‘Rango’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated February 10th, 2012 at 12:07 pm,

Rango Review Rango Review

Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Rango

Rango, the latest animated release from Nickelodeon Movies is also Gore Verbinski’s first film since concluding his Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy in 2007 with the underwhelming At World’s End. Through his work on the Pirates films, Verbinski earned positive buzz for his complicated, but still light-hearted, action set-pieces – as well as a reputation for (some misguided) attempts at simultaneously injecting darker themes and convoluted philosophical ideas into films that were intended as summer popcorn flicks.

Does Verbinski’s CGI animated feature Rango, about a thrill-seeking anthropomorphic chameleon in the prairie town of Dirt, play to the director’s strengths – or does the film juggle too many elements to offer people of all ages a meaningful story as well as a guilt-free action-comedy?

Read on…

As in Verbinski’s prior work, Rango the movie, much like Rango the character, struggles with a significant identity crisis. Instead of blending in – and serving up an exciting kids movie peppered with adult humor and pop culture references, Rango is brazenly unapologetic for the various tones and emotional complexities it explores. To an extent, the frantic back and forth from slapstick humor (there’s even a prostate exam reference) to meditations on identity (punctuated by the Spirit of the West) actually makes Rango unique, and somewhat special, in the current animated film landscape (which can sometimes take itself too seriously) – but it also compromises the overall movie-going experience with too much disjointedness.

If you’re unfamiliar with the film, here’s the synopsis:

The story follows the comical, transformative journey of Rango (Depp), a sheltered chameleon living as an ordinary family pet, while facing 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… until, in a blaze of action-packed situations and encounters with outrageous characters, Rango starts to become the hero he once only pretended to be.

After spending close to eight years of his life on the Pirates trilogy, it’s no surprise that Verbinski approached Johnny Depp to voice the part of the titular character, Rango.

Depp’s performance is solid, as usual – but lacks the kind of energy and charm that audiences associate with the actor’s brand. Whether the result of John Logan’s (somewhat funny) script, the limitations of feature animation, or a reptilian CGI model that can’t successfully convey the subtleties of an actor like Depp, the performance is competent (in delivery and execution) but doesn’t make Rango a particularly vibrant character. Sure he’s a well-meaning everyman that gets in over his head – but a capable vocal performer and beautiful CGI animation (by Industrial Light and Magic, no less) doesn’t automatically translate into a fully formed, or memorable, digital character.

Rango Johnny Depp Rango Review

One of the biggest draw-backs that prevents Rango (as well as the character) from reaching its potential is the film’s on-the-nose reliance on Western character tropes. Instead of developing a unique take on traditional Western characters by capitalizing on the source material while also striving for a vibrant supporting cast, the secondary players in Rango are mostly flat cliches – wrapped up in animal skin. Films like Up, How to Train Your Dragon, and Toy Story 3 have proven that an animated feature is capable of providing audiences with character-driven stories that offer genuinely funny and surprising moments from seemingly generic tropes – ex. Ken in Toy Story 3 is a fashionista.

However, in Rango, the animal characters are even less interesting than what you might see in a regular spaghetti Western – a crotchety old timer and business man (not to mention desert tortoise) and a brave but silent native of the West (presented as a Chihuahuan Raven) – to name a few.

Aside from the visually striking character designs, the film doesn’t really take advantage of the fantasy setting – none of the animals really make use of their beastly origins, the citizens of Dirt live in human-like homes, and despite the film’s message about man’s influence on nature – the two don’t actually interact in any compelling way. As a result, there aren’t many surprises – as if the audience is merely watching a generic western film with animals superimposed over physical human actors.

Rango Los Lobos Rango Review

Verbinski further attempts to riff on the Western template by including several metaphysical scenes where Rango ruminates on the meaning of destiny, identity, and the Spirit of the West. The sequences are visually striking but don’t add much to the story – much like the bizarre stone/crab scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – proving that Verbinski hasn’t quite learned to balance his own proclivity for injecting philosophical fluff into popcorn films that people (young people, especially) just want to get lost in. As a result, for a film predominantly aimed at children, Rango spends too much time attempting to be profound and not enough time being entertaining.

That said, despite the film’s rambling philosophies and lackluster characters, Rango is still an engaging movie – and offers a number of Verbinski’s trademark action/comedy set-pieces, including an intriguing spin on the traditional stage-coach chase – i.e. pursued by a swarm of bats carrying gatling gun-toting red neck moles. There are also plenty of visual gags for younger viewers to enjoy (Rango burping fire in the face of gila monster, Bad Bill) – as well as a few brief respites of adult humor for parents. However, the most memorable aspect of the film has nothing to do with script or story, but the fact that ILM (visual effects firm Industrial Light & Magic) has succeeded in creating some of the animated genre’s most compelling visuals to date.

