Rango Review

poster from the Nickelodeon Film Rango

I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to see The Adjustment Bureau, Rango, or Beastly this week, so I solved the problem by passing the buck. I invited my mom along and let HER pick. She chose Rango, which fills my animation quota for this month so now I don’t have to see Mars Needs Moms (it just looks so LAME!). If you’re not familiar with Rango, it’s an animated western put out by Nickelodeon and Industrial Light and Magic. I guess they’re joining the Pixar / Dreamworks / Disney / Sony / Everyone CGI animation race. The storyline for Rango goes something like this:

A lonely pet chameleon having an identity crisis is abandoned in the desert, where he accidentally becomes the sheriff of a town that is rapidly running out of water.

There seem to be a lot of animated movies about pets being suddenly thrust out onto the wider world: Bolt, Flushed Away, the upcoming Rio… it’s a really common story framework for animation. (For any story, really: it’s called “Fish Out of Water.”) So what makes Rango different? Well, it’s a Western. And it stars Johnny Depp. That’s what the studio has been harping about in the advertising campaign. Is it enough? I would say: “Ish.”

There’s one thing that the advertising campaign has right, though: Johnny Depp is Rango, in that the character of Rango pretty much is Johnny Depp, just in chameleon form. Rango spends all his time alone in a cage acting out plays with a headless Barbie torso and a wind up fish that looks like it came from a box of goldfish crackers, so you would expect that when he finally does meet other people, he would be hopeless at interacting with them. But it is not so. Rango makes up a whole big-bad-west persona for himself and everyone in town almost immediately grabs onto his coattails, largely because he makes up crazy stories about having killed a lot of people and they believe him.

Rango tells a campfire story from the Nickelodeon Film Rango

And then I killed all seven Jenkins brothers! With one bullet!

The only brief trouble Rango has in fitting into the outside world is in the beginning when he almost gets run over on the road and then nearly gets eaten by a hawk. He manages to fluke his way out of pretty much all the trouble he lands in, making him an even bigger hero. He even faces down the rattlesnake gunslinger (Bill Nighy) that the townsfolk talk about in fearful tones for pretty much the whole film.

Rattlesnake Jake from the Nickelodeon Film Rango

He’s a rattlesnake… so how does he fire a gun?

The reason the whole town (which is rather aptly named Dirt) is falling at his feet isn’t because they’re being terrorized by rattlesnakes (that’s just a side effect). It’s because they’re poor. In Dirt, the currency is water and the bank’s reserves are rapidly running out.

Merrimack and Beans at the Bank of Dirt from the Nickelodeon Film Rango

Oh no we’re all going to die, etc.

Just so you know: that means no one ever gets to have a drink during this movie, no matter how dusty things are or how much they exert themselves. This will make you thirsty, so bring a drink.

They set up the water thing as kind of a mystery, because Beans (Isla Fisher), Rango’s love interest, has seen water being dumped out in the desert. The characters are all like: “hmm, I wonder what’s going on. Let’s go investigate,” but you in the audience will know exactly who is behind the plot because they pretty much spell it out the first time the Mayor (Ned Beatty) comes on screen.

Rango meets the mayor from the Nickelodeon Film Rango

MAYOR: “Control the water, control the town.”
RANGO: “Duh, is this going to be important later?”

The only people who maybe wouldn’t understand that the mayor is the bad guy are about four years old, but this isn’t really a kids’ movie. I mean it is, but it isn’t. There’s not a lot of swearing or gore or anything (there is death, albeit indirectly) and most of the jokes are pretty low brow, but it just felt more like a grown up story with all the grit and everything and the only young character is Abigail Breslin’s possum girl.

Priscillia the possum girl from the Nickelodeon Film Rango

I’m like that girl from True Grit, ‘ceptin I’m a possum.

I guess they figured Rango’s eccentric ways were enough to carry the whole film. But mostly it just reminded me of Jack Sparrow, and now Rango is not as good as Pirates of the Caribbean, even though Gore Verbinski directed it.

Rango disguises himself as a cactus from the Nickelodeon Film Rango

Look at me, kids, I’m a cactus!

I was, however, impressed by how realistic everything looked – the dirt, the reptile skin, the heat haze, it was all stunning. That’s ILM for you, though. George Lucas’ people were always amazing at special effects, which are all CGI now. But at the same time it was all very ugly. The characters were dirty, crooked, and potbellied looking and it was hard to tell what kind of animal they were supposed to be because they’d all been molded into bipedal humanoid form like those creepy-ass fish in Shark Tale.

Rango lines up for water from the Nickelodeon Film Rango

Look at that guy in the back. Yuck.

There are some pretty neat aspects to the story, including walking cactuses, a “why did the armadillo cross the road” subplot, and an appearance by Timothy Olyphant as “The Spirit of the West” (otherwise known as John Wayne). They ride chickens instead of horses…

Rango, Beans, and the posse riding chickens from the Nickelodeon Film Rango


…and fly bats instead of airplanes. There’s a lot of action, but mostly the actioney bits made me think “I should be excited right now” instead of actually making me excited.

blind moles attack on bats from the Nickelodeon Film Rango

Maybe I was tired, but there was a freaking dogfight, why did I not like it?

The story touches on several themes, including progress vs the traditional way of life and environmentalism, but if you’re looking for a movie to broach these themes to a kid, Cars is a much better progress vs tradition movie and Wall-E is much better at promoting environmentalism.

Cars and Wall-E by Pixar

Also, they’re both way cuter than Rango

So was Rango the best movie to pick this week? I’m not convinced that is was, given that I merely liked it. But since I haven’t seen The Adjustment Bureau or Beastly, I’ll just say that Rango is a decent way to waste two hours, and you may even really like it if you’re a fan of Westerns.

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2 Responses to Rango Review

Commented:  6 March 2011 at 16:16()

I think you really have to be a fan of the Western. Maybe I was just tired, but from the promo I expected it to be way funnier than it was. And didn’t anybody tell these people that bats don’t come out in the daytime? You’re right thought, about the CGI. Excellent.

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