When I watched the “Rango” trailer, I wasn’t impressed. The character design left me cold and I didn’t find anything cute or cuddly about the lead lizard, Rango. But as a Johnny Depp fan, his name sold me, and so I went in with low expectations, assuming I wouldn’t be entertained. Thankfully, I’m quite happy to admit I was was. In fact, I ended up enjoying “Rango “very much. So much so, by the film’s end, I was humming the theme song to myself as I exited the theater.
If you’re not familiar with the plot, here’s the lowdown. “Rango” is about a pet thespian chameleon named Lars (Johnny Depp) who ends up on a highway when his terrarium crashes into the Mojave Desert. Homeless and thirsty, the chameleon — complete with snazzy Hawaiian shirt — goes on a hunt to find water. During his journey, Lars comes across an introspective armadillo (Alfred Molina) that not only directs him to the water he seeks, but to his true calling.
You see, Lars is a lizard without an identity. Before the accident, the chameleon lived vicariously through the characters he created in his little home and his only friends were an orange wind-up plastic fish, a dead bug, and an amputated Barbie without a head. Fortunately, she has one arm so not all is lost!
But when Lars reaches the town of Dirt, by way of a spunky reptile named Beans (Isla Fisher), he claims the personality of Rango. The persona is fictitious and full of hot air, but the locals don’t know any better but to believe his wild tales of adventure. After all, he’s not from around there. Of course, the stranger from the west doesn’t mean any ill by his deception. To him, the part of Rango is a role of a lifetime, complete with a real life audience.
Shortly after his introduction, in a hilarious and well-staged scene, Rango inadvertently brings down a hawk that had been picking off the citizens of Dirt one by one. Impressed with his heroism, the Mayor (Ned Beatty) makes Rango the sheriff, but what should have been an easy post to keep turns out to be very challenging, when the town’s water supply goes missing, propelling Rango into the role of a real hero.
Watching this rich story unfold was a very rewarding and fulfilling ride. Not since the first “Toy Story” has a film made me feel this filled with mirth and I thank director Gore Verbinski and a colorful cast of characters for that. Not to be excluded, screenwriter John Logan (“The Last Samurai,” Bond 23) deserves a hand of applause for creating such a traditional, yet edgy and perfect homage to the Old West. “Rango” is hands down one of the best westerns I’ve had the pleasure of viewing and it’s very well rendered, too.
Sure to be nominated for Best Animated Picture next year, “Rango” rivals Pixar and could very well beat “Cars 2.” The animation is flawless; Industrial Light and Magic truly outdid themselves here. “Rango” grew on me with every passing minute and every supporting character was constructed to perfection. Rattlesnake Jake, voiced by the amazing Bill Nighy, moved so fluid, he was downright eerie.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the influence of Depp, a chameleon in his own right. The “Pirates of the Caribbean” actor is all the more charming off camera. Isla Fisher (Beans), the perfect fiery love interest fighting to keep her daddy’s land, was a hoot and rounding out the impressive cast is a precocious Priscilla voiced by the talented Abigail Breslin and the accomplished Ned Beatty brings much evil-ness to the role of the mayor.
But for me, what ultimately made the film was the inspired soundtrack scored by Hans Zimmer and the title song performed by Los Lobos. Reminiscent of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” and other Spaghetti Westerns, fans of Italian composer Ennio Morricone will be very pleased.
So, definitely wrassle up the kiddies and high-tail your way over to your nearest theater to see “Rango” this weekend. I guarantee you’ll have a rootin, tootin good time.
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