Talking animal cartoons - the latest thing? We watched Kung Fu Panda, which is pretty much a standard silly kung fu movie, except everyone in it is a cartoon animal. Jack Black plays the eponymous panda, the chubby lazy son of a noodle shop owner. But he dreams of being a great warrior, and in typical film fashion, it comes to pass.
There's a lot to like about this movie - the look can be beautiful, the fights are fun, and the voice cast is stellar. Black fellow students are the Furious Five: Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Seth Rogen and Lucy Liu. But all in all, I felt this was only standard quality - good but not great.
We mainly watched to hear James Hong, playing Black's father, say "We are noodle folk!" Hong is a hero on the Filmsack podcast, and that's good enough for me.
Rango, on the other hand, is a takeoff on Westerns, starring Johnny Depp as a lizard. He lives in a terrarium with a windup goldfish and a headless, legless, one-armed Barbi torso. His world is shattered when it falls out of a car in the great American Western Desert and he has to make his own way and find himself.
He comes to the town of Dirt a stranger, and becomes sheriff when he takes the name Rango and starts bragging about his skills with a gun. At this point, the movie becomes The Shakiest Gun in the West, and Depp starts doing Don Knotts. But the town of Dirt is dying from lack of water, due to a plot by the mayor, a tortoise voiced by Ned Beatty - doing John Huston from Chinatown.
Funny, the chief temple priest in Kung Fu Panda was a tortoise as well.
This all plays out to the tune of a mariachi band of burrowing owls, who let us know that Rango may become a hero, but he will certainly die - and soon. These cheerful critters are my favorites - but that's partly because the character design is mostly pretty gross. These are a mangy pack of low-life cartoon animals and no mistake.
Gore Verbinski, who directed Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, has a lot of fun with the source material here, making this a bit deeper and a lot more fun than Kung Fu Panda. Both movies have that problem where the incompetent lazy boob can defeat any villain if he only believes in himself. But in Kung Fu Panda, it's Jack Black. In Rango, it's funny.