‘Rango’ Review

Published 4 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)

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  1. I disacgree 100% RANGO ROCKED!

  2. Usually I don’t read reviews for movies I haven’t watched yet, but I do check out the star ratings. Your 2 1/2 made me have to read the review. It’s a little disappointing… I thought the movie looked like it could live up to its trailer potential.

    The behind-the-scenes flashes seen in trailers that show the voice actors walking around on a set – - like a 50-mile-off-Broadway play – - would the movie have been better watching the actors act like that than with the CGI medium?

    • Jessie, if you actually liked the trailers then you might like the film. While it’s not my review I agree with Ben – to me, the movie was just…. bizarre.


      • Well I’d be disappointed if Depp would do something NOT bizarre. Haha :D

      • I have to agree, there were just some scenes that made me go “What?”. And there were comparisons with captain Jack Sparrow…it gave me the idea that this movie was build around mr Depp himself instead of choosing him for this film.

  3. Damn, :(

    • Rick, reviews are the opinion of one person, you should know that by now, the only person who can tell you if you like this movies; is you!

      • Def. MSN reviewer and Roger Ebert gave it four stars. It’s all about everyone’s taste.

      • And me!

  4. Nobody should EVER let a review stop them from viewing a film. If you do that, you might miss out on making the movie something special for yourself. Hell, even Ebert gave it 4 stars and that dude hates everything. Opinions are like a**holes, everyone has one. So go make your own, this movie RULED!

    • Nice.


  5. Ebert hates EVERYTHING?
    we are talking about a guy who placed a Superhero movie(Spider-Man 2)
    at number 4 on his top ten for that year .
    But this time, I am going to go wth Vics review.
    I have had a bad feeling about Rango fromm the start.
    Vics review just verifies that opinion.

  6. oops.
    Sorry about that Ben.
    Good review though.

  7. I loved the trailer! this looks really fun, but im disappointed it scored so low here. i will see it either way. but im curious.. how much do you judge on the cgi? cause to me the cgi on this one looks much the same as all the other animated films lol its not something thats very important to me.

    • The CGI is actually one of the more impressive aspects of the film.

      That said, a 2.5 isn’t a terrible score and there’s definitely fun to be had in Rango. If you enjoy animated films, you may really appreciate Rango for being so different – or you may end up wishing it was more like the Pixar/DreamWorks films we’ve come to respect so much.

  8. The fact that the CGI is top notch is a plus for me. So I’m more excited now :D

    I did felt that having Johnny Depp as an animated character could turn out bad, he comes out as a more facial expression and physical manners kind of actor!

    What seems strange is as said by Ben that the characters don’t come to life, I was sure that since they recorded all the scenes with the actors they’d take advantage of it when translating it to animation :(

    I’ll have to check it out myself and see if I agree :P

  9. The latest bug, lizard, small animal, genetically altered goo, furry alien,,, feel good film of the week.

    What species will be next. So exciting.

  10. Is this something I could take my 4 year olds to?

    • Nautius,

      I think there’s a scene with a rattlesnake near the end that might be a bit scary and the creatures are kind of bizarre looking, but there were plenty of little kids at the screening I attended and they were fine.


      • Several kids at our screening did start crying and had to leave during the rattlesnake scene…. it was on the big screen and very loud so that along with a giant evil snake was a little too much for the under 5′s…..

  11. Is it just me or in the trailers is Depp channeling a little ‘Kermit the Frog’?

    I’ll probably watch this then immediately re-watch Blazing Saddles.

  12. I haven’t seen the film yet, but this is the first somewhat negative review that I have seen on this movie. I probably wasn’t going to see it in the theater, but I will definitely check it out on BR.

  13. It was a snooze fest.

  14. this movie deserves 4 stars minimum…bizarre don’t mean bad. It’s maybe not for little kids, but this movie is truly original whit a great character .

    • I agree completely – not with the review, but with the comment. It is definitely not a children’s movie. It is scary at times, and very philosophic/thought provoking – things that won’t attract children. However, as a high school English teacher I kept thinking throughout that I would be able to use this as a teaching tool for Grade 12 Univerisity English. It has elements of post-modernism, existentialism, feminism, etc. It is a very good movie that is unexpected in the animated film genre. I kept thinking that this would be taken a lot more seriously if acted realistically, not in an animated fashion. A good movie all round. A little slow, but if you go in with little expectation and an open-mind, you should enjoy it. Although I do agree with some of the comments that the minor characters are shallow and archetypal.

      • You use this and the kids will telling jokes at your expense.

        • We already use The Lion King and Shrek – students are generally excited and do not groan about animated films.

