Rango Movie Review

Johnny Depp has made a fortune bringing quirky characters to life, and his latest, Rango, is one of his most wonderfully outlandish. Rango, the star and namesake of Gore Verbinski’s first animated feature, is a nerdy pet chameleon who stages offbeat dramas in his terrarium with plastic fish, fake palm trees and a mannequin torso. However, fate strikes in the form of a bump in the road, sending him flying from the back of his owner’s car. Finding himself stranded in the Mojave Desert, Rango’s adventure begins. The wayward chameleon finds his way to the town of Dirt, where he becomes sheriff through a streak of accidents and his own boasting.

The opening section of Rango is chalk-full of allusions to other movies, subtle jokes, and even existential questioning.

 However, once the color-changing protagonist finds his way to Dirt, the plot becomes more conventional, a quest-oriented tale based roughly on 1974’s Chinatown. As in Chinatown, the central conflict of Rango centers on water supply and the dilemmas that can occur when those in control are ethically compromised. It’s up to the unlikely chameleon-hero to bring hydration back to the poor animal denizens of Dirt. All told, the plot is serviceable, but is not the main attraction here – the wit, the amazing visuals and the wonderful voice performances are the heart-and-soul of the film.

References to other films are one of the ways that Rango’s wit shines, gratifying adults as the kids marvel at the incredible animation of the animals and giggle at their charming sense of humor. Early on, viewers are treated to an appearance by Hunter S. Thompson, screeching through the desert in his red Cadillac with his deranged attorney. The old tortoise who serves as Dirt’s mayor, voiced by Ned Beatty, is heavily inspired by Chinatown’s Noah Cross, and fans of the 1974 classic will delight in Beatty’s warm homage.

Although Rango is surely going to be seen by many children, it does not pander to them.

The balance that the film strikes is not made through compromise – throughout the dialogue is intelligent, the humor subtle and the setting more gritty than cute. However, with healthy doses of slapstick humor, frequent action and some of the most astounding animated visuals ever created, kids will be able to be fully absorbed as adults smile knowingly behind their hands. There are some moments that may alienate younger audiences, such as the opening scene where Johnny Depp’s voice-over explores deeply complicated questions of identity, and throughout the film as postmodern, self-conscious examinations of the “hero’s journey” are explicitly investigated. However, there is no objectionable content to make parents think twice, and in today’s movie age, a film being too smart for its own good is an entirely forgivable sin.

Overall, Rango is an excellent animated film with a whip-smart script that will entertain audiences of all ages. It may not pluck the heart-strings like Toy Story 3, but its quirky exuberance is still highly compelling.

Amber Tate is an insurance expert who writes about Canada life insurance and how to save money on insurance.

Karla Urwitz
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