Details: In Cinemas 10 March 2011, United States, English
Synopsis: A sheltered chameleon living as an ordinary family pet, Rango (Johnny Depp) faces a major identity crisis. After all, how high can you aim when your whole purpose in life is to blend in? When Rango accidentally winds up in the gritty, gun-slinging town of Dirt – a lawless outpost populated by the desert’s most wily and whimsical creatures – the less-than-courageous lizard suddenly finds he stands out. Welcomed as the last hope the town has been waiting for, new Sheriff Rango is forced to play his new role to the hilt...
Fantastical tale of the reptile that conquered the Wild West.
Both a homage to Westerns and a spoof of the genre, Gore Verbinksi’s Rango is wildly subversive, surreal, uproariously funny, moving, visually stunning and a hugely inventive exercise in animation, packed with elements of Chinatown, The Wild Bunch, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Apocalypse Now.
In short, I’ve never seen anything like it.
Kudos to Verbinski for harnessing the disparate elements – a startlingly original screenplay by John Logan, the digital wizards at Industrial Light & Magic producing their first full-length animated feature, a richly talented voice cast led by Johnny Depp, and hiring ace cinematographer Roger Deakins as visual consultant – into a superbly entertaining if not ground-breaking movie.
Who’d have thought the director of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean adventures, The Ring and Mousehunt was capable of such artistry?
Much has been written about the director insisting the actors dress in costume and record their dialogue on Western sets to give them a vivid feel for the material and having them work in groups rather than solo which is the norm for animation. Their ‘performances’ were filmed by HD cameras so the animators could reproduce their movements and facial expressions. It wouldn’t be surprising if this innovative collaborative technique caught on in Hollywood.
Nothing in Logan’s impressive credits – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, The Aviator, Gladiator, The Last Samurai and the upcoming Coriolanus – might have suggested he could conjure up something as adventurous, quirky and out-there as Rango.
Here are many of the tropes of the genre including a dingy saloon full of exotic characters, a gunfight at high noon and a bank hold-up, interspersed with the hallucinatory vision of an iconic Western figure, slapstick routines and exhilarating action sequences, all laced with witty lines. I mean, whoever heard a Wild West figure observe that “We’re experiencing a paradigm shift” and another say he thinks a sexual practice is “illegal in seven States”?
In full-out playful mode, Depp is perfect as the voice of the title character, the type of lizard known as a chameleon, who flies out of his owner’s car when there’s an accident and finds himself in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
After meeting a Don Quixote-like armadillo named Roadkill (Alfred Molina) who speaks in metaphors, he’s given a lift into the town of Dirt by Ms Beans (Ilsa Fisher), who’s quite a looker for a feisty, shotgun-toting iguana. She explains her name by saying her deceased father loved baked beans; just as well he didn’t love asparagus, the lizard wryly responds.
Dirt’s all but run dry of water and the only precious stuff to be found is in the bank, introducing a timely ecological theme. Posing as a dead-eyed gunslinger who calls himself Rango, he’s appointed sheriff by the grateful, wheelchair-bound tortoise mayor (Ned Beatty) after he dispatches a giant hawk that had been terrorising the townsfolk.
After the water is stolen, Rango leads a posse in pursuit of the suspected miscreants, a wonderful sequence through caves and shimmering desert. In the manner of a Greek chorus, a mariachi band of owls bobs up now and again to provide witty musical commentary. The climax involves an encounter with the massive Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy), who wears a black hat and sports a machine gun on his tail.
Unlike the typical Pixar or DreamWorks Animation protagonist, Rango is not cute – he has bulbous eyes, a pencil-thin neck and he wears loud shirts – and he’s not brave, but in the tradition of good, old-fashioned Westerns he’s forced to find heroic qualities within himself.
Benefiting from Deakins’ input, the movie has the texture and shades of light and shadow of exquisitely-photographed live action. Hans Zimmer's lively score reworks Ennio Morricone's famous soundtracks for Sergio Leone’s classic Westerns. I suspect Leone himself would have loved Rango.
Watch Films Online
Films on SBS TV
SBS Film Guide to...
Celebrate Australian filmmaking with this home-grown season. Starts May 25.
Land, Money and Power… Dig deep into Australia’s epic history of mining.
The Tony award-winner sings Broadway numbers and re-imagines modern tunes from Lady Gaga to Sting.