MRR Movie Review: Rango

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Johnny Depp voices Rango, an ordinary chameleon who somehow winds up in the lawless town of Dirt. The Wild West outpost is full of whimsical creatures and in desperate need of a new sheriff. The only problem is, Rango is a sheltered family pet who knows absolutely nothing about managing others and enforcing rules.
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Movie Review: "Rango"

-- Rating: PG (language, smoking, crude humor, action)
Length: 107 minutes
Release date: March 4, 2011
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Genre: Adventure/Comedy/Animation

We all wonder about the meaning of life at some point. The animated feature film "Rango" takes on that very topic as seen through the eyes of a chameleon. The story is also cleverly presented by a singing mariachi band composed of owls, who act as guides to each story's transition. At the start of the movie, a pet lizard lives a fairly comfortable life. He is interested in theater and conducts his own productions in the confines of his habitat. Just as he decides that his shows need a source of more intense conflict, he ends up thrown out of a vehicle and abandoned on a desert roadside. He's frightened about the sudden change in habitat, but luckily, he makes the acquaintance of an old armadillo who advises him to find water. In his fruitless search, he discovers a town, named Dirt, inhabited by many different animals. It is aptly named as the area is experiencing a punishing drought.

The voice of Rango is provided by the versatile Johnny Depp, and he uses his talents to great effect for this animated character. The character seems to have qualities of Depp's version of Willy Wonka mixed with traits found in his portrayal of Hunter S. Thompson from "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." This protagonist has several facets, being both equally cocky and insecure. As the new kid in town, the lizard realizes that no one knows him, so he pretends to be anyone that he wants to be. In other words, this is a tremendous acting opportunity, and the entire world is a stage. He names himself Rango, and he tells a fantastical story that enamors the critter residents of the desperate town. As water supplies continue to dwindle, pressure is placed on the new sheriff Rango to get to the bottom of it. At this point, it's no longer an act.

The animators did a splendid job of creating the rough-looking but highly detailed critter citizens of Dirt. Rango definitely mimics the facial expressions of Depp, because all it takes is one look to see that he's modeled after the actor. The scenery of the desert is convincing and adds a sense of realism to the film. Because of this, the audience really understands the sense of urgency concerning the drought issue. Some of the scenes are drawn so well that it is difficult to believe that they simply aren't real. There is a saloon scene that comes to mind, as well as the final showdown at the end of the film.

Director Gore Verbinski ("Pirates of the Caribbean") has a knack for being involved in making entertainment that is suitable for all ages. This film-with its physical depiction of the characters and language-is oriented toward adults in some ways, yet the broader story element and Western action seem to be aimed toward children. Most children will not fully appreciate Western film homages such as the touching "Spirit of the West" scene. Fans of older cinema will recognize this figure that speaks of toughening up and standing tall no matter what life throws at a person.

It is surprising that this film takes on a number of mature themes and has a decidedly dark side that is uncommon in animated films, especially those with a PG rating. Some language can be borderline coarse. Some audience members will remember space western-themed cartoons of the 1980s such as "Bravestarr" and "Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs." There were no deaths in these. However, there is plenty of shooting in "Rango," and deaths do occur. Some jokes are off-color, and there are recurring references to the potential death of Rango, because he is not expected to survive his fight with the town villains.

Nickelodeon's "Rango" is not quite up to the point of excellence found in Pixar's latest offerings, but it's an above-average film that is certainly worth a view. It has Western adventure, quality animation, developed characters, a delightful voice cast, and a story with heart. There were times that this movie looked nearly completely real. It is intellectually bold but also simple enough for a child to enjoy. Unlike many cartoon and animated films, "Rango" is not predictable and keeps the audience members on their toes. All of this is topped off with an ambitious and majestic film score composed by none other than industry-favorite and award-winner Hans Zimmer. There are definite "Sherlock," "Inception," and "Pirates of the Caribbean" influences heard in the tracks. If there wasn't any competition from Pixar, then this work would be top of the line.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars