Rango is a movie that pushes the envelope of computer-generated animation, but it may leave viewers feeling vaguely unsatisfied. The good news is that it is visually amazing, probably worth seeing if you are interested in animation as an art form. Never before have anthropomorphic animals looked so realistic.
This is a parody-western, full of references to classic westerns, and a few classic movies of other genres. Logic and plausibility are not the goal here. But this is no Blazing Saddles. Rango isn’t hilarious; at best it is mildly amusing. The characters, mostly a collection of moth-eaten western movie stereotypes, are neither interesting nor engaging.
The hero is a chameleon (Johnnie Depp) who is living happily alone in a terrarium until an auto accident leaves him stranded in the Mohave Desert. He makes his way to a run-down town called Dirt, inhabited by a motley collection of anthropomorphic desert creatures (except when it suits the animators’ convenience to use a non-desert creature like an opossum.)
The town is threatened by a variety of predators, gunslingers and bandits. It is even more threatened by the fact that its water is mysteriously disappearing. Surely the mayor, a smooth-talking tortoise (Ned Beatty) doesn’t have anything to do with that?
The chameleon convinces the townspeople that he is some sort of legendary western hero and assumes the name “Rango.” As their new sheriff will he be able to defeat the forces threatening the town?
“Rango” is the sort of boastful idiot that Don Knotts used to play. I found these characters pretty irritating when Don Knotts did them, but Johnny Depp doesn’t seem to be an improvement. He usually plays characters who are weird and possibly even insane, but not stupid or dishonest. With Rango he seems to be playing a Don Knotts character straight, robbing it of whatever potential for humor it might have.
Of course in America an animated movie will be watched mostly by young children. The children in the theater watched it mostly in silence. This is unsurprising since most of the humor depends on references to movies that they will not be familiar with. Parents should be aware that the main villain, a realistic-looking giant rattlesnake (Bill Nighy) may be frightening to younger children.