Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Timothy Olyphant
Running time: 107 minutes
Director / actor double team Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp take a break from the endlessly profitable Pirates of the Caribbean series to bring audiences something a little bit different. Rango is a bizarre, Western-inspired animated film, with a cast of characters that are easily as visually impressive as the monsters in Pirates, and somehow twice as freakish. And while kids may never be able to rid their mind of the hideous cast of creatures Rango piles up on the screen, they’ll be a lot quicker to forget the mundane story they populate.
The titular Rango (Depp) is domesticated chameleon who finds himself having to fight for survival in the Mojave desert following a mild road traffic mishap. Falling into the role of accidental hero, Rango stumbles into the dried up town of Dirt and after impressing the locals with excessive gusto and a lot of luck, promises to aid them in as quest for water as their new sheriff.
Before even the first hint of a plot works its way onto the screen however, we are treated to 25 minutes of Rango wandering aimlessly through the desert. A stagnant first act is a cardinal sin when making a film targeted at a younger audience whose attention span can swiftly run dry. Yet Rango really seems to revel in its sluggish opening, and even after things begin to pick up pace the story still meanders unnecessarily right up till the credits.
The character of Rango is neither complex or interesting, and he fails to develop a meaningful relationship with a single other character in the film. Of course there’s a love interest, but their interactions are thin and the whole set up feels forced. Plus she’s bug eyed and slimy, almost nightmarish, making it hard to support any kind of affair with our slightly less deformed protagonist. The plot sometimes hints at identity issues, even elements of stir craziness within Rango’s personality, but these are never explored in any depth.
Beyond their grotesque design, none of the supporting characters really stand out either, probably because there’s way too many of them. The film chooses to give too much screen time to too many different characters. An otherwise fantastic action sequence halfway through the movie is marred by the sheer abundance of anthropomorphic critters taking part. If it had been two or three characters we care about being chased by an army of moles, that would have been terrific. Instead it’s 20 characters we don’t know very well, and all suspense and audience involvement goes down the drain. Its not just the abundance of good guys that confuses matters though. Antagonists come and go throughout the film, playing to convoluted or seemingly non existent motives.
The standard celebrity line up pulls their weight, all hiding behind small town western accents. Of note is Ned Beatty, if only because he plays a character strangely similar to Lotso, the nefarious stuffed bear also voiced by Beatty in last year’s Toy Story 3.
Rango’s strengths lie in its visual presentation. Sure, the grotesque cast of characters seem fresh off the boat from The Island of Dr Moreau. Yet they’re so tightly designed and animated, with a rich attention to detail that it’s not too difficult to set aside your disgust and simply be impressed. Characters strut and slither believably throughout the world and feathers and fur reacts with a life-like energy.
Rango is an inconsistent but pretty film, full of ugly characters. Its meandering storyline will struggle to hold an adult’s attention, though may just about manage to keep pre-teen kids involved for its excessive 100 min duration. Assuming that is, they’re not plain terrified by the far from cuddly cast.