Film Review: ‘Rango’


Move over Woody, there’s a new sheriff in town – literally. He’s a loner, an actor, and he lends his name to one of the best animated films in years. Oh, and he just happens to be a chameleon. Rango (Johnny Depp) is the Jack Sparrow of the Mojave – with Pirates director Gore Verbinski and fellow swashbuckler Bill Nighy (aka Davy Jones) also on board.

After accidentally becoming stranded in the middle of the desert, the titular lizard finds his way to Dirt, a tiny backwater town with a huge problem – they have no water. Much to his delight, he finds he can put his acting talent to good use: bluffing his way into the hearts of the locals. One dead bird later and he’s crowned the town’s (hideously inept, naturally) sheriff. Will he end up a hero or six feet under?
If this all sounds a little dark for a PG, it is – but it’s better for it. Unlike Toy Story (which features just that – toys) and Shrek (which is set in the ostensibly child-centric world of fairytales), Rango (2011) takes a traditionally adult genre and makes it accessible for a younger audience – instead of the other way round.

The feature debut from visual effects house Industrial Light and Magic (famed for their work on the Star Wars saga), Rango is not all butterflies and rainbows. Yet, you have to admire how have managed to make not only a children’s comedy out of a genre better known for outlaws, gunfights and hangings but also a Western with only a single (and purely accidental, I’d like to add) on-screen death.

That’s not to say Rango is a super-serious bore-fest – far from it – its hilarious one-liners pretty much top anything anyone else has managed in the last few years (inquisitive kids beware: a mammogram is not a word puzzle). Half the fun is trying to catch all the witty references and clever in-jokes; from a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it TIE Fighter cameo to some not so subtle nods to Apocalypse Now (1979) (with added banjos) and (who else?) Clint Eastwood.

It’s a subtle love letter to the classics of the genre without confusing the uninitiated. There’s the sage American Indian, smarter and more heroic than many of his colonial counterparts, a main character who takes his pseudonym from the side of a bottle – ‘Rango’ is in fact a ‘lizard with no name‘ and a snake whose suspiciously moustache-like markings bear a striking resemblance to… well, I won’t spoil it. Just watch the Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1969)(a film I’d strongly recommend anyway). You’ll want to see Rango again just to see what you missed.
Rango is in all but name a Pixar flick. The level of detail is awe-inspiring – sticking to regular old 2D was a smart idea – and originality and charm oozes from every pixel (of all the animals they could have chosen to be feared gunslinger Rattlesnake Jake, for example, they opted for one with no limbs). Everything is beautifully realised, expertly animated, and just as good as anything that DreamWorks (Shrek) or Blue Sky Studios (Ice Age) has to offer.

Matt Knowler