Rango is very good and quite charming, but as he notes in the beginning of the movie: “The hero cannot exist in a vacuum! What our story needs is an ironic, unexpected event, that will propel the hero into conflict.” On this promise, the film delivers big time as it leads to an extremely impressive opening stunt, which is simply breath-taking in the way it flips and flops the viewer’s perspective, starting from the smallest of scenes in a terrarium to flying through the air and then sliding along asphalt in the Nevada desert. The visual effects are impressive, giving an easy realism to this animated feature.
The story is quirky and presented in a meta-theatrical, cute and funny way that doesn’t get stale or boring. It begins: “We are gathered here today to immortalize in song, the life and untimely death of a great legend. So sit back, relax, and enjoy your low calorie popcorn and assorted confections, while we tell you the strange and bewildering tale of a hero who has yet to enter his own story.” However, that story is unoriginal and relies heavily on the cliché bumbler deceives people and then wins their trust in the end dynamic. As it plays out in the movie, Rango goes to the town of Dirt, accidently kills a hawk, and thereby wins the trust of the townsfolk and is made sheriff. In order to save the town, he must figure out what is causing a water shortage and stop the bad guy, whoever that is.
The movie is full of other clichés, but the story is quite original in other respects, like the characters being small, but definitely not cuddly critters. Good clichés, like anything flying sounding like a fighter plane from WWII that catches on fire and explodes if shot, while ridiculous, underscored the ridiculous meta-theatrical nature of the whole, which I think serves as a comment on the many clichés that we as movie goers have come to accept in our movie fare without blinking.
As it almost always is, Johnny Depp’s performance as the title character, Rango, is Especially worthwhile. He is a chameleon dropped into the Nevada desert, who has to solve the aforementioned water shortage problem. Instant links are made to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which underlines that this is not really a kids’ movie, despite the animation and critter cast. There is a lot here to appeal to adults, and this movie is part of a recent trend in mainstream animation films of moving slowly away from being “just for kids” (cf. Tangled).
In fact, the entire ensemble cast was excellent. Isla Fischer puts in a surprising performance as a hick lizard; Ned Beatty plays an excellent villain, though that is what he is known for; Bill Nighy is an even more excellent villain; Abigail Breslin (from Little Miss Sunshine does a great job adding a great deal of sympathy for the plight of the people of Dirt; and Timothy Olyphant does the best Clint Eastwood impersonation I have yet heard.
All in all, Rango is a very good animated movie. If you have kids, I probably wouldn’t bring them, as this is definitely not a kid’s movie. That said, if you want to see a really good animated movie to get you over Toy Story 3, go see Rango.