CAPSULE: A pet chameleon falls from a truck in the middle of the Nevada desert. He soon finds his way to the dying Western town of Dirt where his bragging and his lucky defeat of a predatory hawk make him the town's new sheriff. Sadly, the town is drying up for shortage of water. In the best Western tradition Sheriff Rango sets out to save the town. Sight gags, film references, jokes, action, and just plain funny storytelling follow as thick as a hail of bullets. Director Gore Verbinski shows his animation direction of John Logan's script is as good as his live-action direction on films like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. This is a smart, hip comedy that works for adults and youngsters alike. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
RANGO is a "funny animals" sort of animated film, but the writing and situations are funny enough that it might turn out to be one of the best animated films of the year.
In a world like ours (but where intelligent talking animals live side-by-side with humans) the chameleon who comes to be called Rango (voiced by Johnny Depp) would like to be an actor. He dreams of a life in front of a camera. Then his habitat terrarium rolls off the back of a truck and he finds himself stranded in the dry Mojave Desert. He wanders into the animal-run frontier town of Dirt. Swaggering into the saloon he tries to play the part of a Western tough guy. He brags that he killed a gang of seven outlaws with a single bullet. In a fight with predatory hawk Rango lucks out and kills the hawk. The townspeople now believe his bragging and want Rango as their new sheriff--failing to tell Rango that his predecessors named to that job may have lived to regret it ... or not.
But Rango probably won't have his job long. Dirt has some real problems. Rango comes to the town just as Dirt is parceling out to its citizenry the last few days of water. When the water source dies the town will soon follow it, and that day is less than a week away. Meanwhile the mayor (Ned Beatty) of the town seems to still have big plans. He tells Rango that who controls the water controls everything.
Okay, let me digress here. This is what THE INCREDIBLES called "monologing." It is a major weakness in the writing. This statement is the key to everything that is happening in the town. In his anxiousness to make sure the viewer knows what is going on writer John Logan has the mayor saying exactly the wrong thing to the new sheriff. It is not hard for the viewer to figure out who the villain has to be just by his appearance. This is virtually a confession before Rango even knows there is chicanery going on. And part of the chicanery is the stealing of the plot of CHINATOWN. Another part is the counterfeiting of a cameo appearance that had me fooled. Timothy Olyphant does a spot-on impression of another famous actor. I found completely convincing, and I am generally good with voices.
There were several familiar actors voicing major roles. Besides Depp, Beatty, and Olyphant, there was Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Steven Root, Harry Dean Stanton, and Ray Winstone. Animation directors seem to feel the public needs familiar voices to appreciate the characters. I frankly doubt that most viewers pick up on all these voices. Admittedly some of these are very good actors. But the film industry is full of good and deserving actors who are out of work. I personally think that it is bad for a successful actor to accept a voice-only role that could go to an actor less successful.
It is good that animated films are starting to be considered acceptable for adults with or without children to see. Some of the best writing is going into animated films. I often find myself in theaters seeing animated films where my wife and I are the only party without children present. Good writing should be savored and appreciated and there was really even too much good writing for anyone--adult or child--to take in on one viewing.
Smart, crafty, hip, and full of wit, RANGO may be one of the best films of the year, animated or live action. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1192628/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/rango-2011/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper