By JAMES MELVILLE
Yeah, I know this came out a few months ago. I didn’t get to see it, because I was LOST IN TIME or in London or wherever the hell I told you I was last semester. But I finally rented it, so guess who gets to hear what I thought about it? You crazy kids, that’s who.
The Plot: A lonely chameleon (Johnny Depp) with identity issues ends up stranded in the old west town of Dirt, where he finds himself caught up in an elaborate lie that convinces the townspeople that he’s the hero they so urgently need and that he so desperately wants to be. When the town’s precious water reserve goes missing, he’ll have to discover whether or not he can live up to his new role.
Rango is a comedy. It’s also a post-modern Western, a witty satire, and an imaginative parable about the search for identity and what it takes to become a legend. I found it consistently funny, which is always nice with a comedy. Much of the humor comes from character quirks, but there’s also unexpected pop culture references that avoid the DreamWorks cheapness and head straight for Tarantino Love of the Cinema territory. And it’s all wrapped up in an excellent script with some fantastic comedic dialogue.
I was initially surprised to find myself watching a kids’ movie with a good script. It’s not that I’ve never seen one before, it’s just that they’ve become increasingly rare. Then I realized that John Logan, who wrote the screenplay, also co-wrote Gladiator. I’m not so surprised anymore.
In addition to being very funny, Rango possesses that elusive beast that’s missing in so many almost-good films: A well-developed protagonist. This goofy-lookin’ chameleon does more than bounce from joke to joke, or location to location. He actually learns things over the course of the film. Not just heavy-handed morals tacked on in the final five minutes, but real, honest-to-goodness lessons. About himself, about being a hero. At the beginning of the film, all he wants is to figure out who he is. He’s in a kind of identity limbo. He does eventually find himself, but not by coming to some big epiphany about his destiny. Like any hero, he defines himself through action. As he’s told at one point, “It’s not about you, it’s about them.” I can’t tell you who says that, because it would give away something truly awesome. But you get the point. Being a hero is about doing things for other people, not just for yourself. That’s a pretty good lesson for kids.
Before I go on my rant about why people who don’t like this movie are wrong, let me digress for a bit. Rango is a very pretty film. The animation is incredibly detailed, which works perfectly for the kind of gritty aesthetic they’re going for. But the grit is coupled with some truly beautiful scenery, bringing to mind John Ford classics. Say what you like about Westerns, but damn, did that man know how to shoot a landscape. I love it when animated films are directed like, well, real films. It’s one of the many things that have made Pixar so successful. Rango isn’t Pixar, though. Nor is it DreamWorks. Nope. It’s the first animated feature by Industrial Light and Magic, whose work you’ve probably seen before in, I don’t know, every Steven Spielberg movie ever. On top of that, the voice acting is excellent. It’s great when Johnny Depp gets to branch out from Rum Pirate and Tim Burton Stock Characters.
Alright, now on with the show.
Most of the criticism I’ve heard about this film points to some of its more adult humor and the numerous references to films that your children are probably too young to see. You know what? There are some grown-up references, but this is by no means a PG-13 movie. I would let my imaginary kids see this, but in the case of real, live offspring, it’s really up to the parents. Watch some trailers, poke around online. Some of it may not be entirely appropriate, but remember this: Rango is a genuine movie. It has a heart, a story, and relatable characters. It’s worth re-watching. If you’re looking for something to kill an afternoon with, I guess this’ll work. But it can be more than that. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be one of those movies that your kids watch years later and love all over again with a fresh understanding. Like Muppet Treasure Island or something. Man, I get so many more jokes from that movie now. I still loved it when I was a kid, though.
Sure, there are more wholesome—or more simple—animated movies out there. But give your kids some credit. They may be innocent, but they aren’t stupid. Why not take them beyond mindless CGI and give them something interesting?
Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed Rango. Will you? I don’t know. Give it a try, though.
Look stuff up! www.imdb.com