If Michelangelo Antonioni and Sergio Leone had a love child and that love child directed a movie the result might be something like “Rango,” the new animated not-only-for-kids movie starring the voice of Johnny Depp.
Depp plays a theatrical chameleon with a big imagination and a host of imaginary friends who finds himself stranded in the desert. Following his shadow he lands in the town of Dirt, a miniature town inhabited by small creatures that look like they just crawled out of a John Ford movie. The town is short of water, in fact, it’s so dry cactus die of thirst. Creating the persona of Rango, a Wild West gunslinger, the lizard hero becomes sheriff and tries to get to the bottom of the water problem.
It’s possible that “Rango” is a movie that only the money-making team of Depp and “Pirates of the Caribbean” director Gore Verbinski could get made. It’s a big budget animated film that must have cost a fortune, but instead of playing it safe they have turned in a surreal family film complete with a cameo from gonzo journalist (and Depp mentor) Hunter S. Thompson. It may be a new kind of kid’s flick—existential comedy for kids.
Like many heroes before him Rango grapples with the big questions—Who am I? What is my destiny?—as he convinces the townsfolk to put their trust in him and “tango with the Rango.” Not sure if the young ones will get it, or if they’ll care about the story, which has more than a whiff of “Chinatown” about it but the animation by George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic—it’s their first fully animated movie in 35 years—will definitely capture their eye.
The movie truly looks fantastic—who knew lizards could have such expressive eyes—but takes a little too long to get to the good stuff. A self indulgent—and bizarre—intro gets things off to a slow start but soon the film finds its own unique rhythm, revealing its own bizarre charms.