2011 is turning into the Year of the Western. Hot on the spurs of True Grit comes Rango. It may be animated, it may focus on a chameleon with a wonky neck, but it was just as true and it was just as gritty. It was also extremely pretty. Except for the mole rats.
Rango tells the tell of a pet chameleon who is just waiting for that moment that will change everything, that will force him into knowing who he is, that will give him that role – the public – that he requires. He gets it when the car that his tank is travelling in runs over something squishy and Rango, as he becomes, crashes out of his tank and ends up alone by the side of a busy road in a desert of sand in the hot, hot sun. He heads for the town of Dirt and finds a town desiccated by lack of water. A gun fight or two later, he determines to rally the town, making it save itself, while falling for the girl – or lizard… or gecko… (with ringlets).
I thoroughly enjoyed Rango – it looks incredible and it sounds like the Wild West. There is much to recognise and hum to from the soundtrack and the whole film feels like a homage to your favourite westerns. Even the god of this world, when Rango finally finds him, is a familiar figure with no name. But what drew me in were the characters – every desert animal you can imagine and more besides are trying to make a life in dirt – lizards, rats, owls, frogs and toads, rodent things, other reptiles (watching this film with a naturalist would have helped because the creatures are realised with such exquisite attention to detail that you could identify them from a desert animal guide – if you knew what you were looking at).
The adventure begins straight away and the pace keeps up throughout as the race is on to return water to Dirt. There is a fabulous chase between the goodies – on roadrunners – and the baddies – on bats – through the desert canyons. Throughout, the ultimate threat comes from Rattlesnake Jake, an evil snake, wrapped in bullet belts and with a wit as wriggly as his body and a gun for a rattle. Golf doesn’t come out of this too well, either.
Johnny Depp voices Rango. The range of accents and the push and pull of the voice meant that Depp’s presence wasn’t intrusive, at least for me. Not something that could be said for Bill Nighy’s Jake the Snake – I did find myself back in the Pirates movies (possibly not surprising considering the director Gore Verbinski). It was a pleasure to pick out the voices of other actors such as Alfred Molina and Ray Winstone. The music is also wonderful and it’s not surprising to find out it’s the work of Hans Zimmer.
A good animation should contain something for adults and for children. Kids would no doubt love the action of Rango, plus there are some very cheeky desert critters here, but there is much to make adults laugh out loud as they marvel at the animation. Grown up humour is abundant and yet even more obvious laughs can be had at every corner. After a while, I found myself forgetting that I was watching the story of a little chameleon wearing a sheriff’s badge. I was back in the west, the wild, wild west.