A gunslinging lizard tames the Wild West

by Andrew Scoggins

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Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

A slightly unbalanced thespian is on a road trip through a massive expanse of desert until a car crash leaves the actor stranded. After running from huge monsters, the thespian arrives at a worn-down shantytown and paints himself as the world’s greatest gunslinger, which works well until he has to prove it. It sounds like a standard plotline until the fact that the protagonist is a lizard comes into the equation.

“Rango” is the newest film helmed by Gore Verbinski and starring Johnny Depp, both of “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame. The film is a kid-friendly homage to spaghetti westerns, but what lies just beneath the saccharin surface is an incredibly clever animated film that is entertaining as well as thought-provoking.

Depp shines in his role as Rango. Although Depp has limited experience with animated films, the nervous high-pitched voice suits his character perfectly and it’s easy to tell Depp really had fun with the role.

Much of this could be because of Verbiniski’s process of directing an animated film. Instead of having the actors locked up in a lifeless studio reading from scripts, Verbinski had the actors dress up and act out the roles in person. This slight change makes a world of difference as it also gave the animators a chance to map out all of the minute motions people make unconsciously. This gives the film a real-life quality that is virtually unmatched in animation and completely immerses the audience in the film.

The art direction is also incredibly distinct as all of the characters are purposely made imperfect in a realistic fashion. Rango’s neck has a dramatic bend in it and his head is lopsided, characters have dirty beards and their furs are clumped together. It’s almost possible to imagine the rotten breath of these characters because they are put together so vividly.

The plot of the story is very exciting and leads to very intense scenes in the film. A gunfight atop a speeding wagon against a sky full of bat-riding mole rats with mini guns dropping dynamite is one such part. Speaking of bat country, there is even a clever nod to “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” with the character of Raoul Duke freaking out in the back of a convertible with a fly swatter. But what really separates “Rango” from other animated films is the amount of empathy elicited from the crowd.

The characters are sympathetic and there is always a sense of real danger in the film that keeps the audience enraptured.

The antagonists in the film are very dark characters. Among them, a rattlesnake with a chain-gun for a tail that assures Rango he was sent from Hell itself and a ruthless tortoise mob boss character that will stop at nothing to control the town.

Although the plot goes through some of the same familiar story arcs and does slow down a bit in the middle, the film is incredibly entertaining. It is as much a movie for children as it is for adults. The cinematic journey of Rango is a family friendly story that will delight audiences of all ages.

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