Rango is an odd-looking film. An animated feature, the design of its characters looks like it was inspired by Ralph Steadman, the artist who illustrated all of Hunter S. Thompson’s books. They are lumpy, scaly and asymmetrical, some to the point of real ugliness. You probably won’t find plush Rango toys at your local toy store. Cuddly doesn’t enter into it. And as characters, they don’t have many smooth edges either. Since they are desert creatures they all show signs of having been out in the sun too long and eccentricity is the norm.

The title character is a chameleon, voiced by Johnny Depp. He’s kept in a terrarium by a family and is being moved across country in a car. They hit a bump in the middle of desert southwest and Rango’s glass home tumbles out the back window, leaving him stranded in the Mojave Desert. Armed with only his vivid imagination and a gift for gab that only someone who’s spent his whole life talking to himself can have, Rango makes his way to the old west town of Dirt which is inhabited by sentient reptiles, amphibians, and small rodents. He talks his way into the position of sheriff, where he must fight the corrupt mayor, voiced by Ned Beatty, who hoards water like John Huston in Chinatown, and Rattlesnake Jake, voiced by Bill Nighy.

The oddness of Rango only goes surface deep. The plot of the good at heart con man who learns to help others is one we’ve seen countless time before. Even if you add in all the comic new agey spirituality, which consists of a spirit quest to find the Spirit of the West, who is Clint Eastwood in Man with no Name mode (Timothy Olyphant provides a dead on impersonation) driving a golf cart and carrying a metal detector, we’re really not blazing any trails here. Much of the humor is aimed at adults, some of it even tinges blue, but I think if your kid is going through the phase where he or she likes really gross things, this film will be a hit.

Rango is an entertaining but minor entry into the field of computer animation.


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March 2011
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