The Western isn’t dead. It’s just become more animated… literally.
Stranded in the desert, a lone lizard (Johnny Depp) finds his way to the town of Dirt. The provincial townsfolk are barely hanging on due to a drought and tensions are high. Wandering into the local saloon, the lizard is challenged by the untrusting locals to reveal who he is. With no one to dispute any back story he might make up and deciding to play it tough, the lizard begins to credit himself as a hero of high adventure, impossible deeds, and Wild West gunplay. The legend of “Rango” is born… and he is going to die.
Right out of the gate, Rango delivers what the trailer promises, a surreal world of Johnny Depp rapid-fire insanity mixed with tiny animals thinking really big. The second act, unfortunately, nearly grinds the film to a halt, especially in the wake of the opening act, but the conclusion hits the right stride to tie up everything in a bow with a requisite showdown. Even when nothing is going on, every frame is breathtaking to look at, which is an achievement in itself. While Rango skews to a slightly older mindset than your G-rated Disney crowd, the entire family should enjoy it.
The production design of Rango is a strange bird. Photo-realistic creatures make up the cast, each given natural limitations to overcome by whatever species they are. Since these are all creatures generally smaller than an armadillo, most of the Old West town of Dirt is constructed of old containers, rusted-out gas cans, pocket watches for tower clocks, and so forth. What’s weird is that everyone seems to have functional guns and clothes made for their size (even a rattle snake with a rattle gattling gun on his tail) while other things are conveniently normal sized. Whatever rules of scale were set, Rango seems to break them on a whim as long as it’s good for a laugh, but the inconsistency still feels off.
To the production’s credit, however, is the continuing gag of breaking the fourth wall. The show is narrated by a Mariachi band of owls who have an uncanny ability to be wherever they are needed and playing an appropriate tune to match the scene. One of the owls is the spokesperson, allowing the others to periodically ask the questions audience members might be thinking. But the real treat is “the Spirit of the West,” which somehow skips over the fourth wall and starts breaking the fifth, sixth, and seventh walls. Fans of Johnny Depp, director Gore Verbinski, or animation in general will find plenty to smile about here, which only leaves one question: what to do for a sequel.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)