Directed by Gore Verbinski, Written by Gore Verbinski, John Logan, and James Ward Byrkit, 107 minutes, Rated PG.
By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz
Director Gore Verbinski certainly had a lot on his mind when directing his first animated feature "Rango"--and he shows it all off in the film's quick 105-minutes. Utilizing the boundless tools of his technically arresting animation, Verbinski puts our titular lizard through the ringer and makes sure he feels every obstacle. Rango may be a CGI-talking lizard, but his character and journey are as complex as any you'll find at the movies this year.
Johnny Depp voices the thespian reptile, who, after accidentally being released from his comfortable but lonely life as a pet lizard, finds himself at a desert outpost with a serious water shortage. Armed with nothing but a red flower shirt and an overactive imagination, the lizard takes on the moniker Rango and accidentally saves the town from a local hawk. Impressed by his ability to tackle the bird with a single bullet, the town names the newcomer sheriff -- his first case: Locate the missing water.
Verbinski populates his film with great heroes and villains that pay homage to and revise their influences. Fellow lizard Beans (Isla Fisher) makes a good match for Rango, complementing his incompetence with logic, while giving her enough history to make her need for a savior reasonable. She never appears incapable, yet remains entirely vulnerable. The same holds true for Rango, who, despite having the guts to stand up for the town, just flies by the seat of his pants. He's the mythic Man without a Name as well as the Man without a Clue.
These characters aren’t perfect, which makes steering the complex plot exciting. Rango hits many walls that his confident cowboy influences wouldn't do as his naiveté and silliness add humor to the spaghetti Western without openly mocking it. Rango plays off clichés, and in turn does his best to fulfill them, and Depp has a ball trying to pull it off.
"Rango" has everything going for it -- strong characters, complex plotting, and a knowledge of the genre it parodies without excluding newcomers to it. It’s smart without being alienating and exciting without being mindless. Verbinski's skill with the beautifully rendered animation--and his dynamic character work--make "Rango" a great time for all comers, and with such a fun lead character, his journey becomes as surprising as the overall production.