I wish I had been there — when writers Gore Verbinski (also director), John Logan and James Ward Byrkit pitched “Rango” to the suits at Paramount. Did they do it a 5 in the morning at a nightclub? Or after a tequila race at a seedy Mexican bar? You see, the concept of this animated movie is nuts. And that’s why I like it. As some of you know, I wasn’t that impressed by “Toy Story 3.” Or “Tangled” for that matter. Most of last year’s animated movies were a bit so-so. Some of them had good ideas, but weren’t very funny in the ending and were plagued by crappy songs. I’m not sure if “Rango” is very funny, as in laugh-out-loud funny, but that doesn’t matter. This movie is nuts. Rango (voiced by Johnny Depp) is a pet chameleon who lives in a fish tank (without water, of course), where he likes to direct and act in his own “movies” — the rest of the cast are old, broken toys. Then one day, the fish tank falls out of a car on a highway running through the desert, and Rango finds himself all by himself in the middle of nowhere. Our hero stumbles upon a run over armadillo, who’s still alive and talks to Rango about getting over to the other side of the road and to find the Spirit of the West. but first, he has to get to a godforsaken town called Dirt. Dirt turns out to be a place straight out of a Spaghetti Western. It’s dusty, populated by ugly, violent people and run by a rich mayor (Ned Beatty does the voice). To melt in, Rango — wearing a Hawaii shirt — pretends he’s an infamous gunslinger, and before he knows it, he’s been elected the new sheriff. And his first mission is to find water; in a variation of “China Town”, the one who controls the water supply is the most powerful one, and there isn’t a drop of water in Dirt. There are more movie references than the one to the Polanski classic in “Rango.” As a matter of fact, the movie is crammed full of em. I missed the press screening of “Rango” and saw it at a regular screening, and to be honest, I’m pretty sure the audience didn’t get most of the loving references. Especially not the ones to Spaghetti Westerns. Sure, the Spirit of the West kind of looks like Clint Eastwood, but there’s much more. The “Rango” theme song resembles the one for Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 classic “Django” (with a touch of Lorne Greene’s “Ringo”). And to make the movie even more wild and wacky, Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” pop up for a couple of seconds. Characters are modeled after Lee Van Cleef and John Huston. For some reason, “Rango” is marketed as a family film. Well, it’s not a movie for the kiddies. The little ones will probably find lots of it funny, but they sure won’t get it. It’s sometimes a quite violent movie, characters actually die, and they also drink alcohol and smoke tobacco. That’s of course very unusual these days. Gore Verbinski is mainly known for the three first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies (he didn’t make the new, upcoming one), and I can’t say I’m a fan of his. I’ve always regarded him as a gun for hire, a competent director who accepts what ever he’s offered. But “Rango” has made me change my opinion on the guy. This is also the very first animated feature from Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas’ effects company. “Rango” is the most bizarre, surprising, unexpected, weird and fun movie I’ve seen in a very long time. Humankind needs more movies like this!
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