Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Premise: An animated film about a chameleon (voice of Johnny Depp) who finds himself in a Western town and is made the sheriff. In his new position, Rango must discover why the local water supply has dried up.
What Works: Rango is an impressive piece of animation. The visuals in this film are so well rendered and have such detail that some images look like they are photographs of actual physical objects. The subtle work on the characters, especially in their faces and in their posture and movements elevates the craft of Rango to the highest levels of computer animation, ranking it alongside films like Toy Story and WALL–E. At 107 minutes Rango runs longer than a lot of animated films but the story is told so well that the length is barely noticeable. The plot mixes the mystery and the western genres together; the film is an amalgamation of Chinatown and High Noon by way of Tex Avery and it uses comedy and great characters to pull these elements together. The humor is very effective at humanizing the reptilian and rodent characters and the film is consistently funny, in part because of some clever physical gags but also because of Johnny Depp’s rapid delivery of puns and non sequiturs. Rango features a lot of references to other movies, which is common in these kinds of animated features, but in this film a lot of these references exist less to poke the viewer in the ribs and more to make an interesting and relevant point. The film gets a little metatextual (it is a story about stories) but it does not do it in a pretentious way, name-dropping films just for the sake of it. As the title character goes through the familiar plot beats of an unlikely hero story, the film pauses to remind us about what we are watching in a way that makes viewers think a bit about what they are seeing and the values and ideas of these stories. It’s an impressive attempt at making a thoughtful film. Although these ideas don’t entirely come together, the film gets close enough to deserve praise.
What Doesn’t: Like a lot of other animated films, Rango is predictable. It follows the storyline of the reluctant hero very closely and most viewers will figure out where the film is headed fairly quickly. How it gets there is no less impressive and the movie has enough going for it to overcome audience expectations but the story remains mostly conventional.
Bottom Line: Rango demonstrates aspirations to transcend the standard animated adventure and in that respect it falls slightly short but it remains a very well made and highly entertaining film.
Episode: #330 (March 13, 2011)