A little bird told me …

Theatrical Release Date: 03/04/2011
Director: Gore Verbinski
Featuring the Voices of: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant, Ray Winstone
Rated: PG for rude humor, language, action and smoking.
Runtime: 1 hour, 47 minutes


No, I haven’t taken any drugs. I’m high on Rango.

From the high seas to the sandy deserts, director Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp step off the Black Pearl and into the world of “Rango”, an animated film about a chameleon turned sheriff in an Old West town in need of some law and order.

What is instantly recognizable in the trailer and carries throughout the film is the beautiful animation style. Everything is highly detailed and crisp, whether it’s a lush sunset or one of the characters’ furry beards, textured skin, or beady eyes. Likewise, the buildings and landscapes are well designed and the entire experience is a visual treat.

However, a film is not made for the eyes alone and whereas “Rango” may be extremely pretty to look at, it’s not so great to actually watch. The entire project is slightly flawed from the outset, as it’s unclear what demographic Verbinski and company are going for. Instead of going for the kiddie set via something like “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West” (yeah, buddy) or a straight western like “Hang ‘Em High”, the result here is a hodgepodge of themes that simply muddles the narrative and fails to execute in either direction.

To no surprise, there are literal and figurative references to one of Depp’s iconic roles – that of Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas”. These are actually rather fun but it’s another element of the production that contributes to the dysfunctionality of the whole, as Depp shades the character with one part Thompson, one part Capt. Jack Sparrow and the rest is actually rather bland and soulless.

Other actors in the cast are more well known for their distinctive voices but their talents are largely wasted. Ray Winstone, with that amazing gravelly tone, is criminally underused as one of the villain’s flunkies; and Bill Nighy, whose British drawl can be so beautifully slippery and slimy, actually plays a villainous snake … but adopts a more conventional American West accent and simply loses so many of the qualities inherent to him that would have worked for the character.

Then there’s the nod to “The Spirit of the West”, as personified by Timothy Olyphant voicing a faux Clint Eastwood. Olyphant’s voice is eerily like a younger Eastwood, and you can see why he’d be cast here for that. However, by no fault of his own, the idea of the character is basically wasted since it’s a nod to adults who love Westerns but fails to really help the collective story, becoming an extraneous element that might have been better served hitting the cutting room floor to shorten the runtime.

But Ian, you say, the movie’s only one hour and 47 minutes. Yeah, but I felt every one of those minutes and quite a few others that apparently only exist in some parallel universe. The pacing of the production drags as the story meanders from point to point and if it weren’t for how stunning some of the animation is, I’d have thought about going to sleep, like some guy behind me did in the screening audience (at least his snoring was relatively quiet).

So, while “Rango” is a beautiful film to look at, it’s definitely not one I’d recommend – for kids or adults … unless you’re really that big of a Johnny Depp fan. In that case, I’m sure you don’t care what I say about the production but I am giving it a 2 out of 5. While I’m hopeful that Nickelodeon films will make more animated films that look this good, I’m more interested that they remember that the mantra should be “story first”. There’s over a dozen Pixar films they can watch for reference if it helps.

2 out of 5