Theatrical Review: RANGO
Writers: John Logan, Gore Verbinski, James Ward Byrkit
Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Ray Winstone
Studio: Nickelodeon Pictures
Animated movies, especially computer animated ones, oftentimes face a challenge that some accept and accomplish gracefully, while others know they've got a soccer mom money magnet and don't worry about the quality of the film. RANGO successfully takes the challenge of finding a way to appeal to not only adults as well as kids, but to adults who love movies.
Directed by Gore Verbinski (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise) and co-written by John Logan (SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET) and James Ward Byrkit, RANGO is a wonderful film littered with references to classic Western movies, other Johnny Depp films, and even a hilarious Hunter S. Thompson FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS reference that won't make you regret bringing to your kids to the movies this weekend.
Rango (Johnny Depp) is a lizard - a very well-spoken lizard with an active imagination and affinity for the dramatic. He realizes he lives isolated in a box and longs for some change in his life. Almost on cue, his world is turned upside down when his cage falls out of the back of his owner's car and is left stranded in the desert. Alone, and longing for a drink of water, he encounters a Mexican armadillo appropriately named Roadkill (Alfred Molina), and he is given the advice that when he finds dirt, he'll find water.
Turns out, Dirt is a town in the middle of the desert. In Dirt, he learns that the town has been decimated by a horrible drought and terrorized by some local bullies and a giant hawk. Seizing the chance to become a new person, he makes up the name of Rango and personifies himself as a dangerous outlaw who can kill the worst of the worst with one bullet. Through a series of serendipitous acts, he actually does kill the menacing hawk with one bullet and becomes sheriff of the town, much to the chagrin of some of its citizens, like Beans (Isla Fisher), a local who is fighting to keep her father's land. The overall plot is somewhat convoluted and, if RANGO has a weakness, it may be that the crux of the plot takes a too long to develop.
Yet, the film's performances are absolutely fantastic. To no surprise, Johnny Depp plays Rango very well, and his familiarity with the director and writers shine through, in what feels like an effortless performance, despite it being a vocal and motion-capture one. The ensemble cast as a whole is fantastic as well, and there isn't a weak link in it. One of the more charming aspects about RANGO is that it is filled with voicework that is familiar to place, and some that are going to sit right on the tip of your tongue, only to make for some really pleasant surprises once you see the end credits. Isla Fisher's vocal performance as Beans is one of the more difficult ones to place, but the Scottish/Australian actress does a flawless old-timey Western accent that comes off very natural. Beans also has a biological quirk that makes for some of the funnier moments of the film. The cast is rounded out by some other excellent actors that include Abigail Breslin, Bill Nighy, Ned Beatty, and Ray Winstone. There's even a brilliant cameo in the film voiced by an ultra-talented actor towards the end of the film.
As a film, RANGO has moments that may seem a little too dark for a kids film, but it understands its roots very well. The huge list of classic Western films that the filmmakers had to reference is utilized incredibly proficiently, and the dark tones fit in very well with some of the tones of the classic Westerns of the past. The score is even reminiscent of the classic scores of Ennio Morricone. Johnny Depp fans will be pleased, as will fans of the other fantastic actors in the cast. With the great cast, good direction, and a very competent understanding of the genre, RANGO may open up kids' eyes to a genre that, in the past few years, has been overlooked by studios and audiences.