With Rango, Gore Verbinski becomes the latest filmmaker to make the leap from live action to animation – which places him in the company of well-known directors like Robert Zemeckis (Beowulf) and Zack Snyder (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole). Armed with a typically offbeat lead performance from Johnny Depp and a beautiful animation style, Rango initially comes off as an innovative piece of work that is utterly unlike any animated movie you’ve ever seen.
Verbinski’s strong visual choices ensure that Rango actually works best in its opening half hour, as the central character becomes an impressively compelling figure that we can’t help but root for and sympathize with. It’s only as Rango arrives in the film’s primary locale of Dirt that the viewer’s patience starts to wear thin, as screenwriter John Logan offers up a surprisingly convoluted storyline that grows more and more difficult to comfortably follow.
And although Depp’s Rango is a fascinating protagonist, he’s been surrounded by a supporting cast comprised almost entirely of underdeveloped, uninteresting characters – which is a shame, really, given that Verbinski has packed the movie with a number of impressive performers (including Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty, and Bill Nighy). As a result, Rango wears out its welcome long before the final showdown rolls around and it’s ultimately difficult to envision the movie making a positive impact among most viewers.
When we first meet him, Rango (Johnny Depp) is a domesticated chameleon who resides inside a glass cage with several broken toys (including a wind-up fish and a headless doll). Rango’s solitary existence doesn’t seem to be too lonely, as the quirky lizard amuses himself by rehearsing and putting on plays with his inanimate roommates.
It’s during a trip with the family that owns him that Rango’s life is thrown into chaos, as the personable lizard is accidentally left by the side of the road following a close call with another car. After receiving some odd advice from a run-over armadillo (Alfred Molina’s Roadkill), Rango heads off into the desert in search of civilization.
Rango eventually wanders into an Old West town called Dirt, where he earns the respect of its grizzled inhabitants by first lying about his violent past and then killing a feared hawk (accidentally, of course). Dirt’s mayor, Tortoise John (Ned Beatty), immediately asks Rango to become the new Sheriff, and although he initially relishes the attention, Rango eventually discovers the reason that Sheriffs don’t last too long in Dirt.
The Voice Cast
Despite the presence of an all-star supporting cast, Rango is clearly Johnny Depp’s show from start to finish. The actor does an impressive job of shedding his distinctive persona to become this off-the-wall character, and there’s little doubt that Depp does a fantastic job of portraying Rango’s many moods and emotions. Among the rest of the actors, Ned Beatty stands out as Dirt’s intimidating mayor and Bill Nighy steals every one of his scenes as a vicious rattlesnake named Jake.
The Bottom Line
Though it’s being marketed towards kids, Rango has been packed with elements that only adults will be able to appreciate – including a storyline inspired by Roman Polanski’s Chinatown and an ongoing emphasis on the title character’s existential concerns. But even older viewers will eventually find themselves growing tired of the movie’s meandering structure and unusually deliberate pace, with the novelty of the characters, the premise, and the film’s locale only able to hold our interest up to a certain point – after which it becomes harder and harder to care about any of this.
The one area in which the film does excel is in its visuals, which have been completed by George Lucas’ famed special effects studio Industrial Light & Magic. (Rango marks the first time that ILM has ever provided animation for a full-length feature.) The movie’s incredibly compelling and thoroughly distinctive animation style remains its one consistently compelling attribute, with the impact of the visuals heightened by Verbinski’s decision not to offer up a 3-D version of the film. (It’s unfortunately an all-too-rare privilege to sit through an animated film without wearing those cumbersome glasses.)
Rango was directed by Gore Verbinski and is rated PG for rude humor, language, action and some smoking.
Theatrical Release Date: March 4, 2011