Rango is the new animated feature directed by Gore Verbinski (also of Pirates of the Caribbean) and starring the well-cast voice talent of Johnny Depp, alongside Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty and Bill Nighy, amongst others. Unlike many children’s animations of the moment, it doesn’t jump onto the gimmicky 3D bandwagon and is all the more visually pleasing and non-headache inducing for it. With the addition of everybody’s favourite oddball in the title role, the movie makes for a quirky and entertaining couple of hours.
The plot revolves around the arid, red-neck town of Dirt, populated by an assortment of roughened critters from Balthazar, a bank manager mole, to Mayor John, a tortoise. Rango, hitherto a domestic pet, is used to an uneventful existence in his tank populated by a motley crew consisting of a wind-up fish toy, a headless and legless Barbie and a dead insect. When he is thrust out of his sedentary lifestyle and happens upon this town, he by chance kills a hawk with a single bullet and the legend of Rango is born, with the mayor duly appointing him sheriff. Water in Dirt is a valuable commodity and soon the new sheriff is investigating the disappearance of the water-cooler bottle reserves from the town’s bank. Rango is soon catapulted into a world of bank robbers and conspiracy theories as he attempts to track down the missing water. The adventure is epically narrated by four sombrero-wearing, Mexican-accented owls who also provide an enthralling musical backdrop similar to classic Spaghetti Westerns.
The film clearly asserts itself in the Western domain following the classic Western plot of stranger that shakes up the town, complete with shootouts, sheriffs and saloons. For seasoned film buffs the film pays homage to Clint Eastwood’s ‘man with no name’ and includes many Western references such as Sergio Leone’s Chinatown. The fact that these may not be noticed by younger film fans introduces the problem of whether the film works for all ages and ranges of people. Rango also features a peculiar character and genre mash-up with a cockney Bad Bill, a gila monster (Ray Winstone), a theatrical Rango and an assortment of hillbilly townsfolk.
The film has spectacular CGI animation with visually stunning photo realist landscapes and incredible attention to detail. The characters are imaginative, with depth and the film has a charming sense of humour. A surrealist dream sequence introduces interesting visual concepts, such as cacti walking across the deserts in the manner of Lords of the Rings Ents. Unfortunately the film suffers from an overly complicated story that tries to do too much and has a habit of being nonsensical and going nowhere. At one point there appears to be a budding romance between Rango and Beans, a desert iguana, but this simply fizzles out as the film goes on. While the first half maintains interest by introducing new characters and a thickening plot, the second half feels rather tired and slightly confusing. The movie also runs for 107 minutes, too long for a children’s animated film and by the end I was becoming consciously bored of a film that was more style than substance, although it must be said the style is unique and novel, and entertaining in its own way.
Rango is visually interesting, generally entertaining and humorous, with a strong sense of its own distinctive personality. However, I believe claims of its future as a cult classic may be slightly exaggerated: there is definitely a confusion of target audience and if this had been sorted out, it would have had greater long-term appeal and success.
See Rango at City Screen, York. Check out the cinema's website for times and further details.