Stars Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin
Things You Might Like
- Depp’s—not surprisingly—stellar performance
- The near-constant throwbacks to Westerns ranging from Once Upon A Time In The West to Unforgiven
- Superb animation
- Bill Nighy!
- The humor’s a nice throwback to the Nickelodeon shows that I spent oh so much time watching
Things You Might Not Like
- The singing owl mariachi band
- Slight problems with pacing in the second act
The animated film about a chameleon in an existential slump gives the viewer an extremely fun time at the movies—but, be warned: those who don’t like the Western genre might find the film slowly-paced at parts, and will miss out on a slew of in-jokes and references.
4 out of 5 Oscars
Gore Verbinski’s Rango opens on a mariachi band made up of tiny owls providing a narrative frame for the film. After insisting that the eponymous hero of the film will
surely die, we cut to the chameleon with no name in an aquarium in the back of a truck, performing a scene from a quasi-Shakespearean play in front of an audience of nil.
After the car runs over an armadillo dressed like Don Quixote (Roadkill, voiced by Alfred Molina), who soon after provides the call to action for Rango, our hero sets off into the harsh Mojave Desert armed with nothing more than blind luck and speed. Dodging an infuriated toad and a hawk, Rango eventually stumbles upon the town of Dirt, a town made up of rodents, lizards, and amphibians, where he learns from a lizard named Beans (voiced by Isla Fisher), named so because her Pa loved beans, that there is a town faced with a long-running drought.
In a reference to so many conflicts from Westerns about precious, dwindling resources, Rango finds himself—after claiming the murders of the Jackson Brothers (with one bullet, no less) and killing a hawk by accidentally collapsing a water tower on it—installed as sheriff of Dirt. Shortly thereafter, Rango finds himself on a quest to find out what is happening to all of the town’s water, and why the mayor (a turtle voiced by Ned Beatty) is buying up all of the land around the town.
I walked into the movie with a blank mind, since I learned from watching The Phantom Menace that any time you have hopes for a movie, they will be dashed. As it began, and Depp’s chameleon stood in front of a blue-sky background warming himself up for a performance of his bizarre one-act play, and as the camera cut to his co-stars (a dead roach floating belly-up in his drinking water, a wind-up clownfish, a Barbie torso, and a plastic tree), I knew I was going to be happy.
We’ll start with the good, end with the bad, talk about why the bad isn’t UGLY and then continue to the end, shall we?
To start, the humor in the movie, ranging from Rango’s bizarre, oblivious attitude towards life (think Arthur Dent from Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy as a floral shirt-wearing chameleon) to visual-and-sound gags like Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries playing as scores of moles attack a caravan whilst riding bats—the humor, as I was saying, was a great throwback to the goofy, Looney Toons-inspired cartoons I watched when I was a kid.
The voice acting is spot-on for nearly every character. Depp plays hapless very well; Isla Fisher’s freezing Lizard, Beans, has a twang that should, by all accounts, be infuriating, but is instead charming; and, as always, Bill Nighy’s villain, Rattlesnake Jake, sounds very much like he could have slivered up through some hole to Hell. The only negative aspect of the main cast is Abigail Breslin’s Priscilla, a wide-eyed aye-aye thing; Breslin doesn’t seem to react so much as recite, though I’m willing to chalk that up to still reeling from being in Signs.
And the film references! Oh, the film references! Suffice it to say there are more nods to Westerns than to sci-fi films in a Kevin Smith movie. They range from dress to plot to music (listen closely to the original music and you’ll hear strands of Morricone’s The Man With The Harmonica and Ecstacy of Gold amongst others) and, if you’re watching for them, you’ll feel extremely smug and full of yourself for catching them. (I’d like to apologize to my friends for jabbing them with my elbows and saying, Holy crap, that’s straight from The Magnificent Seven!)
Oh, and did I mention that Gore Verbinski is right bloody awesome for the quasi-cameo of The Man With No Name?
All that said, the plot has a few holes. The villain’s dastardly plan doesn’t quite make sense, due to logistics and the absence of opposable thumbs, but the good news is unless you’re bored with the movie, you probably won’t think about that until well after the credits roll at the end.
While the mariachi owls/narrators are funny at the outset, their intrusion in the name of narrative framing grinds the story down. Considering they appear to prophesize the demise of Rango every half hour or so (
When is he going to die?
Soon, amigo, soon.), the viewer would probably rather have the story continue in that minute or so of exposition.
Overall, though, we must remember that Rango is a Nickelodeon movie, and, logically, it’s made for kids. (Ignoring the fact that I went to the movie with a 24 year-old yuppie, another 24 year-old guy who’s in concrete management, and another friend of mine who’s about to try to teach English in Japan.) And, because it’s made for kids, the requirements are a bit different.
What I mean to say is that the movie is meant to be a bit of fun. Yes, the plot is a pastiche of Western motifs from John Wayne up through Tombstone, but kids don’t know that. Kids only know that guns make a cool sound when they go off. And, frankly, who cares? A bit of fun every now and then, even if the plot and story is derivative, is welcome.
So: See in theatres, wait for Netflix, or pirate? See in theatres!
(NOTE: Bullet Reviews does not condone piracy, nor does Aaron Simon; he is quite mad.)
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