Today: June 11, 2024


Gore Verbinksi, best known for the Pirates of the Caribbean
series, has taken his first step into the weird and wonderful world of
animation and he’s taken them from the very weird and the exceedingly
wild Johnny Depp. They’ve come together once again to bring life to
Rango, an animated Western for kids which for bizarrely is also a drama
about one chameleon’s (Depp) identity crisis. These two elements don’t
always sit comfortably together but it’s definitely an interesting

The film opens with Rango performing a monologue in which he reveals
that he’s struggling with feeling lost and alone in what appears to be a
dreamlike desert where his only friends are a wind-up fish toy and a
headless Barbie. In reality, he’s a pet chameleon travelling in the
back of a car which, thanks to a pesky armadillo, is thrown from the car
and left to his own devices. The sun hits Rango’s terrarium as it
flies through the air like a light at the end of the tunnel signals
freedom, sweet and terrible freedom.

He wanders through the desert, evading hungry birds and heat
exhaustion until he comes across a prim and proper lizard named Beans (Isla Fisher).
Lamenting the mysterious lack of water in her Old West town of Dirt,
she decides to bring Rango along who quickly realises that he finally
has the chance to be somebody. Ironically, blending in doesn’t come
easy to this chameleon and he stands out in the town like, well, a
bright green chameleon and so he decides to embellish certain facts
about his life, starting with the fact that he’s a talented gunslinger.
After making a few outlandish claims to the locals and impressing them
in the saloon with some dumb luck, he finds himself named the new

The mayor Turtle John (Ned Beatty) therefore looks to Rango to
save the town from a permanent drought by solving the mystery of the
dwindling water supply. Taking a posse of locals with him, Rango sets
out on a wild adventure to finally become the brave Sheriff he’s
pretending to be.

The film pays tribute to a wide variety of films (Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, Sergio Leone’s The Man With No Name
series) without being as referential as, say, a Shrek movie. These
moments are more amusing than they are distracting and give the film a
postmodern edge that blends neatly with the charm of the Old West.

Despite some high points, the story is the film’s weakest link.
Around the 1 hr 20min mark, Rango wanders back into the desert having
been exposed as a fraud to his friends and love interest, Beans. It’s
then that he has an existential crisis and comes across the barely
mentioned and not at all important Spirit of the West – a thinly veiled
impression of Clint Eastwood. Though it’s somewhat amusing for adults
to see a CGI Clint dispensing advice to Rango, it’s utterly unnecessary
and drags out what should have been a more focused story for kids.

Moving from the Con column to the Pro, Depp does some of his best work here and showcases comedic timing we
had only glimpsed at before, creating a classic Western character with
contemporary eccentricities. Bill Nighy adds real flavour as deranged
gunslinger Rattlesnake Jake while Ray Winstone is completely miscast as
cockney lizard Bad Bill.

The real crowning glory however, has to be the superb animation.
The colours and shading are very sophisticated and the textures and
elements are perfect, provided by Industrial Light and Magic with their
first animation. We don’t often see this quality outside of Pixar
movies, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rango give them a run for their
money at next year’s Oscars. It may be uneven but there’s still a
lot to like about Rango and at its best, it’s quirky and entertaining,
at worst, it’s predictable and too long. We can live with that.

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