When I heard the sound of the rusting, creaking sign blowing in the wind, sounding as if it were lifted right off of Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, not to mention the huge, slow ticking clock in the middle of town also lifted form that classic, I was pretty sure we had a winner with the animated film ‘Rango’. And we do have a winner with ‘Rango’, even though it lost me at times causing my mind to wander off into untold places, but it would eventually yank me back. Thanks for that Rattlesnake Jake.
Johnny Depp lends his talents to the voice of the lizard who will eventually go by the name of Rango. I’m still not quite sure why these Hollywood studios back up the Brinks Trucks to get these stars to voice their animated characters. I realize it helps having Depp’s name above the title but most kids could care less whose name is above the title and it’s not like you hear Rango speak and immediately know that it’s Johnny Depp. And yes, Johnny Depp can act but Johnny Depp is a movie star because of the way he looks first and foremost, and the fact that he learned how to act along the way to being a star is just a bonus. Thus anybody who can voice act could’ve been the voice or Rango. Darnit! I have digressed.
Anyway… yesterday this lizard was a house pet putting on stage shows with inanimate objects. Today circumstance has put this lizard in the vicious desert, with no water to drink and receiving cryptic information from an armadillo / Don Quixote. Water, this armadillo tells Rango, will be found when he finds dirt. Doesn’t get any more cryptic than that.
So Rango makes his way through the desert to get to dirt, whatever that means, and it’s a perilous journey fraught with murderous hawks and a vicious sun, but soon he makes the acquaintance of Miss Beans (Ilsa Fischer), a resident of the town of Dirt. I guess Miss Beans is also a lizard but I’m not sure. I mean Rango is a lizard and interspecies relationships freak me out so we will assume that she is some kind of Lizard as well since that makes me feel better.
Rango, who we all ready know has a flair for the dramatic, has hoodwinked the good people of Dirt into believing that he is some kind of legendary gunslinger. The creatures of Dirt need something to believe in since their town is dying from a debilitating drought and with the blessing of the Mayor (Ned Beatty), Rango is now the sheriff in charge.
But there’s something funny going on in the town of Dirt. The water supply should be plentiful and the mayor should be concerned that it’s not plentiful, but he’s not concerned at all. Worst still is that what little water the town had has been stolen. Now it’s up to the Sheriff to round up a possum and get it back. I think we all know, at least those of us over the age of four, that Rango will be exposed as the fraud that he is and the town will need a real hero and a not pretend hero, particularly when the vicious Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) shows up. And we also know that Rango will find his inner hero and save the day. You don’t even need to be a four year old to know this.
Here’s the thing about this movie ‘Rango’. While it has cute animated characters, some with big eyes, some that are cuddly looking, some that talk funny… I hesitate at calling this a kid’s movie. For instance, even though ‘Rango’ is far superior to ‘Gnome and Juliet’, the children that I observed in that movie were far more engaged in that film than the children I observed at this movie. It is highly unlikely that your average child was aware of all the subtle and not so subtle literary references abundant in this film or care about a man’s struggle… or a lizard’s struggle as it were with his self identity and his feelings of worthlessness. The majority of the humor is adult oriented, the themes are adult in nature and the language can be a little harsh. And once Rattlesnake Jake shows up on the scene the average child will probably go to sleep with horrible nightmares. I know I did.
‘Rango’ is more clever than it is funny, being a cross between a Leone spaghetti western and ‘Chinatown’, the animation is simply amazing to witness as these animation studios seem to make it a point to top each other with each successive film, the voice acting is superb… but that still doesn’t mean I understand paying known actors top dollar to handle these unseen voice acting duties. Would we rather look at Ilsa Fisher or listen to Ilsa Fisher? Do I even need to answer that question?
‘Rango’ is an amazingly clever movie but somewhere in the middle of this film it lost me. I don’t know where I went and I don’t how I got there, but I wasn’t here. Maybe I was attempting to pinpoint the litany of literary references or maybe the movie just got dull, but me and a couple of my eight year old brothers and sisters zoned out. I think it was around the time the moles were body surfing on cave bats. Rattlesnake Jake brought us back. Best Animated Villain Ever.
But the only real criticism I have of ‘Rango’ is that it’s not a kid’s movie. Not really. Clever, witty, unique, unorthodox, esoteric and intelligent. Does that sound like any kid’s movie you’ve seen? Even ‘Toy Story’ can’t say all of that. But ‘Toy Story’ is a kid’s movie, not an examination of man’s inner struggle with his id and his ego in relation to his ethos… hiding behind a bug-eyed lizard sporting ‘Fear and Loathing’ gear. If your kid got all of that… that is one awesome kid.