A thespian lizard (and, yes, we do mean Johnny Depp) takes on the role of sheriff—and very little more—in this quirky animated Western from the creator of the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks.
Rango has a tough time blending in. Frankly, it's just not in him. He may have been born with the skin of a chameleon, but he was destined to be an actor.
At any given moment you can usually find him staging one of his own plays in the terrarium—starring him, of course. Supporting roles go to his friends: a headless Barbie torso, a wind-up toy fish and a dead cockroach. Rango has not had a lot of success in front of the footlights.
But the dramatic prospects for this Hawaiian shirt-clad lizard are about to change.
An accident lands the scaly thespian in the middle of the blazing Mojave Desert in the little dried-up town of Dirt. And before the sun-scorched reptile and rodent townsfolk can eat him for an afternoon snack, he jumps into character and convinces the populace he's a fearless gunslinger.
At least they're convinced he might be who he says he is. He can sure enough weave a good tale. He's a bit scrawny, but who's to say? Then, when Rango takes out a town-terrifying hawk, well, it's a sealed deal. He's made sheriff.
After all, they need a good man, er, lizard like him. A critter who can sit tall in the saddle, scare off the desperados and, most importantly, help them find water before they all dry up and blow away.
Cowboy hat-wearing savior/hero is a new role for the zonk-eyed green guy, but he's ready to give it a try. Besides, there's that pretty lizard filly named Beans who's caught his interest. If he can keep this lie up long enough it might just all work out.
When someone steals the last of the town's water, and the outlaw Rattlesnake Jake—with a Gatling gun where his rattle should be—enters the scene, everyone looks to Rango. He's never been much for second acts, but it turns out he's got more gumption than even he thought he had. Although he started out lying about who he is to save his skin, he eventually comes to really care for the residents of Dirt and puts his life on the line for their sakes. And when it comes to Beans, well, he'll even take on Rattlesnake Jake to protect her.
When the town mayor pins a badge on Rango, he tells him that with a new lizard in town, people believe that tomorrow will be better, "And everyone needs to believe in something." Discouraged to the point of wandering across a busy highway without worry of being squashed, Rango is told, "It's the deeds that make the man" and, "No man can walk out on his own story"—wisdom that helps him confront his circumstances and persevere.
The townspeople approach a lonely water spigot in a reverent way, saying, "Acolytes, prepare the holy spigot." They also shout out "hallelujah" and call the gathering a "sacred" time. Later, when several colorful creatures follow the water line underground, they find a cavern full of pipes. One guy says, "It's like seein' the face of God." And the corrupt mayor sets himself up as the shepherd of the "flock."
Somebody requests that they all hold hands and together lift up to The Spirit of the West a prayer of thanks for Rango. Later, Rango meets this "spirit"—a weathered Clint Eastwood type. It's not that Dirt is completely ignorant of biblical truth, though. One woman waves a Bible in Rango's direction, only to have the cocky new sheriff snatch it from her hand and autograph the first page. Rattlesnake Jake threatens Rango with, "If I ever see you again, I will take your soul straight to hell."
While in his terrarium, Rango plays out a short scene with the headless and shirtless Barbie torso, throwing in the quip, "Are those real?" One of the female residents of Dirt sports an overly bulging bustline. A threatening character asks Rango, "You missin' your mama's mangos?" Rango tries to convince people that he and a snake are brothers, saying, "Mama had an active social life."
Rango and Beans kiss.
There's quite a bit of thumping violence played for laughs. And because of the photorealistic nature of the animation, it comes across as pretty graphic (for a PG cartoon, for sure). For instance, a giant hawk chases Rango around town. The bird lashes and snaps at him with an armor-covered beak while the lizard stumbles, tumbles and crashes through things. When cornered, Rango tries to free himself and accidentally shoots a cable that causes a large water tower to crush the bird. Another chase scene features scores of bad guys mounted on bats and dropping dynamite on our scurrying hero and friends. Characters are blown up and hurtle crashing into canyon walls. The bank manager is found dead in the desert, having mysteriously drowned. And the villain intends the same fate for Rango and Beans, who narrowly escape.
Probably one of the scarier locations in the movie is the human highway that stretches through the desert. When Rango walks across it, the oncoming trucks and cars barely avoid crushing him. He meets an armadillo who has been hit; he has a huge tire track smashed through his middle. A bird (who is alive and "well") has an arrow protruding from his eye.
Outsized sharp-toothed predator Rattlesnake Jake lunges at the camera, shooting and crushing other characters. A number of folks wield and shoot rifles and pistols. Rango belches flames into someone's face and then tries to put the fire out with a glass of alcohol. Somebody threatens to cut off somebody else's "giblets."
Beans punches several bad guys—and Rango, too—full in the face. Rango knocks an old woman out by punching her in the face. A father mole repeatedly slaps his boys upside the head.
Crude or Profane Language
Seven or eight times the word "h‑‑‑" is not intended to reference the place. "D‑‑n" and "a‑‑" also show up once each. There's an unfinished "son of a …" (The final word is covered by a bird's squawk.) A character calls out, "Madre de Dios." A Greek chorus in the form of an owl mariachi band sometimes sings out choice little blurbs such as, "Watch him lose his cojones." Name-calling includes "floozy," "tramp" and "trollop."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Cigars and cigarettes are smoked ... a lot. I didn't tally each instance, but USA Today reports that one character or another lights up 60 times in the course of the story. (Rango eats a cigar at one point.) Saloongoers, including Rango, drink "cactus juice." One patron seems to have passed out drunk on the bar. Bean's father is known as a drunk; she states that he'd "been sober for a month."
The bank manager chews Alka-Seltzer tablets.
Other Negative Elements
Rango lies repeatedly for almost always very selfish reasons. (Partial mitigation comes when his fibs are exposed and he has to fess up.)
The flick sports a number of toilet humor gags that center around everything from flatulence, phlegm, laxatives and what Rango is doing in an outhouse, to urine samples, discussions of proctology and "fecal matter," and a joke about an enlarged prostate. There are also a few twisted language jokes that turn off-color. An example: One grizzled critter spouts, "It's a puzzle, like a big ol' mammogram." And Rango says, "I'm gonna strip away this mystery and expose its private parts." An outlaw threatens to cut off a bird's face and use it to "wipe my unmentionables." The song over the closing credits states that Rango's name lived on "in the brothels and saloons."
Directed by the man who helmed the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Rango rides to the rescue with a few appealing qualities in his saddlebag. There's certainly a sense of spur-jangling, scrubby, Wild West adventure on hand. And the hyper-realistic animation is a sure enough purdy treat for the eyes.
Rough riders and a bit of scenery, however, do not a hootenanny make. Like its bulging-eyed stream of consciousness-burbling protagonist, the movie Rango tends to ramble about. In an attempt to make the clearly kid-centric flick adult-friendly too, its creators riddled the script with a movie-trivia pastiche that references everything from High Noon to Star Wars to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Not only do these quirky nods make up the majority of what passes for onscreen humor, they're so obscure that almost all the kids and likely even most of the adults in the audience will easily miss them.
What's left is a predictable spaghetti Western tale that packs into that proverbial saddlebag I mentioned earlier a canteen about half full of toilet humor, an inexplicable string of mild profanities and only enough emotional connection as one might be able to fit inside a shotgun cartridge.
Which means discerning parents will probably let Rango ride through town without no nevermind.