Rango is an incredibly colorful western for adults and children alike, filled with fun voice-acting, music, and action that has a real energy from start to finish. Rango tells the tale of Rango, a pet chameleon who gets let loose into the desert, and stumbles upon a local town with both a water shortage and a shortage of law enforcement. Rango takes on the mantle of town sheriff, and hijinks and action ensues.
First and foremost, Rango is built on Johnny Depp’s lead voice-acting performance. For years now, Johnny Depp has, as an actor, fallen upon certain shtick that is no longer as effective as Tim Burton seems to think it is. Here, however, in an animated film, the over-the-top style that Depp relies upon fits perfectly; Rango takes full advantage of Depp’s ability to colorfully modulate the tone and style of his voice, so that we always appreciate the multiple layers that he is playing at any given moment.
Rango himself is never a cliche or stereotype, even as he dips into various cliches and stereotypes to try to build up his own reputation and self-esteem. It’s not hard to see the lineage that Rango shares with a character like Johnny Depp’s most well-known character, Jack Sparrow, a similarly blustery, preening character who ultimately has a heart underneath the hard exterior.
Rango is filled with homage to past western films and films of all genres, which makes it a great film for cinephiles. Rango verges on post-modernism, with all sorts of internal references to the structure of ’60s western films that it is itself modeled after; this kind of winking-at-the-audience storytelling isn’t always effective, but here it works to create another layer for the audience to pay attention to; it’s a knowing-nod to the audience, as if to say, “Yes, this type of story has been done a million times before, but we know what we’re doing.”
The musical cues here are great, with composer Hans Zimmer throwing in reference after reference to iconic musical scoring from all sorts of film. Hans Zimmer’s greatest strength as a composer is his great appreciation for style. He always has an absolute grasp of atmosphere and color, and that is conveyed here (as any other film that he’s composed for).
Rango is a film of great color and energy and enthusiasm. It may be a film targeted for a younger audience, but there’s stuff here that anyone could appreciate. Well-made films are a dime a dozen, but films this fun don’t come around every day.