As I waited for “Rango” to start, I was forced to sit through a number of trailers for this year’s other expected animated features. All are unnecessary sequels hoping to cash in on previous success and they all look forced at best. All are of course in 3D as well to ensure the largest returns possible. It all got me wondering where the originality has gone. Even “Rango” is yet another animation where animals walk and talk like human beings but somehow this lizard manages to stand out amongst the competition. And he does this despite his best efforts to blend in.
When we first meet Rango, he is self-described as someone who “has yet to enter his own story”. To be fair, your story options are somewhat limited when you’re living in a tank. Fortunately for Rango, and at the precise moment when he realizes he is desperately in need of “an unexpected event to propel the hero into conflict,” he finds himself suddenly trapped in a chain of events that leads him to his new life in the Mojave Desert. Now, Rango is no ordinary lizard. More specifically, he is a chameleon and designed to blend in, but has been on display his whole life. With no idea who he actually is though, Rango has always had to rely on theatrics and drama to distract from himself, which appears to have taken its toll. The other particularly incredible thing about this lizard? He is voiced by Johnny Depp.
Depp is the epitome of neo-cool. He has always been cool by constantly coming off as the embodiment of the freshest take on more classical ideas of cool, without ever looking like he is trying. Here, Depp channels the sprawling cinematic drawl of the Spaghetti Western, with help from his former “Pirates of the Caribbean” director, Gore Verbinski. Depp brings his humbled awkwardness along with him and when you couple that with Rango’s incredibly deep-rooted insecurity, you’ve got a lizard in one heck of an existential crisis. While all of this elevates “Rango” to a height of animated sophistication that is both thought provoking and hilarious at times, it is also decidedly adult. In fact, an owl mariachi band repeatedly reminds us throughout the film that we are watching the story of our hero’s demise. Taunting children that death is coming seems a bit frightening to me but the owls are awful cute so the news doesn’t seem quite so harsh.
Naturally, Rango meets a bunch of other critters in the desert, most of them not so cuddly, and he must help them save their town by playing the hero they so gravely need. In order to do so though, Rango must actually become the hero instead of just playing the part. Some of “Rango”’s imagery and themes may be scary for younger audiences but it’s Rango’s angst over not knowing who he is that will be most frightening for adults. And seeing as how some us never actually get around to pointing that mirror inward, maybe its not such a bad idea after all to get people asking the question a little earlier in life.
Review by Joseph Bélanger