It might not stand alongside the likes of 3:10 to Yuma and True Grit as the best westerns in recent memory, but I feel confident in saying that
Rango is the finest ever produced starring a chameleon.
That may sound like a backhanded compliment, but Rango is a refreshingly witty and wacky tribute to the genre.
A Pixar film it ain’t, but Rango’s off-the-wall style somehow comes together to form some kind of unique and entertaining monstrosity.
John Logan’s witty, self-aware screenplay, director Gore Verbinski’s visual style, a superb vocal cast and Industrial Light and Magic’s
fantastic animation make Rango much more than your standard animated film.
Rango is intelligent and dumb at the same time, and that’s a bizarrely good mix.
The film relies heavily on goofy slapstick, but the execution is far better than we are used to.
Verbinski’s excellent action and comedic pacing (previously showcased on his Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy) give the physical gags a
great energy. The action is well-choreographed and shot.
There are a couple fun sequences where Rango has to escape from an attacking crow and what western would be complete without a great
stagecoach assault? Except you’ve probably never seen one where the villains are riding machine gun-mounted bats.
These sequences are made all the better by ILM’s superb animation. Their first fully computer generated film, ILM’s work here is
wonderfully textured and smoother than most of the animated films Dreamworks produces.
Logan’s screenplay also provides Rango with a bit more than just visuals. The Rango character is an utterly bizarre one and Johnny Depp is
a great choice as his voice. Rango has a little bit of Jack Sparrow in him. His heroics are as much luck as anything.
But Logan also provides the character with the occasional introspective monologue as he contemplates his purpose and his mission. This
is the kind of stuff that is usually written off as being too complex for a ‘kid’s movie,’ but it works wonders here in giving Rango a style all its
A sequence late in the film that sees Rango trekking through the desert to find water yields a strange meeting with The Spirit of the West.
You’ll never guess who that is… And even though it’s a rather blunt reference, it’s the dramatic climax of Rango’s journey and it works
despite the strange setup.
I guess that’s true for most things in Rango.
Unfortunately, after this point, Rango can’t sustain the drama and doesn’t really have any action gas left in its tank. The final sequences are
a bit of a letdown given everything that has come before it. It’s decent enough to be sure, but I hoped for a bit more given how many things
Rango does right for most of the film.
Still, Rango is a really funny movie with enough intelligence to make it worth your time. The visuals and action are superb, and it’s a great
offshoot/tribute to the archetypal western film.
Rango might not ride into the sunset as triumphantly as I would have hoped, but the journey is still well worth taking.
* * *
(out of four)
Addendum to review - The Blu-ray release of Rango contains a slightly extended cut of the film that, most notably, adds an additional scene
to the end of the film. Theatrically, I felt the film ended on a slightly abrupt note. This new version remedies that quite nicely with a fun
sequence that wraps up the story and completes its tribute to the vintage Hollywood western in satisfying fashion.
The rest of the additions are relatively brief, but mostly worthy. My favorite is a particularly hilarious eulogy performed by Rango that ranks
among the best moments in the entire film.
This is my preferred version and I would recommend it without question. The new scenes, in addition to my own greater appreciation for
the film after subsequent viewing, boosts it to * * * 1/2 territory.
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Written by: John Logan
Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned
Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Released: March 4, 2011; 107 Minutes