Rango Industrial Light and Magic Rango Review

In addition to anthropomorphic characters, Rango has quite a bit in common with Pixar’s second feature-film A Bug’s Life – often considered, by comparison, one of the studio’s weakest films (even though it was still a critical and commercial success). There’s no doubt that Rango is a solid animated feature; however, aside from the improved CGI effects, it’s as if the film was produced in the early days of computer animated features – when the bar was a bit lower and teams like Pixar and DreamWorks had yet to master utilizing digital technology to tell heart-felt and character-driven stories in fun and fascinating fantasy settings. As a result, much like the characters in Rango, no matter how competent its various parts, the completed film comes up short in our rapidly changing times.

If you’re still on the fence about Rango, check out the trailer below:

Rango is now playing in wide release.

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Follow us on Twitter @benkendrick and @screenrant and let us know what you thought of the film.

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

TAGS: 2 star movies, rango

87 Comments

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  1. On a first note I loved this movie and I’m 16, mainly for the visuals and I enjoyed the humor aswell. To all the people complaing about the swaring. GET OVER IT! I’ve seen worse in a PG film. You need to realize that kids sware anyway. I know everyone when I went to school swore. Why? might you ask, because kids find it fun to break rules, espescially if they know they won’t get caught. Funny thing is Shows like South Park actually show a very acurate representation of kids today. I guess what I’m trying to say is get over it, kids here it anyway. Just loosen up and have fun. Not saying that swaring is right, just being realistic.

  2. Also to follow up what I said in my comment before hand. To all the people complaining and saying there dissapointed in Nickolodeon. This is Nick we’re talking here, may I bring up such shows as Ren and Stimpy, Invader Zim and SpongeBob. All affore mentioned shows are very profane and pushed the limit of what a kids cartoon could be, all from Nick aswell. I’d rather take a kid to see this than let them have Miley Cyrus or Vannessa Hudgens as role models.

    • You took the words right out of my mouth. I don’t think parents today realize that their little 7 to 13 year olds are running around the school or sitting on the bus cussing up a storm. I liked this movie, espically the fact that they didn’t try to cute up the Old West.

  3. Rango is an amazing animated film and storyline~ Overdue, frankly, from the industry who’s usually or at least seemingly just been grazing the surface of life. Trust me the execution satisfies in a scintillating and gratifying way but most importantly it stirs and dives in deeper offering an invitation to go beyond “this reality”. Yes, that from an animated film. Under the surface this films speaks and aims to tell a tale far greater than most care to go. Go in as an empty vessel and see what you’re filled with when you walk away~ hopefully a new perspective.

  4. Man i seriously dont get all the bitching is about. The more you dont let the children learn the more dangerous it is . My dad let me learn like i tested alcohol when i was quite young but that made me think i already done it or going to the club with a parent to experience and when the child is older the child will think like been there done that the more protective you are the children will want to learn more . As for the movie i thought it was good i like the comedy the storyline wasnt all that bad .

  5. this movie has some funny parts and despite the language my older children enjoyed it and didnt pay no attition to the lauguage used in the movie, my kids hear me say hell on a daily basis and they know not to use them other then when talking about hell its self. its not that bad of a word. there could have been far worse in it.

    • Exactly, and who are these people bringing their 5 year old kids to a PG movie anyway? And even if they want to b**** about that they leave no comment on the story itself! Idiotic… 4/5

      • Here’s a comment for you…
        I usually don’t review the movies I watch, but I feel compelled to mention some details of this film. First of all, I allowed my 7 and 12 year old children to attend this movie as a reward for good grades. When the movie first started, the first thing that bothered me was a bisected armadillo talking to the main character. The armadillo’s name was road kill. No guts, but a bad image. Then, not 15 minutes later, another talking character is snatched up to his death by a large hawk. Also not much fun there. As the movie progressed, many characters died, either by explosion or gunfire. The word “hell” makes an appearance no less than five times along with a single “damn” that is voiced by the rattlesnake. When this one word popped up, my child looked at me and said “Dad…isn’t’ this supposed to be a kids movie?” I shrugged my shoulders and thought to myself, “I don’t know WHAT this is.” Other instances that bothered me was when a child character starts playing with a loaded gun, looking down the barrel, “…look there’s a bullet in there…” and holding it by the trigger. Then, later in the film, the main character is suggested as attempting suicide as a solution to his dreary existence. He doesn’t die, but it is just by luck. All in all, I was mystified by the animation and the cinematography. The content, however, left me very disappointed, wondering if can I EVER take my kids to a PG movie without having to review it first?

        • so, i am assuming you dont take your 7 and 12 year olds on the highway or even let them outside.

          FACT- death. part of life. 7 & 12 y/os should know this, or you are not doing your job as a parent.

          i mean jesus, the discovery channel has more violence on it than this movie.

  6. Rango is far too adult for a PG rating. In one bit, a kid actually holds a gun up to his eyeball, says, “There’s a bullet in there!”, and starts chewing on the end. Even though most of the mature dialogue (mixing up “anagram” with “mammogram”, for example) will go over a kid’s head, parents need to think hard before bringing him/her to see this film. Rentals, anyone?

