Movie Review: Rango- Gore Verbinski’s Childlike Wonderment of the West Brings to Life a Charming and Dizzying Animated Adventure

Throughout the past decade the rules that have governed most of the animation world, with the exception of the highly story driven tales that come out of Pixar, has been to place an emphasis on chaotic overly done sequences with the aid of notable celebrity voices in a story structure that is all too familiar and themes that are all too cliché. This was completely true with last year’s Despicable Me and Megamind, which thrive off of being inexplicably frantic for the sake of entertaining children. And while this might be somewhat true in style for the newest animation adventure known as Paramount’s Rango there is still an undeniably clever and unpredictable nature to the film itself. This eccentric animation comedy, brought to life by Director Gore Verbinski or also known as the guy we can blame for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, is definitely a refreshing departure from the manic and incoherent animation tales that constantly fill the theaters and are specifically intended for our ADD culture and children. It appears that Verbinski’s distinct style and awareness for his stories brings Rango to an enjoyable plain of entertainment that is witty, referential, and slightly unpredictable due to a clever development of palpable characters and an upbeat goofiness that keeps the audience interested. While any devout Western fan will be delighted at the great use of sleight of hand homage throughout the film Rango is just a delightfully dizzying Western adventure filled with enjoyable and memorable moments making it the first Johnny Depp film in years that is particularly interesting.

This Western begins with a sheltered Chameleon protagonist (Johnny Depp) that has no name but spends his lonesome time inventing new places and stories as an acting troupe filled with a decapitated Barbie doll, a dead bug, and a plastic tree. As luck, or bad luck, would have it the car that holds this isolated thespian swerves and catapults his box into the vast wilderness of the west. Making his way to a town known as Dirt the Chameleon takes up a made up name that we all know by now as Rango. After clumsily killing the dreaded Hawk that torments the town Rango is given legendary status and becomes the new Sheriff of Dirt. But the town isn’t what it seems since there is a mysterious disappearance of water that is needed in order to live in the scorching environment. The water is power theme is definitely a reference to Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, especially since the mayor of the town (Ned Beatty) is a direct reference to John Huston’s deplorable villain Noah Cross, as well as Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (which is also referenced in the theme music for Rango). The script is typical of the western genre: stranger out of his element comes to uncover a mystery or aid an ailing town (or people) from extinction or danger. But luckily the characters and voices behind them give the film a very erratic pacing and good-humored style as to not become too generic. Rango the character is indeed an awkward and inept lizard that possesses similar qualities to that of Alan Ladd’s memorable hero in the iconic western Shane, which gives the typical narrative structure some needed enthusiasm to make the journey worth the time and effort.

And the excited fan references to such great classics and notable westerns isn’t necessarily used as just sporadic pop-culture references that Dreamworks Animation seems too insistent on presenting. Instead the great use of homage, such as Hans Zimmer’s score that invokes the memory and distinctiveness of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western music or the dropping of the Sheriff badge that is all too reminiscent of Fred Zinneman’s classic High Noon, acts as more of a Looney Tunes cartoon where Bugs Bunny encounters a cartoon with the personality of Humphrey Bogart as a character he might have played in The Roaring Twenties. And the undertones that drive the referential sequences isn’t necessarily parody or a self-conscious awareness but rather just a genuine enthusiasm for previous works, which includes Rango meeting the “Spirit of the West” or more notably Timothy Olyphant invoking Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” character from Sergio Leone’s westerns. Even the Mariachi Birds who act as the Greek Chorus play a sincere role in the film’s overall playfulness. It’s always refreshing to see a vivid and colorful film that doesn’t require the use of 3D glasses. Indeed the animated settings, the depth of field (cinematographer Roger Deakins is an alleged consultant to the film), and the attention to detail on the hairy and slimy characters certainly gives the film a candid environment that is rarely used in most of the basic animated features that the studios schlep out every year.

Of course the liveliness wouldn’t have been possible without the understated star power cast that ignite the screen with bringing actual characters to life instead of using celebrity personalities to create characters, which many of Dreamworks projects inevitably do. Johnny Depp, while always considered odd and eccentric, guides this known personality trait in giving the Chameleon known as Rango a distinct cleverness that comes out of naivety rather than wittiness. British actor Bill Nighy gives one of the villains, the gunslinger Jake the Snake, a riveting personality and is hauntingly similar to Jack Palance and Henry Fonda in both Shane and Once Upon a Time in the West respectively. Isla Fisher gives a surprisingly western performance of the oddball farmer girl Beans, while many other notable and talented actors (not celebrities) bring to life the intriguing and different characters of the town, including Alfred Molina, Ray Winstone, Abigail Breslin, and Harry Dean Stanton. This emphasis on actors giving the character’s their own worldly views and personality traits are how Pixar films and other successful animation films become noteworthy storytelling accomplishments. While Rango is more a structural homage to the adventures of the west it has the strengths of character that lift the film out of being among the typical and mediocre films of the year.

The west, as seen through the eyes of many notable filmmakers such as John Ford, Howard Hawkes, Sergio Leone, and Clint Eastwood, has always been about the inevitability of change and how legends, myths, and tales are made within that constrained period of time. The character of Rango is indeed astonished about the romanticized adventures that the west has to offer. Perhaps everything that occurs is all in Rango’s erratic and vivid imagination since he was always willing to bring other worlds to life in his small isolated box. But that is what makes this delightful western tale so chaotically fun, as though the actual intent of the film was to be a family friendly version of Blazing Saddles meaning a structurally familiar yet unpredictable character western. It contains the themes of westerns old, such as the making of myths in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven or how the politics of water and real estate will change the American west. To focus on these wider theoretical themes would give Verbinski’s animated film too much credit when really it’s just a childlike wonderment of the west and the adventures that are possible with the eccentric and clumsy Rango at the center of it.

Grade: B+

One Response to “Movie Review: Rango- Gore Verbinski’s Childlike Wonderment of the West Brings to Life a Charming and Dizzying Animated Adventure”
  1. Anne Frank says:


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