after all.

Pixar funds itself. It needs money to function.
But in the end they make worthy movies.

Animation needs more Pixar than game cinematic.
BTW, after watching Rango, those BLUR game cinematic did not POP UP at your head.

Jon said...

@Ochimyng

Good point about money. And lots of movies make money, telling stories that contain characters OTHER than funny animal sidekicks, princesses, and happy endings.

In the whole spectrum of possible characters they have to pick the same damn formula like a broken record. that's all i'm saying. And the reason for that is their target audience, and their unwillingmess to take risks trying to entertain another group of people. Instead they rather make movies that are getting closer and closer to movies like beethoven.

I don't know if story comes before or after characters. I heard a lot of flip flopping on the issue. However, can you picture Chris Farley as James Bond, or Garth from wayne's world as Shindler? I don't know if these two are entirely separable. I don't think story could work it's way around fitting Garth as the lead role in Shindler's list.


You shouldn't call people ignorant, that's kind of rude and unbecoming and you lose credibility in your arguments. And it invites people like me to retaliate in the same kind of language, for that i apologize. Oddly enough the word verification check is " ignetar " which sounds close to ignorant.

Josh Bowman said...

Just saw it yesterday and spent the whole movie thinking "this is so weird!"....but i think i emerged from the cinema liking it, I definitely want to see it again.

I've also been feeling jaded by Pixarian films since Rat. I think the only recent piece of animation I'm interested in watching again and again from Pixar's recent outings is the first half-hour of Wall-E, which I consider a masterpiece of story telling until he followed Eve into space, then it just turned pedestrian and predicable again.

What I liked about Rango was that, even though it was predictable in places because of it's western roots it felt like a fresh adventure for an animated film. I think it's characters were very appealing in a grungy sort of way and they felt very well designed.

I remember really desiring to work at Pixar, or in America at one of the big animation houses when i was first learning animation, but now I've really discovered the joy and satisfaction of working on small projects where I can have a much greater input in the acting and storytelling and not just worrying about whether the poses are clear and the animation clean.

There will always be differing opinions, for some reason some people just can't seem to handle anyone else contradicting their own opinion which smacks of insecurity. Get a couple of people together with different opinions and they'll give you a new perspective, get a couple of people with the same opinion together and they'll just regurgitate everything they've done before.

Jon said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBLQVLuCmAo

here`s Glen Keane talking about he thinks about character first, then story.

But then again, as Ochyming says:

The story is the starting point.
Glen Keane should know that.



Snappity Snap SNAP!

Keyfish said...

Wow. Thanks for the synopsis of animated movies and for the awesome clip of Rango. I have got to get my butt to a movie theatre very soon. :D

Doug said...

Obviously a good post based on the controversy ... well maybe?

I'm no Pixar hater, but I am starting to feel the same "manipulated" feeling after watching the films. It became manifest for me after seeing the first 1/2 of WallE then having to leave the theatre as my kids were not digging it. So, it wasn't until the dvd came out that we finished the film and I wished I had left it alone and not seen the rest. Haven't been back to it since.

If Rango tries to break the mold, successful or not, then its worth seeing and supporting. I'm not one of those folks who believes in seeing everything animated - but I believe in supporting good film. We must vote with our tickets and send these filmmakers a message, even if they are the mighty Pixar.

Iván Dorantes said...

I just saw it and for being brutally honest, I love the characters design and the animation but I didn't like the story almost not for kids.
Where i live here in Mexico all the CG movies are sell for children's audience. I´m not pixar´s or dreamwork´s or other else studio fan, all of them has their capabilities and weakness but I think that at this moment they´re doing and selling movies that look like cartoony but the plots are better for older people.

Im a fan from Hayao Miyazaki and their movies are so amazing that does'´t matter how old you are.

Devon Wells said...

Thoroughly enjoyed the post.

I am a fan of Pixar for the most part (Ratatouille is my favourite) but share that unpleasant sense of being condescended to and manipulated by virtualy every CG made since...well, pretty much ever.

In part you can blame it on the audience the studio needs to target to recoup its $100 million plus investment----Pixar makes a significant amount of money, if not the majority of its income, from merchandizing to kids. You can make a brilliant non-patronizing mature CG art flick that resonates with adults and I can guarantee you it won't bring in the kind of dough the Cars gravy train does (is there a 4 year old out there that doesn't have a Cars backpack with matching cars T-shirt to wear while working in his Cars activity book while his Cars DVD spins endlessly in the background?).

Haven't seen Rango but will check it out.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

What a horrible cartoon rango was--badly "designed," and weak storytelling. The film had no "character," and was frankly, dull. If you're going to rip off Chinatown, at least TRY to do it well. The cinematography was stodgy, amateurish, and confusing, and the lighting resembled a cheap videogame. Very young children might like this pablum, but anyone over the age of 6 will be bored. After 4 weeks, it's about petered out, losing quite a bit of money in the process. With a budget of $180 million (and lots of the work being domne in Singapore), it's got a long way to go to climb out of the red.

Tim said...

Well, I finally saw "Rango" yesterday, so I came back to read your post. (Didn't wanna read it before in case of any spoilers).

I would make a comment, but it seems enough has been said already.

But I will state that I enjoyed it. I laughed a lot. The character design was was out of left field, but fit the story. I got my money's worth. I'll probably shuck out another buck on it when it comes to Redbox, too.

Not every movie is made for everybody. Most films are not "good" or "bad", they simply are or are not one's cup of darjeeling.

Sid said...

Hey Keith,

you exactly described what i felt, seeing the last 3 Pixar movies. I couldnt even finish Cars 2 and left the cinema after 40 min. It's time 'once more' for Mr. Bird to steer the boat in the right direction.

The Highlights for me this year, was Rango and Tangled(keeping the Disney style where it belong...in Disney productions).