Why did the armadillo cross the road? To reach enlightenment…or something to that effect. So what happens when you take An American Tail: Fievel Goes West and add more adult themes, creepier characters and loads of cinematic references? You get Rango, and it is one hell of a trip.


Rango (Johnny Depp) is knocked from his serene cage in the back of a car and thrust into the harsh desert of…you find out at the end. He stumbles upon the decrepit, dehydrated town of Dirt and slowly lies his way to the sheriff position and hero status. The quest for all of Dirt’s citizens is to find water, the most prized commodity in their small, isolated town. Once the last bit of water disappears, Rango and his group of rag-tag friends – voiced by the likes of Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin and Alfred Molina – set off to investigate the suspicious lack of water.

Everything about Rango is marketed as a children’s film, but plays out as an adult’s version. There are cinematic references galore throughout. For instance, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas makes multiple appearances. This only adds to the more adult theories of the film, such as the existential conundrum presented by the armadillo in the opening about getting to the other side. Don’t get me wrong, kids will enjoy Rango for the wackiness of Depp’s character and the amazing visuals, but it is tailored more for the adults in the audience.

Rarely do you notice a voice actor’s performance in a film, but Depp finds a way to simply make Rango a piece of himself on the screen. Since Depp – and Nighy – worked with director Gore Verbinski on the Pirates franchise, there are minimal changes in their characters between films, but the way in which those personas fit into Rango works brilliantly.

The subtlety of the details in the animation is striking and exceeds expectations. The cinematography mirrors that of a live-action film, which gives the actions scenes an extra level of excitement and provokes respect for the work the animators produced. There are small moments that remind you this is a fun film, such as Alka Seltzer consumed from an empty glass. You are so engrossed by the film’s style and aesthetics that you sometimes forget (almost) every character is an animal of some sort (note: pay attention to each character because they are given human features to add to their animal/reptile/amphibian features).

Rango is not without its problems though. The pace and story take a significant dip after about seventy minutes, which makes the end drag on a little more than you would have expected from the lightning pace of the rest of the film. There are some odd casting choices for key roles as well, most notably Timothy Olyphant as the Spirit of the West. I have always been a fan of Olyphant, and despite his role in Justified, his voice does not fit this particular character in this setting. A minor quibble, but one that is disappointing when you take the scene’s importance into account.

Regardless, Rango is a lot more fun than I had anticipated. It is bizarre and quirky, but find me a Johnny Depp movie that isn’t. Rango has the right level of childish humor, self-awareness and visual excitement that film fans of all ages can enjoy it.

  1. Rango was a lot more fun than I had anticipated as well. Really nice review

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