Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring:  Johnny Depp, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina and Isla Fisher
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Runtime: 107 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mild violence; Some scenes may scare young children

An animation (often quite animated) film for an adult audience rather than for children (with a PG13 rating in the US). Children might enjoy the action but it requires some sophistication, there is a lot of dialogue (more dictionary-oriented than popular) and there are frightening elements as well.

We are led into the ballad and legend of Rango by a Mariachi-group of four owls who sing and narrate throughout the film. Rango is a lizard, not the most handsome of desert creatures, who is a would-be actor, an actual fantasist who performs with a toy fish and a broken doll’s torso – and none too convincingly. And he is voiced by Johnny Depp, a rung more coherently up from Jack Sparrow, Mad Hatter and Willy Wonka. And he has a gift for adapting from faux pas situations, quite an affected vocabulary, as has much of the screenplay, an amusing indulgence in words and meanings.

Stranded on a desert highway, Rango encounters a mentor, Roadkill, (Alfred Molina) who gives him advice about crossing to the other side. What does happen is that he lands in a town, boasts that he is a legend, and is made sheriff. They have a crisis: no water, only a bottle preserved in the bank. When Rango gives a morale-boosting speech about keeping the water untouched just in case and not drinking it (while illustrating how devastating it would be if they all drank by downing three glasses himself), we see his skill in political spin.

The crooked mayor, a turtle in a wheelchair is voiced by Ned Beatty. The villainous rattlesnake enemy is hissed by Bill Nighy. The practical iguana heroine, Beans, is Isla Fisher. There are a lot of character actor voices (Harry Dean Stanton, Abigail Breslin, Ray Winstone) and Timothy Olyphant appears as The Spirit of the West, channelling Clint Eastwood in appearance and voice and The Man With No Name. And the final credits song owes more than a small debt to the theme from Rawhide.

Which means that Rango is something of a trip. It is a literal road movie. It is the quest of an ordinary lizard to discover his inner hero. It is something of a satire on the building of Las Vegas. And, most of it is a pastiche play on Western conventions. The villains who rob the bank for the water. The posse in pursuit (and then pursued themselves by villains on birdback to the Ride of the Valkyries). The crooked mayor and his henchman (playing golf while others thirst). The gunslinger snake. The high noon confrontation. The pilgrimage to the desert to seek advice from The Spirit of the West.

Director Gore Verbinski made Mouse Hunt and The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and has an offbeat sense of humour. Writer John Logan is even more versatile with screenplays for Sweeney Todd, Gladiator, The Aviator and Hugo Cabret for Martin Scorsese – and adapting Shakespeare’s Coriolanus for Ralph Fiennes.

The animation is bold and vivid for the motley characters and the desert locations. For movie buffs, it is something of a wild hoot.

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