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Rango (2011): Drameleon

Rango (Gore Verbinski, 2011)

Rango, clutching a clockwork goldfish, stares out of the movie poster and into your very soul.

Drop the chaluuuuuupa.
photo credit: Wikipedia

Rango is something very rare in the current American culture: an animated movie created specifically for grown-ups. Thankfully, it’s also brilliant, the kind of movie that provides hard evidence that such a thing can still work in American film culture. Artistically, at least; while the movie performed relatively well at the box office, it didn’t make back its budget theatrically. I hope that doesn’t doom Industrial Light and Magic’s animation department to the dustbin, because Rango is the best American animated movie in a decade.

Rango tries in vain to wring one more drop of water from a glass in a still from the film.

Water, water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink.
photo credit:

Plot: Rango (voice of Johnny Depp)—though he is not named Rango at the beginning of the film (he is unnamed in the first part of the film, and this is not trivial)—is a pet chameleon on a roadtrip through the desert when a near-miss car accident sends his tank out of his owners’ RV. The previously-pampered pet with an acting aspiration very quickly learns that the outside world is a different place indeed than he is used to. After an encounter with the plucky, if somewhat insane, Beans (Now You See Me‘s Isla Fisher), he accompanies her back to her hometown of Dirt, where he spins a few tall tales and somehow finds himself talked into accepting the job of town sheriff. Can the newly-christened Rango use his chameleon nature to truly become the brave, heroic lizard he has made himself out to be, save the town’s dwimdling water supply, and stand up to local villain Rattlesnake Jake (Hot Fuzz‘ Bill Nighy)?

Beans gives Rango a funny look in a still from the film.

“Are you SURE this is the way to the soda shop? ’cause it looks like the way to the backseat of your Dodge.”

Impeccable comic timing (it’s obvious Verbinski took the Robin-Williams-in-Aladdin approach here of “give the cast their scripts, let them ad-lib their hearts out, and then animate around it”), gorgeously detailed animation, dozens of in-jokes for movie buffs. Rango has pretty much everything you could want in a comedy. And while the kiddies will certainly enjoy the bright colors and the chaos, this is old-school-Looney-Tunes humor, written with the intelligence and wit to be funny enough for the kids but with veiled (and sometimes not so veiled) more adult humor lying just underneath the surface for the adults as well. This is phenomenal stuff; if you missed it the first time around, rent it now. ****


About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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