Rango is the polar opposite of Rio. While Rio is mostly been there done that, Rango is nothing like you have ever seen before in animation. For starters, this is an animated film for adults; that rare one that goes beyond rude humour and double entendres as an attempt to include adults within its target audience. Sure, there is plenty of humour for children, but this is a film that adults will appreciate and enjoy more. It is a marvellous little gem of a film that tries to be so many things and succeeds ultimately at most of them. This is to Pixar what Pixar was to Disney. It is a challenge; the next step in animated storytelling.
Rango is about a lot of things. The plot is arguably the least of them all. But anyway, it is a film about a Lizard with No Name (Johnny Depp) whose quiet, lonely life in a fish tank writing plays, musicals and conversing with toys is turned upside down when he gets separated from his keepers and is left in the Mojave Desert. As he courses through the harsh terrain, he comes across the town of Dirt occupied by various reptilian and feline creatures. There, he claims to be a hero from the West and dons the name Rango. With a quirk of fate and a little luck, he quickly finds himself promoted to Sheriff by the Tortoise Mayor (Ned Beatty). But there is something sinister brewing. The town has run out of water and there is no explanation for it. Together with the townsmen, Rango sets out to investigate this on a path that will lead him to discover true heroism.
While Rio played it safe and by the numbers, Rango has ambition to spare. Gorgeously animated in traditional 2D, it starts out slow but grows on you over time. The first half is interesting but offbeat and not very funny. But once you accept and get accustomed to its deliberate awkwardness, the second half is brilliant, near perfect in its execution. The film is bursting at its seams with originality and uncharacteristic amounts of intelligence. It is a nice reminder of what Gore Verbinski is actually capable of when he is not busy churning out crappy box office blockbusters (Read: PoTC 2 & 3). The film is abound with clever movie references from Chinatown to the Leone’s Dollars Trilogy; from Lord of the Rings to Depp’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Having said this, there are flaws in the film. The sudden shifts in tone throughout the film seem odd and awkward. There are times when the film is overtly serious or slapstick, particularly in the first half. Plus, the resolution of the mystery itself is unclear and inadequately explained. However, these are forgivable flaws in an otherwise stupendous enterprise. The animation is stunning in places, particularly the slow motion depiction of the accident that leaves Rango stranded in the desert, the aerial battle in the second half of the film as well as the scenic beauty of the desert throughout. The music by Hans Zimmer is excellent and testimony to his versatility as a composer. It incorporates traditional Country/Western instruments and tunes and gives it a very contemporary spin.
Johnny Depp is brilliantly cast as Rango and gives us arguably a character even more interesting than Captain Jack Sparrow. His voice modulation is stunning in places. Isla Fisher and Abigail Breslin are quite cute as Rango’s love interest, Beans and the little rodent Priscilla. Ned Beatty and Bill Nighy are menacing as the Mayor and Rattlesnake Jake. However, the true standout voiceover is that of Timothy Olyphant as the Spirit of the West. He nails the Clint Eastwood style and accent, and had me completely fooled.
Ultimately, Rango is soaked in ambition and is a wickedly funny, smart and deliriously original film. It may be imperfect in certain respects but it certainly represents a bold step forward in the field of animation. It is a fantastic return to form for Depp and Verbinski and is an absolute treat for those who expect their movies to have brains.