In today’s Hollywood there is a tendency for movies to try and find the widest audience possible. This is a reasonable; the wider your target audience the more likely you will be at finding one and thus making bank. The problem is that the easiest way for movies to achieve this is to dumb them down. In this environment, Rango is some kind of silent revolution. It achieves this not by dumbing itself down but by being clever on how it goes about doing it. Rango manages to be: a legit a western as The Man With No Name trilogy, and at the same time family film that is fun and fit for kids and adults alike. This is a lot to tackle in a single film somehow Rango manages to juggle it all.
This film loves its westerns; it knows them very well, and it tackles the genre with singular joy. This makes filmmaker’s love for the material palpable throughout the film. Like many Western’s before it, Rango opens with a protagonist of relatively unknown origins. And they remain unknown for the rest of the film. This protagonist (voiced by Johnny Depp) is a lizard, who takes the moniker Rango; this is not his real name, but I am not sure if he even knows his real name. Whether by fate or coincidence, this-Rango finds himself stranded in a typical Western town called Dirt. Dirt is populated by every well-known Western archetype; there are cowboys with gangs, saloons with gamblers and “working-girls”, a town doctor, and an aging mayor. It is also beset with several problems, including; a villainous gunslinger and a sever lack of water. As I said, Dirt is your typical movie Western town. And it is up to the wandering stranger to clean it up. Why would an outsider sign up for such a job? Perhaps he has nothing better else to do; perhaps he wants to prove it to himself that he can; perhaps he wants to impress a young lady (voiced by Isla Fisher). Take your pick.
And just to top Rango’s absolute-Westernness the film is narrated by four owls that perform La Malagueña with more zest than Robert Rodriguez. The film also has the best use of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries this side of Apocalypse Now.
Even if you are not familiar with Westerns, Rango is still enjoyable as a regular family film. But it is a little bit more than that. Rango is one of those rare family films that challenge its younger audience; the characters are certainly not as cute as those in Kung Fu Panda, some of them are down right ugly and one is road kill, and the film might be a little scarier than How To Train Your Dragon. But it is dim-witted to believe every kid’s movie has to be 100% huggable. In all honestly if this were not an animated film about a lizard, it would be rated PG-13 (maybe even an R, since Rango doesn’t wear pants and there are several shots below the belt line). But a good scare every now and then is part of a healthy life. It is also very refreshing to know that the characters were not designed so a plush version of them could be sold at every Wal-Mart.
Technique wise, as an animated film, Rango is flawless. It is Industrial Light & Magic’s first feature as a studio. ILM has been making the special effects of our favorite films sine the Empire Strikes Back (and some of our not-so favorites as well). So it was natural to expect some of the highest quality animation and effects from Rango. And it delivers. Adding to this, is a stunning cinematography that makes the setting, from the town to the dessert, feel real.
I think Rango’s all roundedness shows that this was a personal film for all those involved. For Gore Verbinski, who directed the film, it was probably a welcoming break from Pirates of the Caribbean and the weight of Jerry Bruckheimer. Verbinski also contributed to the story, and from this I hope he does more things of his own from now on.