Movie Review - Rango

Johnny Depp's vocal work as a chameleon lizard is very good and funny. Like Toy Story 3, this animated film opens with a play-acting scene. From there, it follows the predictable path of a character who spends most of his time pretending and self-aggrandizing until the end where he finally has to prove himself by telling the truth.
 
The animation from Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the company owned by George Lucas, is glorious. It's up to the same level of detail and photorealism as Pixar's Ratatouille or Warner Bros.' Legend of the Guardians. The lizards and other desert creatures look as life-like as you could possibly get in a cartoon.
 
This is in many ways a good thing and a bad thing. Rango is a spoof of Westerns. In fact, after his illusions are initially and literally shattered, Rango himself walks into a town right out of a classic, John Ford film. There's a stagecoach and an old saloon, and when Rango enters, it's dark and filled with all kinds of characters you'd expect from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) with emphasis, however, on the ugly.
 
I'm sorry, but practically every character in this movie was ugly. Every character that Rango meets in this Town of Dirt reminded me of the Skeksis from The Dark Chrystal (1982). Only the Skeksis were more handsome and at least you had the cute Gelflings to balance it out. There's none of that here. The only exception was a sexy fox, but she's a very brief presence.
 
Rango is tolerable. He's arguably cute, but he's nowhere near as adorable as that Geico lizard in commercials. Yet, even if you closed your eyes and focused solely on the audio, Depp still entertains. He's great with all the crazy stories that Rango tells as well as with Rango's general comic behavior.
 
The movie is an ode to Westerns, so like one, the plot is fairly obvious. A late in the game murder mystery is easy enough for a five-year-old to solve. The bad guys are apparent from the get-go. Unlike Toy Story 3, it doesn't give its evil turtle a good enough backstory to justify his evil behavior as Pixar gave to its evil teddy bear.
 
I also agree with Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's recent review where he felt that some of the material here might not be appropriate for young children. Like with any recent animated film, there are of course themes and references that only adults will get. Toward the end, we see something known as the Spirit of the West, a man with no name who sounded a lot like Timothy Olyphant and looked a lot like Clint Eastwood. I doubt young children will get these blatant references to HBO's Deadwood or the Oscar-winner Unforgiven.
 
Children will more likely be pulled by Rango's Spongebob Squarepants style of antics. The jokes in John Logan's script on the other hand aren't one that I would describe as Nickelodeon-friendly. I haven't watched that children's cable network in a while, so I'm no expert at what passes for Nickelodeon-approved, but jokes about fecal matter and mammograms are oddly placed here.
 
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for rude humor, language, and smoking.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 47 mins.

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