Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Homer eats the Guatemalan Insanity Pepper? If you’re unfamiliar with it, chances are you don’t like The Simpsons, and thus, are dead to me.
Anyway, he eats the pepper whole, then hallucinates a bizarre world (where Johnny Cash plays a Space Coyote, no less). Among the weirdness, nothing is what it seems, but Homer explores this world on a search for inner meaning.
What does this have to do with Rango? Add a few parts ‘western’ to that episode and — boom — you’ve got Rango.
When our title lizard finds himself abandoned somewhere in the middle of the desert, Rango is confronted with the world for the first time. Stumbling across the town of ‘Dirt’, his gift for acting soon convinces the townsfolk that he’s a lizard to be feared and respected. It’s not long before he gets made sheriff and with his newfound power, attempts to get to the bottom of a water-shortage mystery.
If this sounds pretty straight-forward, it’s because I’ve purposely left out the run-over armadillo spirit guide, narrating owl mariachi band, frequent dreamscape premonitions, and general weirdness that makes Rango both unique and slightly off-putting.
What they get right
Whether you love this movie or not, no one is going to accuse it of being unoriginal. From minute one, you know you’re in for something strange and unlike most other animated films. The tonality, language and bizarre tangents present throughout the entire film are testament to that.
And speaking of language, it should probably be said at this point: this isn’t a kids’ movie. Well, not a small child’s movie, anyway. One exchange featured, ‘Damn you, woman!’ and ‘Go to Hell!’ And if it’s one thing we know about children, it’s that they never swear.
The look is gorgeous. Legendary cinematographer, Roger Deakins served as a visual consultant and it shows. There are times you forget the scenery is animated. The soundtrack is great too, courtesy of Mr. Hans Zimmer.
Where they screw up
For all the movie’s cleverness, it wasn’t very funny. Or even very charming. I mean, you could tell it was trying to be, but a lot of the humour just doesn’t connect. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the small references to other films (the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas one in particular), but its reliance on slapstick makes for an uneven experience.
The film also felt a little fuzzy in direction. Quite often, I got the sense that it didn’t really know what it was trying to be. The plot wandered all over the place, and while it wasn’t hard to keep track of everything, it was difficult to care about every little twist and turn in our random little story.
I’ll never condemn a film, particularly an animated film, for going an unconventional route. In a year featuring the highest number of sequels ever, it’s refreshing to watch something original. So for those reasons, Rango is a great watch. But it’s not a perfect film, and desperately needed some genuine, honest laughs in between the quirky, oddball humour. That, or a couple touching moments that make the zaniness a little more relatable.
In the end, Rango was a decent and original film, but not something I have any plans on watching again.