Review of Rango

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Johnny Depp voices Rango, an ordinary chameleon who somehow winds up in the lawless town of Dirt. The Wild West outpost is full of whimsical creatures and in desperate need of a new sheriff. The only problem is, Rango is a sheltered family pet who knows absolutely nothing about managing others and enforcing rules.
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"Rango" is a surreal animated film that will entertain young children while providing enough substance, humor and movie references to please adults. Directed by Gore Verbinski ("Pirates of the Carribean"), the film takes viewers through a slightly skewed view of the Old West, only this time with animals in the familiar Western roles. Starring Johnny Depp as Rango, it's a fun trip through a number of movie references that is sure to engage and entertain.

The hero of the film, Rango, is an unnamed chameleon who finds himself stranded in the Mojave Desert. After meeting an armadillo named Roadkill (Alfred Molina), he heads to the town of Dirt. The town is your typical Western community, with a handicapped Mayor (Ned Beatty), a town bully named Rattlesnake Jake, who is quite literally an evil snake (Bill Nighy) and a rancher's daughter, who also happens to be a desert iguana named Beans (Isla Fisher).

The film's premise is based around illusion. Rango comes into town as a creature with no name, before claiming to be a hardened drifter. The town of Dirt is a pastiche of Western clichés, which the film mixes into one surreal vision. Once Rango defeats a killer hawk, he is quickly turned into the town Sheriff, when he discovers the city's water supply is running dry. Mix that with an inevitable showdown with Rattlesnake Jake and you have yourself a standard Western, albeit with animals instead of hardened actors like Clint Eastwood or Lee Van Cliff. Eastwood's famous Man With No Name looms large over "Rango." The mystical Spirit of the West (Tim Olyphant) takes on Eastwood's mannerisms, providing Rango with guidance as he moves forward through the treacherous terrain of Dirt.

Vebrinski's films have always had a hint of the surreal about them, but now that he is free of the restraints of a live action movie, he goes all out with his vision. "Rango" is a virtual mash-up of all things Western, Johnny Depp, Clint Eastwood, "Star Wars" and even the classic film noir "Chinatown." There's almost too much going on, the animation is so dense that it can be dizzying keeping up with everything. However, those who do catch the references will be tickled at the many nods to classic cinema.

One interesting aspect of the film is the way the cast interacts with each other. Most animated films have the voice actors record their work separately. For "Rango" Verbinski brought his cast together for a 20-day recording session with costumes and props, allowing the actors to interact with one another. It's a brilliant move and it shows in how the film's characters talk with each other instead of at each other.

The animation in the film is amazing. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) may be known as a special effects house, but its first foray into the world of animation is a huge success. The characters feel real, and the setting looks lived-in. In an era in which computer animation can hinder a film, the animators truly make this a work of art, on par with some of the best hand-drawn animation around.

Ultimately, the film has some plot issues. When a movie is steeped so heavily in movie history, it runs the risk of becoming cliché, which "Rango" sadly does. It follows the old Western plotline of a nameless man coming to town, facing a villain and testing his own heroism. While this may not bother children or those who are not adept with film history, the movie is trying so hard to reach the hardcore film lovers that the by-the-numbers plot feels a bit like failure. However, this is a minor complaint. "Rango" is a production that entertains far more than it fails, and it is sure to be a staple with children and families for some time.