Imagine a Hawaiian shirt wearing chameleon with an identity crisis that is trying to be a ruthless gunslinger in a dried up desert town on the edge of civilization. Got it? Good, because this is the story of Rango. With Johnny Depp as the voice of the lizard and Gore Verbinski as director the final product should be good. It is. I do admit that I expected something different after seeing the teaser trailer with Hunter S. Thompson in it, but in the end the film left me quite satisfied.
Verbinski is an avid western fan and with this high end animation flick he tries to prove that once and for all (it works out better than his nod towards the genre in Pirates 3). It is actually a spoof on spaghetti westerns and most of the times a good one at that. All the usual elements are present so expect dust, six shooters, stand offs, filthy thugs, more dust and a lonesome hero. Except for the hero bit… Rango does fit the lonesome part, but above all he is a nameless pet chameleon that gets flung out of a car into the desert. He is certainly no hero. After he finds the town Dirt he discovers that its inhabitants (all desert animals) are starving from dehydration. Of course he sets out to find the problem of the draught, even though he is only pretending to be a gunslinger.
That last part makes way for a lot of comedy and sadly not all jokes are that great. They are mainly based on exaggerated understatements and after we learn to whistle its tune they simply stop being funny. Verbinski probably realised that too. Although he had to keep his younger audience satisfied he also reserved time for some dreamlike scenes with considerable lower pacing. These bits are a welcome change in the high output of gags. His references to many a spaghetti western are great as well, with most notably the Klaus Kinski rabbit. Clint Eastwood makes a short appearance too (given voice by Timothy Olyphant) and the title refers to Sergio Corbucci’s Django of course.
So in the end Rango tries a bit too much to be a crowd pleaser, but there is a lot of fun stuff to discover. It might not be the most beautifully animated film today (it was Industrial Light and Magic’s first full animation feature), but the design of the brownish-yellow landscapes inspire awe. The camera swoops through them like a steam engine and Johnny Depp fits perfectly in his role as underdoggish outsider. Saddle up the horses, bring the kids along and have a good ole’ time. It could have been better, but let us not complain too much. I am too young to be grumpy.
Here’s a 6 minute feature: