Rango (2011)

Rango is a loving homage to the Western genre, yet isn’t quite as good as many of the film is wants to pay tribute to. Oh, and it’s also an animated children’s movie, although if that’s going to hamper your enjoyment of the film, then you should go back to your gritty, overly violent, profane and otherwise “mature” films, Mr. I Have No Heart. Because, seriously, stop being such a mean-spirited person!

Rango begins simply and funnily. There’s this lizard named Rango (Johnny Depp), and he’s having fun being a lizard. He’s performing a skit with a bunch of inanimate objects, like a toy fish, a miniature tree, and a doll torso. He tells us that there needs to be conflict in the story in order for it to be good. Right as he says this, of course, the car he’s in swerves out of control, his cage is thrown from the vehicle, and after a Fear and Loathing reference, he’s trapped in the desert — his human family, his owners, are gone for good.

Eventually, we wind up in a small town populated by other animals (most of whom speak, except for a hawk that circulates the town and picks off victims every once in a while). This is a lawless town, although it’s fairly peaceful. Rango, if that is his real name, ends up lying his way into the Sheriff’s position. The mayor of the town (Ned Beatty), a turtle, offers him the position. Rango accepts because it seems like it would be the best way to test his acting chops. Soon enough, he’s settled into his position. We need more conflict.

In this town, money doesn’t exist. These are animals, after all! Transactions are done with water, which in the desert is an invaluable commodity to have. The problem here is that we are currently in the middle of a drought. Whether the water shortage is man-made or not is something we’ll have to discover, but it’ll be up to Rango to both protect what little water is left in reserve, as well as attempt to locate more (or find out why there isn’t any coming into town. Mix that with a report that someone saw that there was water being dumped outside of town, and you’ve got yourself a little mystery to solve.

Of course, this is a film that loves movies, and it was made by people who love other motion pictures as well. So we’re going to make animated versions of situations you might have seen before for a lot of the time. Kids might not “get” the many references, but many adults will, and that might mean that Rango is a film that the parents will get more out of than the children. That’s a rare feat for a film like this to pull off, so I have to give credit to the filmmakers here.

The problem is that instead of some references here and there, there are entire sections of the film dedicated to playing out in the broadest Western clichés possible. I don’t know about you, but clichés played out with a little tip of the cap are still just that: Clichés. It makes the film — which looks bright, colorful and unique — feel like such a drag to watch. We’ve seen it all before, and if there isn’t going to be any changes to these sequences, we’re not going to have any reason to watch it.

With that said, Rango generally has a charm about it that keeps it entertaining, even if the situations themselves are fairly routine. Watching lizards, turtles, armadillos, rats, and other such creatures reenact scenes from other films (as well as have some of their own, to be fair) is sometimes entertaining because they don’t take it as seriously as their real life counterparts. And Rango himself is quite the funny guy, so there’s always that. I just hoped for some more originality, I suppose. It won’t matter for the kids, though, as they likely haven’t seen the original films, but for moviegoing adults, it will feel stale at times.

Perhaps the most enjoyable reference in the film was The Man With No Name, who appears in the middle of a Pirates of the Caribbean reference. I had to laugh and applaud the film at this point, although it’s possible that children will miss the former wink at the audience. Unfortunately, Clint Eastwood didn’t lend his voice, but Timothy Olyphant does an admirable job mimicking it.

Strong voice acting is consistent throughout the film. Depp is likable and full of energy in the lead, people like Ray Winstone, Alfred Molina and Bill Nighy lend their talents to supporting roles, and everyone chips in nicely. The animation is also superb, and I especially enjoyed how bright and full of life everything appeared. There is a lot of action as well, some of which felt hammered in just to keep the attention of the younger audience members, but all of it is very well crafted. About the only true flaw that Rango has is how derivative it is and how all throughout watching it, I kept thinking how I had seen the same type of film many times before and that I was bored because of that.

Rango is a fun animated feature that’s full of life, color, energy, charm, and humor. It’s also a loving recreation of a bunch of scenes from a lot of different Western films. But because of how derivative it felt, I was often bored because I had seen all of it before. Still, adults will enjoy the references to the more mature films that inspire Rango, while younger viewers will love the action and, of course, the talking animals. It’s generally fun, and it looks great, but it needed more originality.

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