  7. My favorite movie so far this year. It was a great film with humor, definitely geared for adult appreciation! I haven’t laughed this hard in a movie for a long time.

  8. Eh, this movie isn’t good, in my opinion.

    It was boring to say the least, and a few things weren’t explained.
    Maybe I missed it, but whatever happened to the indian crow guy that got shot in the arm? Did he live or die? Because when that scene is at it’s end, he makes a somewhat stupid joke, and then you never see him again.

    And also, why is it that the little rodent girl with the big eyes has very little to do with the storyline, but is showcased a lot in the small trailers on TV? When I watched the trailers for this, I saw no instance of Ms. Bean, yet I saw almost all of the scenes that had the rodent girl that the real movie offered. When I saw the movie, I saw a lot of Bean, but barely any of the rodent girl.

    I wasn’t really upset about the use of swears in the movie, after all, it was aimed at a more adult crowd, and while I do agree that they didn’t make the West cutesy and kiddish, it still doesn’t make the plot any less of a disappointment.

    Overall, just a disappointing movie that had nice CGI to mask the extreme slowness that made me want my money back. 2/5

  9. I usually don’t review the movies I watch, but I feel compelled to mention some details of this film. First of all, I allowed my 7 and 12 year old children to attend this movie as a reward for good grades. When the movie first started, the first thing that bothered me was a bisected armadillo talking to the main character. The armadillo’s name was road kill. No guts, but a bad image. Then, not 15 minutes later, another talking character is snatched up to his death by a large hawk. Also not much fun there. As the movie progressed, many characters died, either by explosion or gunfire. The word “hell” makes an appearance no less than five times along with a single “damn” that is voiced by the rattlesnake. When this one word popped up, my child looked at me and said “Dad…isn’t’ this supposed to be a kids movie?” I shrugged my shoulders and thought to myself, “I don’t know WHAT this is.” Other instances that bothered me was when a child character starts playing with a loaded gun, looking down the barrel, “…look there’s a bullet in there…” and holding it by the trigger. Then, later in the film, the main character is suggested as attempting suicide as a solution to his dreary existence. He doesn’t die, but it is just by luck. All in all, I was mystified by the animation and the cinematography. The content, however, left me very disappointed, wondering if can I EVER take my kids to a PG movie without having to review it first?

    • “The content, however, left me very disappointed, wondering if can I EVER take my kids to a PG movie without having to review it first?”

      No, you should NEVER take your kids to a PG movie without having to review it first. If you read and understood the definition of the PG rating you wouldn’t be asking that question in the first place because the answer is right there in front of you.

      After reading all of the comments here, I felt compelled to write about this.
      http://bit.ly/hHYX5w

      • Paul,
        Thank you for your comment. I do feel a bit irresponsible after seeing Rango. Here’s my challenge. My family also saw Tangled. Probably one of the most enjoyable films my family has attended together in a long while. It is also rated PG. It seems to be a crap shoot on the PG rating. Mild Violence: Animals getting snatched up by hawks or a horse knocking a person down with a board. To be safe, I think my family will reserve PG movies to our Clearplay machine to edit questionalbe content. For the family, it is strictly G from now on. Again, thanks for the comment.

        • I’m glad you found my comment helpful. It does seem like a crap shoot with PG movies, and takes some research to really know what is going to be acceptable for your children. I wouldn’t automatically write off all PG rated movies just yet. As you already pointed out examples of one geared more for children. There are some good websites out there with movie reviews aimed at parents which outline in very specific detail, anything that may be inappropriate.

  10. This movie was pretty good. But then again I saw it while i was super high so…

  11. This movie was pretty good. But then again I saw it while i was super high so… overall pretty good movie. I loved the references to fear and loathing in las vegas.

  12. I actually saw this film today and thought it was quite good. However I was a little surprised about the guns but didn’t notice any swearing. It was the five year old kids that were moaning in the row in front of me that got on my nerves.

  13. Im not too worried about the cussing. though i wouldnt want my kids saying it, but its kinda inevitable(sp). its more of the other stuff i wasnt too fond of. like the talk of prostate exams and the showing of the dead bank guy and explaining he was drowned to death. and the fact that the owls were hanging by thier necks. ect. i mean i just wouldnt let my kids watch it i dont think its appropriate. PG or not. there is a few other things but im too lazy to type it. i just feel parents need to prescreen a little before they take thier kids to see it. specially if it has some unsavory content.

    • I agree completely. There were several little things that made me think twice.

  14. I watch this animation now.
    itS very good animation and very funny
    this charcter very good desing

  15. farttttttttttttttttttttt.

  16. I liked this movie. It was interesting, unique, and the icing on the cake is the cameo by Raoul Duke and Dr.Gonzo from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I love Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and I heard there was a cameo by Raoul Duke, but actually seeing made me light up, and I was probably the youngest person to get the reference. I would actually say that Fear and Loathing is a one of the many good examples of how good of an actor Johnny Depp is. The same with Rango.

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