Amanda Mae Meyncke March 4, 2011
Sharp, well-made, and interesting.
Rango may well be one of the first mainstream animated films in the last few years that is hard to place in all the best ways. An animated Western, complete with menacing bandits, cowering townsfolk, and plenty of stand-offs, Rango is also long, not entirely easy to watch, and markedly strange. But that might just be what makes it good.
The basic plot is simple enough: After suffering a bad accident, a chameleon finds his way into a small town populated with all kinds of desert creatures and beset with drought and bandits. Through his bravado, Rango becomes sheriff and must actually live up to his big talk in the face of big problems.
Johnny Depp voices Rango, and his voice is as chameleonic as his character, but this should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his career. Isla Fisher is charming if unrecognizable as Beans, a local lizard trying to save her father’s farm. Abigail Breslin, Bill Nighy, Harry Dean Stanton, and Timothy Olyphant also appear, among others.
There are a few scenes and moments that made me think, “This is what animation is about,” as the audience is treated to gorgeous landscapes, with music to match. It is through animation that we have the ability to see things we’ve never seen before, different worlds, or aspects of our own world that are difficult to capture in reality. The animation is unlike anything I’d seen before, all intricate textures and gritty facades. There is some beauty in the film but there’s also a great deal of ugly, which was unexpected. These characters — townspeople and bandits alike — aren’t pretty to look at. But in spite of the occasionally repulsive outer appearance, the details of the tiny town are entirely enchanting (They use water as a form of currency! They ride Road Runners instead of horses!), and the action sequences are the strongest elements of the film: thrilling and interesting to watch.
However, the genius of the film isn’t immediately apparent. Rango seems to be about having something to believe in, and knowing who you are. Rango wants to fit in and wants to be liked and so he lies in order to achieve respect, which results in the acceptance and trust of the townsfolk. Lying about who he is works for a while until the truth is discovered, and Rango is profoundly lost once he is stripped of his assumed persona though he eventually becomes a version of what he claimed to be (as any good hero he rises to the occasion). But the takeaway lesson here is strange. Rango as a film appears to be operating within a confusing moral framework, seemingly condoning some questionable ethical actions such as lying, while condemning others such as theft. But those who lie and those who steal are found out, and justice is served, as in any good classic Western. Just as many of the older children who see the film will be trying on a new persona in the process of growing up, or exploring the limits of who they are, Rango is dealing with these issues as well. A film for the tweens if ever there was one; it just took me a while to recognize it for what it was.
An indeed, Rango is perhaps best suited for older children who are able to comprehend many of the complex verbal jokes wrangled by the tongue-twistings of Johnny Depp, and with jokes for adults and jokes for kids, Rango has some very funny moments. Still, there are plenty of the lamentable fart, burp, and poop jokes that kids love to repeat. Parents should beware that there are some dark moments in the film, including several mentions of death, a frightening rattlesnake, and some altercations involving guns, but the film is rated PG and all but the youngest of children should be fine.
At an hour and 47 minutes, the film is lengthy, but with ticket prices rising it’s nice to feel you’ve gotten your money’s worth. Rango is sharp, well-made, and interesting but lacks the emotional resonance of a film like How to Train Your Dragon. And that may very well be my problem with it. I was expecting something easy and this film took a risk, it took a chance on being ugly, on being long and a little complicated, and while it follows genre conventions fairly closely, it’s ultimately quite different from what we’ve seen in the past few years.
Categories: ReviewsTags: Johnny depp, Rango, Review