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Rango Review

5 min read

A story within a story as a chameleon finds himself being something more than he ever thought he could be.

What They Say:

A chameleon that aspires to be a swashbuckling hero finds himself in a Western town plagued by bandits and is forced to literally play the role in order to protect it.

The Review:

Every now and then we get a computer generated movie where things aren’t exactly like all the others. They’re very rare in general where we see something advertised that looks like your standard busy, fun and outgoing comedy with an assortment of fun characters and creatures that experience adventure and more but turns out to be far more nuanced. The only other one in recent memory is Wall-E with Coraline coming in a close second if only because you knew that was going to be fairly twisted considering its source material and general presentation. Rango definitely fits in with Wall-E as a movie where it’ll draw the kids in but they and the adults in attendance will get something very different than what they expected.

Rango centers on one of the more interesting characters in a CG animated movie than I’ve seen in a long time. For the first chunk of the film, he’s a nameless chameleon who is being transported to a new home with his owners as we see him play-acting in his aquarium in the back of the car. It’s not out loud funny material, but it brings a grin as you hear Depp setting the basics of the character and how he views the world as a stage of sorts, but not like a Shakesperian style actor. Where things go wonky is when the car nearly gets into an accident and his aquarium bounced out the back window where he now finds himself dealing with a brutally hot desert and very little there to give him any support. With a little direction given to him, he’s sent off into the deeper desert to find “dirt” which is where he can find some water to help him survive.

There’s a good bit of wackiness prior to him moving in this direction, including a spot on nod towards Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but after that it settles into a bit more of a subtle comedy. It’s not pure slapstick, though it has its moments, as it’s more character based as our chameleon meets a desert iguana named Beans who helps him get to the town of Dirt. It’s here that our lead realizes that in this dusty and dying western town that he can be anyone he wants. And with his thirst for acting, he observes and then thrusts him into the classic mold of a man with no name who takes on the name of Rango and inadvertently becomes the towns sheriff. But the town isn’t an easy life as they’re losing out in the grand scheme of things because the lifeblood of it, water, is disappearing fast and the townfolk are getting ornery about it.

There’s a fairly decent if obvious mystery involved here, but it’s watching how Rango becomes engrossed in the role that he’s now playing. He slips out of his character at times throughout it, usually when the going gets a bit rough, but as he gets further into it, it really brings out the real him in a way. There’s a lot to like in watching how Rango goes into this semi-cocky mode where he’s the darling of the town after taking down certain elements. It’s a little endearing at times but he’s also forced into positions to back it up, which he largely deals with either through bluster and bluffing or sheer luck that lets him get away with it. A good part of what makes it work is the dialogue itself, as delivered by Johnny Depp. It doesn’t go for big, loud gags and over the top wacky acting, a staple of many other CG films, and instead feels like it’s just a few hairs to the left of what a live action film would be. It exists in its own world, which is thoroughly tied to the real world in a lot of ways, but it has its own sensibilities about it and keeps it largely straight. Not overly serious, however.

Rango’s storyline brings it into contact with a number of critters and it does have a large idea behind it that works fairly well as the back drop for events, but it’s the characters that really make it work. From the initial piece with him acting solo to all those he meets, such as Beans who is trying to live up to her fathers dreams of his ranch that’s now dying. The town has a lot of characters to it that are very dusty and beaten down but they keep holding onto hope as well. With it being a western, there is a little old west mysticism as well, one moment of which that’s priceless has Rango coming across the “spirit of the west” in the form of a human that is directly out of the old spaghetti westerns with a solid Clint Eastwood lookalike that even sounds exactly like him with Timothy Olyphant taking on the duties there. It’s like some of the other moments in the film that it’s more self aware than you’d expect and in a more grown-up way as well since it’s nods that only adults would get.

In Summary:

Rango is a really intriguing movie, one where it’s not what you’d typically get. Gore Verbinski hasn’t made an animated film here, he’s made a film that just happens to be animated. That’s the problem a good number of CG animated films run into with only Pixar really being able to break that problem a lot of the times. His work with Johnny Depp here gives it even more of that feeling while Industrial Light & Magic’s first foray into feature-length CG animation is spot on. Having grown up on their work in special effects from the first Star Wars film, seeing them do something like this that simply comes across as more mature and less juvenile than the majority of CG films was their best approach. Rather than being just another player in the field, they’ve marked out some interesting territory alongside Nickelodeon. I saw this film with my two kids, pre-teen girls, and they thoroughly enjoyed it but it was a very different experience for them since it wasn’t slapstick, bright colors and buzz words and catch phrases over and over. I’m hard pressed to recommend it for kids in general under ten, and definitely not for younger kids, but it’s one to definitely introduce kids to because it shows them there’s more to CG animation than what they usually see.

Grade: B+

Recommendation: Matinee only

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