Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Gore Verbinski
Stars: voices of Johnny Depp, Bill Nighy, Ned Beatty, Timothy Olyphant, Harry Dean Stanton, Alfred Molina, Ray Winstone, Isla Fisher.
The spirit of the late, great Sergio Leone runs through this wonderfully entertaining animated spaghetti-style western. Rango contains the usual archetypes of those classic westerns from yesteryear. Thus we get the corrupt and power hungry mayor; the gunslinger who terrorises the town; the feisty rancher who is trying to hold on to her family farm; and the impressionable young kid holding out for a hero. And, of course, there is the stranger who comes in to town and becomes a sheriff hoping to clean up the place. But he of course makes mistakes before he redeems himself in the final reel. The only difference between Rango and countless westerns starring those larger than life characters of John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck and Clint Eastwood is that all of the characters here are lizards, chameleons, rats, snakes and other rodents.
Rango (voiced by Johnny Depp) is a lonely pet chameleon with an active imagination who becomes stranded in the Mojave Desert. Barely surviving the scorching conditions and an attack by a predatory hawk, he winds up in the almost deserted town of Dirt. This lawless, dustbowl town is appropriately named as it has almost run out of precious supplies of water. The townsfolk live in hope that some miracle will deliver them vital water. By accident, Rango winds up as the new sheriff, and he takes his new job seriously. He has to protect the town’s dwindling supply of precious water from a mysterious thief. He also has to stand up to the town’s mayor (Ned Beatty), who has a sinister scheme of his own, and the notorious gunslinger Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy, hissing and slithering brilliantly).
The script from John Logan (Gladiator, The Last Samurai, etc) is deliberately full of cliches and clever filmic references that will appeal to older audiences. The subplot involving corruption and water rights smacks of Chinatown, while the comic aspects are reminiscent of Mel Brooks’ classic genre spoof Blazing Saddles. Some well-timed musical cues and dialogue riffs will also remind cinema savvy audiences of other classic movies. The director is Gore Verbinski, a former director of commercials who has helmed the successful and lucrative Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy. He made his directorial debut with Mousehunt, which was essentially a live action cartoon full of pratfalls and slapstick humour. He brings plenty of energy to the material here, and his camera swoops and swirls during the key action sequences.
Rango is the first fully animated film from George Lucas’ ILM factory, and the CGI animation is spectacular, and every bit as good as the films emerging from Pixar, the undisputed leader in the field. The colours are pristine and vibrant, the quaint and quirky characters well defined, and the film has a wonderful look and texture to it. Veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins (the recent True Grit, etc) had a hand in the striking visuals. This is one animated film that doesn’t need 3D to heighten its appeal.
Verbinski has assembled a fantastic voice cast to bring the characters to life, and apparently they acted their roles in the recording studio to inject energy and veracity into their performances. The ensemble cast includes Harry Dean Stanton, Alfred Molina, and Ray Winstone, while Timothy Olyphant does a superb Clint Eastwood impression with his cameo as the legendary “Spirit of the West”. Isla Fisher provides the love interest for Rango as the feisty Iguana Beans.
Rango is a lot of fun, especially if you’re a fan of western movies! Don’t miss it!