Rio vs. Rango

How to tell the difference between two eminently confusable animated movies—both new on VOD.
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With two eminently confusable animated movies hitting VOD, parents and animation buffs run the risk of bringing home lizards instead of birds—or vice versa.

So should you cozy up to Johnny Depp’s gun-slinging chameleon in Rango or fly off with Jesse Eisenberg’s wayward macaw in Rio? (Put less appealingly, would you rather see a movie by the director of Pirates of the Caribbean 3 or Ice Age 2?) We offer a guide to help you pick the cartoon critter best for you. Rango is already available for digital download and hits on demand services Friday 29; Rio will be on digital services beginning Tuesday 2 and comes to VOD August 9.

Rock

With tropicalia legend Sergio Mendes contributing five songs and serving as “executive music producer” (whatever that means), Rio would seem to have an unbeatable edge in this category. Unfortunately, Mendes’s songs serve as aural wallpaper, while grating numbers by Will.i.am take center stage. As if its insipid production wasn’t bad enough, Ester Dean’s theme song rhymes “Rio” with “eagle” and “gazebo.” Rango’s mixture of surf-guitar instrumentals and woozy corridos wins this one in a walk.

Offensiveness

Despite the fact that Rio director Carlos Saldanha hails from the eponymous city, the idea of setting an all-ages adventure among Rio de Janeiro’s notorious favelas is rife with cringeworthy potential, which is probably why the movie plays it as safe and bland as possible. Despite some Donkey-esque mugging from Jamie Foxx and Will.i.am as a pair of loudmouthed locals, there’s little to offend, unless turning impoverished slums into Third World theme parks gets your dander up. Rango, meanwhile, trucks in grotesques across the board, from Ned Beatty’s scheming Southerner to Ray Winstone’s cold-blooded black hat. The movie strays into Speedy Gonzales territory when a toad voiced by Joe Nuñez frantically pleads for help, offering, “I’ll let you kees my seester!”

Realism

Rio’s rubbery, weightless animation lends little to the story beyond a pervasive sense of fantasy, but Rango conveys a palpable sense of the desert’s literally scorching heat and the raspy texture of its hero’s skin. At times, the movie gets uncomfortably close to his sun-coarsened reptile scales, but you can always scoot your chair back a step.

Pop-culture references

Since the dawn of time, or at least the heyday of Looney Tunes, animators have delighted in cramming frames full of references to reward sharp-eyed viewers and engage weary adults. While Rio’s allusions are strictly low-grade—a poster for the bird-themed blockbuster Fly Hard is about the size of it—Rango is packed with nods to sources obvious and obscure. An airborne attack scored to “Ride of the Valkyries” is old hat, but threads of Chinatown are woven into the plot with such insistency that the movie becomes a kind of subterranean counterpoint. Hans Zimmer’s score salutes Ennio Morricone’s indelible theme from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and a yellow-eyed lupine henchman tips his hat to Klaus Kinski’s Western career. But what will Leone-impaired viewers make of a climactic homage to the Man with No Name?

Age range

By now, we should all be hip to the notion that animation isn’t just for children, but parents drawn in by Rango’s cutesy poster art may find themselves up late with a traumatized tween. A villainous rattlesnake’s dripping fangs and machine-gun tail are enough to give grown-ups nightmares. Rio makes more practical sense for younger viewers, but you’d be better off taking the kids outside.

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