One Adaptable Hombre
There was no doubt going into the new animated movie Rango that it was to be an homage to—some might call it a spoof of—the Spaghetti Western sub-genre that was huge in the 1960s. The title itself is a reference to the 1966 movie Django. But who knew that the movie might turn out to be not only that, but a spoof of—or homage to—just about every movie genre under the sun? References to other movies are so prevalent throughout the film that I imagine screenwriter John Logan and director Gore Verbinski sitting around thinking of their favorite movie lines and finding spots for them in the script. Whatever they did, it worked, as Rango proves not only to be a respectful homage, but a pretty entertaining movie in its own right.
The character that would come to be known as Rango is a chameleon who has spent his entire life in an aquarium. Not much is provided about his background, but it quickly becomes clear that the aquarium must have been housed near the television. When being transported, Rango’s aquarium is ejected out the back of the vehicle, leaving the lizard alone in the middle of the Mojave Desert. He stumbles into the town of Dirt that is suffering through a major drought and in need of a hero. Always ready to try on a new role, Rango jumps right in with both feet.
After he manages to get rid of an eagle that has been terrorizing the townspeople, Rango is made their sheriff. His first task is to figure out what has happened to the water. The town’s remaining reserves were just stolen from the bank, so Rango organizes a posse to chase down the culprits and restore the town’s previous way of life.
This is a movie that film aficionados will need to watch over and over again with a fine-tooth comb in order to find all of the many movie references. Off the top of my head, I can think of Planet of the Apes, Apocalypse Now, Ghostbusters, and Deliverance. Plot-wise, the movie actually takes much of its conflict straight from Chinatown, right down to the idea that whoever controls the water has the power. Of course, these references are in addition to the numerous references to Spaghetti Westerns, culminating in a moment that could have been ten times better had they secured a vocal cameo from Clint Eastwood.
The cast of characters covers the complete spectrum of characters found not only in Spaghetti Westerns, but traditional Westerns as well. The first thing you notice about Rango is the characters, because these are unlike any characters you have ever come across in an animated movie. There is little that can be considered cutesy about the inhabitants of Dirt. They are dirty, flea-bitten, and ugly. It’s a bit of a shock at first, but as the movie goes on the characters—the good ones, anyway—really start to grow on you the way animated characters are prone to do.
Of course, at the center of these mangy characters is Rango himself, voiced by Johnny Depp, reuniting with his Pirates of the Caribbean director Verbinski. Much like Wall-E, Rango is a character who has been alone for most of his life before fate brings him to the town of dirt. Also, like Wall-E, he’s got an obsession with movies. But whereas Wall-E only had one movie to build from, Rango has had a wide array of inspiration.
Rango is the first animated feature to be produced by special effects company Industrial Light & Magic, aka The House that George Lucas Built, and the result is a stunningly animated, fast-paced thrill ride of a movie. There are a couple of action sequences in the movie that are a wonder to behold. It is a good thing the studio decided against releasing this movie in 3D, because there’s enough kinetic energy in this 2D movie that 3D may have induced a pandemic of motion sickness.
Rango may not have the heart that made last year’s Toy Story 3 and How to Train a Dragon so successful, but it is a technically stunning movie that is sure to entertain audiences both young and old. And if you’re like me and you love finding references to other movies, then Rango is something of a dream come true.
Rango is rated PG for “rude humor, language, action and smoking.” Interesting fact: this is the first animated movie to ever feature “smoking” as part of its rating designation. There are definitely some dirty jokes and some sequences may be too intense for younger viewers, but it is a PG movie.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Rango.