The Thinker

Review: Rango

You have to be a certain age (like my age) to remember a short-lived television series starring Tim Conway called Rango. I don’t recall watching it, but this 1967 show had an inane theme song that is still stuck in my head. In the TV show, Conway apparently played an inept Texas Ranger named Rango. I imagine this lackluster show must have inspired something about the new animated movie Rango now playing in theaters. Thankfully, the movie Rango is much better than the television show, in part due to mega superstar Johnny Depp voicing the part of Rango.

The television show Rango takes place in Deep Wells, Texas, known for its peace and serenity. The movie Rango takes place in the Mohave Desert, also known for its peace and serenity, as well as excessive heat and dryness. The exception seems to be the highway that cuts through the desert, which leaves a lot of roadkill. Rango is a lizard that lives in a terrarium with a dead insect and a plastic, wind-up goldfish. Rango aspires to be a thespian but opportunities seem limited in his terrarium, which is in the back of a car speeding down that desert road. An unfortunate accident causes his terrarium to end up on the highway. There Rango encounters an armadillo run over by a truck who is in the immortal words of Monty Python “not dead yet.” Thus begins Rango’s amazing parched and overheated adventures in the Mohave Desert in and around a town for animals called Dirt.

Rango is a hard movie to describe except to say that it is both original and succeeds by shamelessly parodying many other movies that proceed it. Just as Galaxy Quest got funnier the more you were vested in the Star Trek fan culture, your enjoyment of Rango is likely to increase the better your knowledge of movies in general is, not to mention classical music. For example, if you are familiar with Richard Wagner and his Ring trilogy, the scenes of flying bats will be hysterical. Without it, those scenes will seem a lot less funny.

I probably fell in somewhere around the median for this group, which means I found the movie quite funny and enjoyable, but likely not as funny as those more vested in Hollywood and high culture in general. This quirky animated movie featuring lots of animated desert critters posits a Western town in the middle of the Mohave Desert sized for desert animals but shaped like any Old West town. The town of Dirt comes complete with its own saloon, mayor and sheriff. Well, maybe not the sheriff, who has a tendency to turn up dead. Rango, practicing his acting skills, soon has the townies convinced he killed seven outlaws with one bullet. His credentials are further enhanced when through a freak accident of nature he manages to kill the local hawk that likes to terrorize the town. The mayor (voiced by Ned Beatty) quickly appoints him sheriff, but even with the hawk gone the town is suffering. Water, always hard to find in the desert, becomes even harder to find. The local bank, which stores water, is down to a few days of water. Can Rango find who is stealing all the water and allow the good citizens of Dirt to survive? This is what passes for a plot in this movie.

As is true of most movies created by computer these days, the CGI is lush and gorgeous, making most scenes in the desert indistinguishable from real life. All that computing horsepower and fine directing by Gore Verbinski make for a very rich and very familiar western town full of animated creatures. The characters are all quirky and interesting, and Rango is just one of many who is full of spirit and bluster. There is also spirited Beans (voiced by Ilsa Fisher), whose property the Mayor wants to acquire, Rattlesnake Jake (voiced by Bill Nighy) who play the villain, as well as a whole host of ancillary characters to enjoy, one whose voice is a dead ringer for Pat Buttram (Mr. Haney, if you are old enough to remember Green Acres.)

You can take small children to this movie, but it’s really a movie more aimed at adults than children. Much of the humor of the movie will be lost on children, although they should enjoy Rango and the three owls in the Mariachi band that help frame the movie. Children will probably feel bored and the movie may last a little too long for their attention spans. As an animated work marrying fine directing, animation, CGI, story and characterization, the quirky Rango strangely enough sets quite a high bar and it is very humorous to boot. So chances are you will enjoy this weird movie enough to recommend it to your friends, as I am doing with you, friend.

3.3 on my four-point scale.

Rating: ★★★¼ 

 

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