An animated western starring a chameleon and directed by the man who brought us the Pirates of the Caribbean series, doesn’t instantly install confidence. However Gore Verbinski (who also directed The Ring and The Mexican) with the help of an impressive voice cast, has actually given us something with Rango that is very intriguing. Despite this being a Nickelodeon film, the content seems very much directed at the accompanying adults in the audience. With its many allusions to other films like Chinatown, The Three Amigos and any number of spaghetti Westerns, Rango seems to have pulled off the Pixar trick of entertaining both young and old.
Rango (Johnny Depp) is a chameleon with an identity crisis (animal stereotype anyone?), who is thrown from his comfortable, but boring, life as a pet only to find himself lost in the Mojave Desert. He is pointed in the direction of a town by a cryptic armadillo (Alfred Molina, Spiderman 2) and finds himself in an Old West town populated by lizards, amphibians and rodents. Rango uses the opportunity of being unknown to create a tough persona for himself, which sees him being made sheriff. The town, Dirt, is in the midst of a water crisis and Rango isn’t aware of the danger he has put himself in, or the responsibility he has taken on as the town’s people look to him for a solution.
Dirt is populated with typical western characters, the iffy authority figure in the tortoise Mayor (Ned Beatty, Deliverance, Toy Story 3), the psychopathic gunslinger, Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy, Love Actually) and the precocious child-mouse, Pricilla (Abigail Breslin, Zombieland). The film’s fellow hero alongside Rango is Beans (Isla Fisher, The Wedding Crashers), an iguana who is trying to save her family’s ranch, and who has become suspicious about how the town’s water supply is being managed.
The film has been inspired by Clint Eastwood westerns, but added to this it has also borrowed from wider sources. The film’s narrative is very similar to Polanski’s 1974 noir film Chinatown, though it obviously avoids the less savoury aspects of the plot. Another notable adult reference in the film is Terry Gilliam’s 1998 film Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas, which also starred Depp.
The CGI animation is beautiful and while the animals are all given personalities through the design, it is the landscape that is amazing.This was ILM’s (Image, Light & Magic), a division of LucasFilm, first animated feature (to read more about the animation process click here) and their careful attention to detail makes it appear to have been shot as opposed to created on a computer.
Bearing all this in mind what is there for the younger audience? There are some nice touches in terms of a fun (though at times absurdist) owl mariachi band that narrates the film, and there is plenty of slapstick comedy for kids. But overall it is easy to suspect that older audiences will get far more enjoyment out of this film than the seemingly target audience. While the film’s pacing could have done with some tightening and at times the film pastiches are too many, on the whole Rango is an enjoyable trip down cinematic memory lane.
Rango is released in Australia March 10th
Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty, Bill Nighy, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Ray Winstone, Timothy Olyphant and Harry Dean Stanton