MOVIE REVIEW: Rango
RANGO-- 3 STARS
You know, they don't make many animated movies that skew to adults. Sure, they put a lot of only-adults-will-get-it jokes and sight gags in the Shrek series, along with other examples, but most animated films are normally child's play and marketed that way too. In addition, there's a fine line between a spoof and an homage. A spoof, while reverent, is there to poke fun, while an homage is done out of respect. The endless parade of mash-up spoof comedies (Vampires Suck, the Scary Movie series, Shrek, Gnomeo and Juliet, etc.) easily give homages a bad name. A good homage takes the best of a genre and showcases it. The modern master is Quentin Tarantino for his genre-blending filmography of war films (Inglourious Basterds), blaxploitation films (Jackie Brown), and kung-fu (Kill Bill).
For a movie like Rango to come around and be, not only good adult entertainment, but the best homage to old western films of any recent modern movie, not just the animated genre, is something worth taking notice of. Rango comes from Gore Verbinski, the eclectic live-action director of The Mexican, The Ring, The Weather Man, and The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, and screenwriter John Logan of Gladiator, The Aviator, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street credits, both taking their first crack at an animated feature. The solid eye for visual action and suspense from Verbinski and the attention to speechifying dialogue of Logan really show up. That, and the narrating mariachi owls are a nice touch.
The movie follows a nameless pet chameleon (voiced perfectly by Johnny Depp) who thinks he's an actor in his own terrarium with a wind-up fish and a busted Barbie doll as some of his props and "characters." The guy's a neurotic talker and storyteller. When he gets stranded in the Mojave Desert and meets a wise, albeit run-over, armadillo Roadkill (Alfred Molina), he learns to seek the "Spirit of the West." After nearly being eaten by a hawk, he runs into the iguana, Beans (Isla Fisher), a struggling farm daughter, who takes him to the nearby village of Dirt, a virtual ghost town of dirty, drunk riff-raffs.
In Dirt, the currency for these rough hombres and poor locals is quickly-dwindling supply of water, which is controlled by the bank and devious mayor (Ned Beatty, doing his Lots-O-Hugging Bear routine again from Toy Story 3). Our chameleon soundly sticks out with his domesticated behavior and floral print shirt until he ends up talking himself up to impress the ruffians. He starts calling himself "Rango," fashions himself as an outlaw, ends up showing up a bully (Ray Winstone), and accidentally kills the returning hawk. The desperate townsfolk proclaim him a hero and make him the sheriff, charged with investigating the disappearing water supply. We all know Rango is in over his head, but he continues to talk himself up more and more and the consequences get deeper and deeper.
Yes, you read that two-paragraph description right. Nothing was left out. There are no funny animal sidekicks, no Eddie Murphy comedian voice actors, musical song-and-dance numbers, or pop culture references.
Rango doesn't play like your typical animated feature for kids at all. It truly is a straight western homage that just happens to be played by talking animals. The closest you get to cheesy are the mariachi owls and two clever character cameos for astute Depp and western film fans.
From the John Wayne-level vistas and cinematography, the High Noon showdowns and action, to the Sergio Leone theatrics, music style, and villains, film fans with like what they see. So, from a cinematic standpoint Rango really and unexpectedly works. It's edgy, unique, and a great western. However, parents expecting cute and cuddly will not. The movie is too slow and quirky for most kids, and even some adults. This reviewer is a film nut, so he got a kick out it, but will understand when others don't.
LESSON #1: DON'T PRETEND TO BE WHAT YOU'RE NOT-- Our hero Rango, though dreaming of being a thespian, constantly pretends to be something he's not. Even if it's character developing for him in the end, he is frequently out of his element. Know your role, everyone. Let the specialists in the world take care of the things they are experts in.
LESSON #2: WHEN PRESENTED WITH A HERO, THE PUBLIC WILL TAKE IT AND BELIEVE-- People down on their luck in dire situations are fragile. They lack hope and will take to anything resembling a positive change. Whether it's the Hebrews making a Golden Arc, a dictator winning over the public, a psycho fan obsessed with a celebrity, or a town of animals without a lawman, when fickle people are presented with an idol or hero, even a false one, they will cling to it without little reservation.
LESSON #3: A GOOD LIE OR STORY CAN COVER FOR YOU, BUT ALSO GET YOU IN TROUBLE-- In many ways, there's nothing wrong with talking your way out of a sticky situation, particularly if your life is on the line, but watch it. The lie could come back to hurt you. Everyone loves a good BS-er, but no one likes a liar, especially one that gets caught. Be careful how thick you lay on the details and personal triumphs.