A lonely pet chameleon who thinks he’s an actor wishes he wasn’t alone and had a true purpose in his life; it is at this moment that his reckless driving owners accidentally hit a bump in the road that causes the animal to fall out of the car, leaving him stuck in hot and deserted highway. While trying to figure out how he can survive this environment he’s been thrown into, he discovers that the bump in the road happened to be an armadillo, slightly crushed but still alive. The Armadillo, who wishes to cross the road to meet the spirit of the west, gives the Chameleon some wise words and leads him in the direction, along with the help of a female farming iguana named Beans, to the town of Dirt. The town of Dirt appears to have been through hard times as it is suffering a major drought, with its water supply running short with common and heavily relied sources going dry. While first perceived as a stranger, the Chameleon, in order to protect himself, pretends he’s a wild gun-slinging ranger named Rango and through sheer luck, they believe him and becomes sheriff of the town. After the robbery of the towns preserved water supply, Rango and his organized posse investigate the robbery and find that the lack of water in the town may not be the cause of a drought, but something more criminal than theft.
After the major success of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, director Gore Verbinski wanted to try and make Rango as a small film; however he didn’t anticipate how expensive and large the production of an animated film would be, having a budget of $138 million. While the film was a three way production between Nicolodean, Verbinski’s Blink Wink and GK Films, all the animation was produced at George Lucas’ special effects studio Industrial Light and Magic. A considerable amount of effort was done with the voice casting, having a recording schedule of 20 days for Johnny Depp, and scheduling all the supporting cast to work with him on those days, having actors use real life western performances as inspirations for their characters and wearing costumes to get into character. The film had a worldwide release in cinemas on March 4th 2011.
My initial opinion on the animation was that it was average, since the first ten to fifteen minutes was just high quality visuals and smooth character movements that are to a modern standard. However as the film progresses the animation becomes really good with some really creative and memorable scenes with a very high attention to detail. The character designs are possibly my favourite part about this film, while Rango himself is the most basic character in the film with the most craft put into him being the ridges on his skin, the amount of detail on every character is huge and looks so great to watch. The artistic style is meant to be homage to the classic Spaghetti Western Films and the amount of detail done to the rocks, sand, woods and ashes really shows how much attention went to the looks of the film.
The music is good for the most part, it sets the tone of the film, the style really suits the scenes and while I don’t consider myself a fan, I feel that any time Hans Zimmer gets given a film to compose, he composes it and does it so well and memorable. However need I remind you that this is for the most part, as for some reason they decide to give a dance number which feels slightly out of place, and there are four Mariachi Owls that have short songs which feel a little unnecessary. Despite this it’s a listenable soundtrack that’s really worth listening to set the mood of the Wild West.
The voice acting is nothing special, with top billing actor Johnny Depp being a cowardly and lonesome chameleon that develops and overcomes his problems by the end of the film to a performance of a good standard, and huge props to Bill Nighy as Rattlesnake Jake, the gun-slinging anti-hero of the film who gives a very threatening and intimidating performance, which is apparently based of famous western villain Lee Van Cleef. Everyone else basically portrays themselves as western stereotypical characters, which is probably a good thing for spaghetti western fans to get a quick understanding of who each character is, but don’t really have enough personality to be really memorable. I think the only major issue I have with the voice acting, and this is a spoiler which I hate to give away for anyone who cares, is that the largest piece of the tribute to Spaghetti Westerns in this film is a near accurate portrayal of Clint Eastwood as the mystical Spirit of the West, but the thing that bothered me the most about this film was that not only was the character not voiced by Clint Eastwood, but the actor who portrayed him, Timothy Olyphant, wasn’t even trying to sound like Eastwood. I can understand if they couldn’t cast Eastwood or they weren’t allowed to use his voice but if you were going to put a Clint Eastwood model in the film at least make him sound like Clint Eastwood.
Admittingly, I’m not a fan of any kind of Western films; outside of watching the few clips here and there I’ve only watched one western in full, so really I know of them more than I know them. If I was a fan of westerns I would’ve enjoyed this film slightly more because you can tell from beginning to end that this film shows every opportunity to refer or homage to the genre and its films. However there is one thing in this film which annoyed me the most is the four Mariachi Owls, what was the point for them to be there? They are meant to act as narrators, but all they do is break the fourth wall, give mediocre comedy and break the flow of the story. They have no reason to be in the film, and it probably would’ve been better without them. Speaking of the story, it is safe for kids yet tolerable for adults stuff, the middle of the film has strings of either pop culture references, risqué jokes and cheap gags, the three things I hate about modern CG films, and the messages it tries to bring are typical, but it’s worth watching for the brilliant visuals and great tribute to a classic genre of films.
As an animated film, it is really well done with great animation and superb design. As a film overall, aside from the bad humour that can also be found in many other CG films nowadays and I apologise for sounding repetitive, but it is a really good homage to western films that any fan of the genre should check out, and it’s a great start for 2011 animation, let’s all hope that the rest of the year can follow up on it.
Rango is available from Nickolodean and Paramount, as of writing this review it is currently showing in cinemas Worldwide so go and watch it now or wait for a probable DVD release in the summer. A novelisation by Justine and Ron Fontes, made as a tie-in for the film’s release, is available from Sterling Publishing.