***1/2 out of ****
"Rango" is essentially the first animated movie to be made by Industrial Light and Magic if you don't count the Star Wars prequels. ILM puts a strong competition against Pixar and Dreamworks by avoiding the unnecessary challenge of engineering their movie for 3D presentation and concentrating on how much more you can achieve when you designate your efforts to making the best 2D movie you can make. I was reminded of how good Pixar's "Wall-E" looked where the aesthetic was leaning more towards the photorealistic. "Rango" is a movie full of whacky cartoon characters who all look as though they are being lit and shot by a real-world camera crew. It helps that the movie is full of homage to classic movies (mostly westerns) and humorously imitates their cinematography. Like "Wall-E" the great cinematographer Roger Deakins was brought in as a computer-camera consultant.
The voice acting in this movie is also successful for bringing a stellar playful cast together in a small studio and shooting the entire movie to capture their voices while really interacting and physically performing their parts for future visual reference material the animation department could work with (This wasn't a motion capture set).
I could go on and on about the whimsical spectacle this movie is in all of it's technical greatness because this is the stuff that makes this movie good. Gore Verbinski ("The Mexican", and the "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy) is very talented at style and spectacle and is also quite scatterbrained when it comes to a central theme or meaning. Sometimes I don't like him for this. The first "Pirates of the Caribbean" was silly fun but way to long and it didn't help that it's next two sequels stretched every delightful aspect of the first movie completely thin. His work isn't sincere enough to be put in epic context. "Rango" is a project I'm really glad he got accomplished for the absurd humor, loving tribute to classic cinema, how stunning it is to look at, and it's less than two hours.