          • The Lion King and Shrek are funny.

  15. Just got back from seeing this – for me, your review’s spot on, Ben.

    That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, since it was entertaining, but yeah – decent story, excellent animation, and a bit too in love with its own bizarre humor & tonal shifts for its own good.

  16. Save your money. This film is uses all the Western cliches in the most predictable ways. It’s Westerns meets Chinatown. Instead of humans it’s dirty unkept wild animals.

    • i think i will use them on this movie. but thank you for the warning lol

  17. I had mixed feelings on the film as a whole experience. The film takes too long to make you feel anything for the characters as all of thier development stems from thier current circumstance instead of who they are as individuals. In fact, the lesser characters that populate the town feel more fleshed out than the leads. I get the film’s idea of finding identity and fitting in, but there’s never a sense for a long time that Rango is anything but a blank slate of a character.

    On the other hand, those early and middle parts that suffer from those elements are punctuated and interspersed with moments of absolutely brilliant action and sporadic moments of brilliance.

    The third act, from the moment of Rango’s inevitable confrontation to the end of the film, the characters finally start showing us definitive personality, and the whole story completely embraces not only the tropes, but the genuine feel of a honest-to-goodness spaghetti western. It would have had more impact had the characters shown the audience more of who and why they were the way they were at the begining of the film to form a complete arc, but the last act can’t be denied being consistently brilliant. If only the whole film had been as consistent.

    I think I would have given it more credit than two stars, but I also come in lower than where other critics have put it at 4 stars or higher. It’s enjoyable, and even very effective at eliciting positive audience emotion at times. It just never quite feels like the whole thing fully comes together.

    • I’m replying to myself because my second viewing at home felt remarkably improved from the first. It’s one of my favorites of the year thus far.

      Things that felt slow before feel appropriate on a second showing, and there are little details in the middle parts which play into the films recurring themes which are subtle enough to overlook in the first showing.

      Anyway, 4 1/2 out of 5 is my adjusted rating.

  18. I feel it will be hit or miss for a lot of people. I loved it and found it visually appealing. I had low expectations going in though.

  19. Who wants to look at ugly character designs for 2 hours ?! Sheesh
    I feel sorry for the guys who had to work on this movie and look at it for 3 years.

  20. Visually stunning but mediocre story. Not funny enough for kids, not serious enough for most adults.

  21. Brilliant work of animation.

    • Who cares about the animation when my kids were literally counting the number of curse words in the film. HUGE disapointment! Can’t wait to see how many kids at school are telling each other to “go to hell” after seeing Rango this weekend. Thumbs down Nickelodeon!

      • If language is such a problem, look at the reason for the MPAA’s rating. I found it refreshing to see an animated movie that doesn’t try to cute up the nature of the Old West. I was nervous about this movie on the basis that Nickelodeon was the studio making it, and lately they’ve moved away from more mature animation in favor of really unintelligent work (Avatar being an exception), but I think they did a great job.

  22. Is it me or does Rango seem a lot like A Bug’s Life, which do you like better Rango or A Bug’s Life http://www.filmcrown.com/battle/1759/Rango-VS-A-Bug-s-Life

    • A Bug’s Life was basically the seven samurai, which is what the Magnificent seven copied their story from. So, although I haven’t seen Rango, could this explain it?

  23. CGI was great. Movie was long, boring, and loaded with profanity. We drew the line with “Damn you to hell!” among a ton of other phrases. Not for kids – even our teenagers said that it’s not appropriate for kids. Not a few instances of cussing. A LOT. Why isn’t anyone mentioning it?

    Icing on the cake? When the kid sitting a few rows in front of us laughed like crazy when the critters onscreen were swearing up a storm. We were disgusted.

    Not a PG movie.

    • I bet that you’re quite religious. im sure a PG movie dont have that bad cussing.. such as “damn you to hell”

    • I agree! I had enough trouble swallowing the use of H#ll numerous times. However, when that line came, I was saying out loud..”This is ridiculous.”

      • what are you kidding me?

        • if you’re shocked by the word hell then you might not want to watch anything besides documentaries about birds and cartoons. or just read the bible again

          • Magnus,

            Uncalled for, so stow it. If a movie is aimed at kids then I don’t fault parents for not wanting questionable language in it – even “hell” if it’s an animated movie for kids.

            Problem is, this movie isn’t really for kids.


            • alright alright, i apologize.

