The film opens on a chameleon named Lars during his daily routine of putting on productions with his fellow tankmates (AKA non-living items), a hobby that helps escape the static existence he has grown accustomed to. But when he literally hits a bump in the road he goes flying out of his owner’s car to be left alone in the middle of a desert. Venturing out away from the one marking of human civilization in this barren land, Lars eventually happens upon a small town called Dirt, where he is able to once again blend into his surroundings in the only way he knows how by stepping into the rough boots of Rango, a tough gunslinger who just might be what this town needs to survive in the worsening water shortage.
Turning away from the style of animation that can sometimes seem overly rounded and smoothed out, the artists over at Industrial Light and Magic really create something truly spectacular with Rango, which I can honestly say is one of the best and most impressive animated movies I have seen in terms of aesthetics. Other than the confusion brought on by what appeared to be a bird with a beard and the lack of truthfulness to size, almost every shot in this film is beautifully set up and animated, and I can say that this is what saved this film for me.
I am in no way trying to give the impression that Rango is a bad film in all other aspects, but I will say that for anyone familiar with westerns and films in general there isn’t a whole lot of new elements going on here. Maybe it’s just the impressions left by True Grit and Red Dead Redemption, but other than a few characters that don’t fit the prototype everything is all too cookie cutter stereotypical, from the townspeople, villains, “surprises,” and questionable comments in concern to being PC. For one thing, Wounded Bird, the “Native American” in this film, may be an animal, but I still can’t help feeling like I just witnessed something kind of racist.
On the whole the story of this film is lackluster, but one thing it manages to do is create some truly spectacular moments and scenes within the story that made me forget my disappointment for spans of time, especially in concern to action. One of the best examples to give you an idea of this is a scene involving creepy, most-likely incestuous moles flying combat bats to the tune of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” Though my favorite music cue remains the use of “Ave Maria” towards the beginning of the film, the overall music selection in Rango is also one of the highlights, and one of the many ways that the film chooses to reference others. Though I rolled my eyes at the self-referential nature of a latter scene to Gore Verbinski / Johnny Depp’s other work in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, most are pretty great, from my geek-out inducing Transformers moment (in the form of an aerial roll over the characters and camera, not actual transforming) to the already mentioned Apocalypse Now.
With Johnny Depp at the center of this film it isn’t hard to fathom that the world created in Rango is going to be a strange little corner of the desert, which is yet another reason as to why I can’t completely write it off. But in the end something about it just doesn’t sit right with me. For one thing, there are bits and pieces that don’t even feel appropriate for children, who may be the only audience who won’t realize that they have seen this story before. Then again, maybe the animation of ILM will be enough to allow most to forgive the film for its weaker points.
Final Grade: B-