By Gary Murray
Starring the voice talents of Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher and Timothy Olyphant
Written by John Logan
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Running time 107 min
MPAA Rating PG
Selig Film Rating: Matinee
The western has taken many turns over the years. The first true film was The Great Train Robbery, a monumental step in the evolution of storytelling. Some of the greatest movies ever shown on the silver screen have been westerns. The list includes classics like Stage Coach, The Searchers and The Wild Bunch. The genre does go in waves, with works coming and going in bunches. Animated westerns have been few and far between. The latest is called Rango.
The story, told by a quartet of Spanish singing birds who always have death lyrics, is of a wayward chameleon. When we first meet him (voiced by Johnny Depp), he is in his glass cage acting out an adventure for all his plastic toy pieces set in his lonely world. A freak turn in the desert and our hero is out of his enclosed world and into the real one. He meets an armadillo (Alfred Molina) in the middle or the road who becomes more of a wise man in his journey, a journey to find water.
Soon he meets up with Beans (Isla Fisher) a struggling amphibian who is headed to the town of Dirt. This old west place is straight out of High Noon but made of disused trash. The town is run by the mayor (Ned Beatty), a forward thinking turtle who seems to have some plans of his own. He knows that the life blood of the town is water and that the life blood is in very short supply.
Going into the local saloon, our hero (being a chameleon) decides to weave a tall tale of his exploits as a bad man, killing a group of villains with one bullet. He gives himself the moniker of Rango. Convincing the locals that he is the genuine article, Rango has an misconceived showdown in the center of town that seals his respect. Rango is the new sheriff.
His big project is to protect what is left of the water supply, kept in the bank. This leads to a daring capture of some local boys accused of robbery. But, Rango feels that something more is going on with both the water supply and the connection with the mayor. Rango, the story, leads to a major discovery both physically and within the heart of the lead character. That path of discovery also leads to a very big and bad snake, with bandoleers on his sides and a gun barrel on his rattler.
The physical animation is just amazing, a world-class experience. The depth of the backgrounds and the attention to detail show just how far computer animation has grown over the years. This film ranks with the best of Pixar in terms of technical aspects, with a grace seldom seen on the screen. Fur moves in perfect strands. Even though it is supposed to be a barren and dry land, the animators some how find a way to give the little town of Dirt every color needed to tell the tale.
Johnny Depp does a great job with the voice role of Rango. He is a cross between the wisecrack of Bugs Bunny and the emotional short fuse of Daffy Duck. His voice does give the little reptile a giant flourish, but he still manages to find the right beat for his words.
Even though it is a small role, Timothy Olyphant does his best Clint Eastwood as the Spirit of the West, a phantom who looks so much like the Man with No Name that was the star of a trio of Westerns that came from Italy. All spit and vinegar, this macho man is just the kind of hero that Rango need to become.
Even though there are some solid elements in Rango, it is no way a perfect flick. All of the homage to westerns will be lost on most of the audience. It is almost too cleaver for its own good, with an obvious reference to Hunter S. Thompson in the mix.
The other problem is with the bad guy snake. It is a terrifying reptile, all fang and venom, sure to scare the daylights out of the little ones in the audience. There is also a hawk who terrorizes throughout the movie. In so many ways, Rango is not a kids flick. There are some moments that will disturb the youngest viewers and jokes that will go over their heads..
Call Rango a Sergio Leone western as interpreted by Quentin Tarantino. It is way too much style over story, giving a simple tale a grandiose spin. It had some great elements but only a fair cinematic experience.