Like animated movies? You’ll like Rango.
Like Westerns? You’ll like Rango.
Like action? You’ll like Rango.
Like Johnny Depp? You’ll like Rango.
Like movies? You guessed it.
Rango is the rare animated film that truly appeals to everybody. They come along so rarely because usually when a filmmaker attempts to insert adult themes or make their animated movie smarter than a childrens’ flick they simply make it awkward or just shove some adult oriented jokes that would fly over a child’s head into the movie. Rango avoids this entirely and it does it by taking a traditional children’s trope — anthropomorphic animals — and a classic American genre — the western — and treating them both with respect instead of parody and mockery. It makes for a finally crafted childrens’ film and an even better western the likes of which we haven’t seen in quite some time.
Remove the talking animals from Rango and you have a classic Western story. A lone man enters a small western town in the middle of Nevada and saves the day from evil doers who are trying to steal the towns water, which amounts to the town’s money in anthropomorphic animal world. The twist here (other than anthropomorphic animals) is that this man is not a solitary gunslinger, but instead a pet iguana who has fallen out of his tank during a move. This iguana eventually names himself Rango (Johnny Depp) as he pretends to be a solitary gunslinger to impress the towns folk. After a stroke of luck in which he defeats a hawk that has been pesterring the town with one bullet, Rango becomes sheriff and begins his haphazard investigation of the town’s missing water.
It’s amazing how much this film feels like a true Western despite the fact that it is geared towards children. Director Gore Verbinski does an incredible job of converting genre conventions into jokes and devishly clever set pieces without resorting to the standards or mockery and parody. Instead of attempting to cram Western aspects into a child’s film he worked a child’s tale into the glorified ideals of the Western. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it works so well, either? After all, when the Western was in its heyday wasn’t it children who ran around playing cowboys and indians and looked up to John Wayne? The Western is inherently full of morals, ideals and stories perfect for children, which is something the modern day film industry seems to have forgotten.
It’s impressive how Verbinski and the screenwriters take standard Western cliches and work them into new, and exciting moments thanks to the fact that they have a bit more leeway with what they can do. A standard carriage chase is into into a canyon run akin to Star Wars, with moles on bats attacking the carriage. Meanwhile a high noon stand off isn’t simply the quickest draw, but the smartest wit thanks to the fact that Rango’s opponent is a giant rattle snake with a chain gun for a tail. It’s expansions on the Western like these that make Rango feel fresh and new while still adhering to what makes a Western a Western.
Now don’t be turned off by all this Western talk if you’re not a Western fan. Rango is fun and clever outside of its genre. Not only does the film tell a fantastic story about finding oneself, but it is gorgously animated with some truly breathtaking digital illustration. Rango was also shot in a very unique way, with the actors playing out every scene in real life like a dress rehearsal and then the animators taking those performances and converting them in to digital. The rag tag animals who make up the characters in the film are truly pixel perfect and the unique way the film was shot lends a layer of believability to the character’s expressions and movements that some how makes other animated films seem a bit stilted.
Despite being fraught with the same kinds of glorified nostalgia for the past that many childrens’ films made by adults seem to have (Cars is a great example), or maybe because of it, Rango is a movie with incredible depth in almost any direction. Whether your a fan of film, a fan of animation or just a fan of having fun in the theater Rango is a delight across the board.