              • Quite religious? Not about religion friend, it’s about are YOU taking a 6 yr old to see this movie. I’m a liberal, and I love movies, R, PG13, or whatever. I write them. So don’t think it has anything to do with religion. It has to do with what are we teaching young minds? I walked into the theater thinking my 6 yr old would be watching a creative, ingeniuos movie about a lizard and yada, yada, yada. It’s ANIMATED! It’s PG! I didn’t think he’d be listening and learning about how to tell someone to go to hell, or use “damn” or that it’s okay to choke a woman (lizard girl and she’s looking like she’s dying while being choked by a giant snake!) and use intimidating language while choking her! I’m not taking a kid to see and hear these kinds of things. I liked the movie, but for a young mind, it’s obsurd and almost obscene. I’m kind of upset by the whole shabang.

                • i just want to say that people keep saying “aimed at children” but it CLEARLY STATES that this is a cartoon for adults, not for children. i think that any parent taking a six year old to ANY MOVIE other than a G rated movie needs to check out the information on it before they take their child.

                  • I agree completely Kristen! C’mon people – do your research.

    • @ Mel: I heard the same complaint issues from a women at work who went to this with her own mother and her adult daughter. She thought there was way too much use of the words ‘damn’ and ‘hell.’ While she didn’t have any kids with her, she felt it was inappropriate for a movie aimed at children.

    • I agree. I don’t understand why they would need to add the profanity and the choking of the girl, and the gun usage. It boggles my mind what these guys are putting in kids movies. STOP TEACHING CHILDREN TERRIBLE BEHAVIOR AND LANGUAGE.

      • What this movie TEACHES you is the story of someone who wants to find himself and creates a false image, but through the relationships he creates he can be that hero, for them. Kids learn bad language from their parents but mostly other kids at school. You definitely need to stop worrying about “hell” and realize there are obstacles in all of our lives, and you can’t cute up everything… PG!

    • my kids hear worse cussing from me and my husband.

  24. I happen to have just viewed this movie earlier today. Shocked at the use of profanity. Under the assumption that Nickelodeon would make a kid friendly movie, I went. Very disappointed in a great movie turning sour just because of addition of profanity. Without the profanity, I would have throroughly enjoyed the movie. My son asked me to by this on DVD when it comes out. That is how it happens when we view movies. He requests the ones he likes on DVD…this is one movie I highly doubt he’ll get to obtain due to the profanity factor. NOT called for and would NOT have effected the movie if left to the adult movies.

  25. “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.”

    This line pretty much sums it up for me. I saw this last night and those were my exact thoughts after waking myself up from the half-sleeping state this bore of a film put me in. I can honestly not recall being so disappointed in a movie that I paid money to see in a theatre in a long, long time.

    Any time Beans was on screen I couldn’t help but think of Star Wars most hated character of all time, the annoying, Jar Jar Binks. The resemblance was uncanny and the accent even more annoying than the real Jar Jar. This alone was a huge distraction for me.

    The beautifully done animation just wasn’t enough to distract me from the western cliches and utterly predictable story and overly long story.

  26. People who are shocked at the use of “profanity” in this film may want to take a look at the definition of a PG rated movie.

    PG — Parental Guidance Suggested. Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children. A PG-rated motion picture should be investigated by parents before they let their younger children attend. The PG rating indicates, in the view of the Rating Board, that parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children, and parents should make that decision. The more mature themes in some PG-rated motion pictures may call for parental guidance. There may be some profanity and some depictions of violence or brief nudity. But these elements are not deemed so intense as to require that parents be strongly cautioned beyond the suggestion of parental guidance. There is no drug use content in a PG-rated motion picture.

    • Paul,

      I think most parents still associate PG with “kids’ movie.” Problem is you’ve got commercials/trailers for a CGI animated film with a cute looking lead character, so parents assume it’s for little kids.

      But, yes you are correct.


  27. waste of money. i took 5 kids, 4 kids all complained during the movie they were bored and my 4 year old fell asleep. this was the slowest moving movie i have ever seen. what were they thinking when they made it definitely not enough comedy, action, or color for kids. plus the story line was politically based. do not see in theater wait to rent for the money.

  28. OMG!! I took my 7 year old son today to see Rango……I am lost for words!…….I wanted my money back! We actually walked out of the movie bc of the nasty language and the movie was absolutely BORING! Big disappointment Nickelodeon!

  29. I just took my 6 year old niece to see Rango and I am sick about taking her to such an awful movie. The snake says to a girl while he is holding her upside down that he is going to squeeze her until her eyes pop out and then he is going to drag her to hell. Please do not take your children to see this movie. I wish I had read reviews on this movie prior to taking her, but I foolishly thought a PG rated movie would be ok for her.

    • Yeah, you WERE foolish. I wish I could come up with some witty show involving a cute little snake to counter your comment but I couldn’t find it :(