If you’re like me, this movie will make you geek out. Rango, as voiced by Johnny Depp, is a domesticated chameleon out of his element. Having fallen out of his terrarium on a road trip, he comes to a town of desert animals. In an attempt to fit in, he claims to have killed seven criminal brothers with one shot, and that is the lie that starts it all off. This is my favorite animated movie since Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and it has so much going for it that I love to see as a moviegoer. Two of my favorite genres are Westerns and Animation, so combining the two is an executive decision that I can really support and get behind. It starts of with this self-aware scene of Rango, acting in his cage, trying to define his role. The whole movie has that meta undertone to it, and narrating mariachi owls highlight this; they come in every 15-20 minutes reassure you that it won’t be long before our protagonist meets his end, and the catch is that the movie is so weird, you’re not certain if they’re kidding or not. This is concrete proof that just because a movie is big budget and animated doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s for kids. Almost all of the characters look like roadkill three times over, and they aren’t afraid to kill some of these creatures, as well as show you hallucinatory dream sequences.
On top of that, you have an entire layer of referential humor that is guaranteed to go over children’s heads; in addition to giving nods to all of the best Leone Westerns (such as the squeaking windmill from Once Upon a Time in the West, for example), they also pay homage to classics in general, such as Chinatown, Jurassic Park and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s just so different from what you usually see, even the way they made this was unusual; instead of the voice actors just coming to a sound stage, they actually had everybody act their scenes out with each other for added effect.
The visuals and audio in this are both amazing. Director Gore Verbinski fought the studio to NOT make this in 3-D, and it was the smart move to make. The rendering on this animation has so much depth, and you can see all of the hard work that went into this. I truly believe that would’ve been cheapened the effect by having animals fly out at the audience. And the score to this is nothing short of sensational; Hans Zimmer once again proves that he can do no wrong and does a dead on Ennio Morricone impression, getting your pulse racing scene after scene. Every single sequence in this is well thought out and choreographed, and when Verbinski is inspired, he turns in jaw dropping work. Another thing I love about this? It finishes incredibly strong. It saves two of the best things for the third act: Rattlesnake Jake and the Spirit of the West. The whole movie, all these characters are referring to this badass snake, and then when he finally gets onscreen, you can see why everybody has been steering clear of him. And the Spirit of the West gives me chills every time I see the scene; there is so much wisdom in this small, 2-minute cameo, and it feels like he is momentarily breaking the fourth wall and talking to me directly, even though I know that he isn’t.
You don’t get to see movies like this made very often, and I don’t care if Gore Verbinski made a deal with the studios to make this in exchange for making the third Pirates movie or the disappointing Lone Ranger; this isn’t something that any studio would ever want to fund, it’s the kind of movie where a director picks up the script, gets inspired and wants to back it. Either way, I’m glad he did, and I am going to continue to get enjoyment every time I rewatch this.
Rango (2011) *****
– Critic for Hire