Plot: As he travels through the desert on the roof of a car, safe inside his aquarium, a chameleon finds himself in trouble after his owner has a car accident. The small lizard is thrown off the car and manages to survive the crash, then gets some sage advice from an armadillo, before he explores the desert. As he approaches a dusty town known as Dirt, he decides he can have a new life and be whoever he wants, so he settles on a gunslinger persona, named Rango. He soon learns that Dirt is in the middle of a serious situation, one that threatens the entire town’s population. The water supply is bone dry and no one seems to have an answer, but Rango’s accidental defeat of a dangerous hawk makes them think he could be the hero they need. He agrees to lend a hand, but finds himself in over his head in scenario after scenario, somehow managing to keep up his facade as he goes. But is Rango destined to be the hero to save Dirt, or will they learn the truth about his false claims and persona?
Entertainment Value: One of the most surreal, offbeat animated features ever, Rango riled up some parents due to some questionable content, but the movie was a smash hit and even earned an Oscar as Best Animated Feature. A lot of animated movies aimed at kids tend to throw in references or sly humor to keep adults entertained, but Rango is open in how it courts both grown ups and younger audiences. A western at heart, the movie’s narrative borrows from some familiar westerns, as a town relies on a new hero to save them, unaware he isn’t what he seems. But this never feels “been there, done that” or even close, thanks to the colorful characters, wild situations, and off the wall humor involved. Rango is populated with a wide scope of odd and interesting folks, but it makes sure to include some little tidbits about most of the ensemble, so no one feels like mere set dressing here. The humor is a blend of slapstick and silly jokes you’d expect, but also plenty of dialogue that adults will appreciate, especially if they happen to be big western fans. The pace is brisk and the humor is consistent, but things never feel rushed and both the story and characters are given ample room to breathe and develop, which ensures Rango delivers.
The voice talent in this one is impressive, with Johnny Depp in the lead as our roguish chameleon. Depp is great in this role, able to milk all the humor from the lines, but not going over the top, as some actors do in animated voice work. He gives Rango a sense of coolness, but also a little awkward weirdness, which I think suits the character quite well. Isla Fisher is terrific as Beans and she is able to dial up her performance a little, as she is given a more broad character to work with. The rest of the cast is good as well, with familiar names in even the smallest of roles, so this is a remarkable ensemble of talent. The cast also includes Abigail Breslin, Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Root, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Harry Dean Stanton, Bill Nighy, Ray Winstone, and even more, a fully loaded lineup. The animation in Rango is beautiful, with incredible attention to detail and some simply gorgeous visuals to soak in. You could pause just about any scene and marvel at all the little touches, with so much detail packed into each location and character. I also appreciate how varied the character designs are, even animals of the same species retain a unique, distinct look. I think Rango is one of the better animated movies out there and the decision to go down a surreal, unpredictable path serves the movie quite well.