Sunday, December 9, 2012
I am, it perhaps does not need to be said, a grown-up. And I added Rango to my Netflix queue because a lot of other grown-ups recommended that I do so, that I would enjoy the movie's liberal application of classic Western tropes (with a nice dollop of noirish elements sprinkled on top). After watching Rango, all of this seems like the problem in a nutshell. I could appreciate the care that the film took in applying the themes from classic Hollywood movies while all the time wondering what, exactly, was in this film for a kid. What value could they have gotten out of the advice doled out to Rango by a Man With No Name character? How much of Rango's "A Fistful of Dollars meets Chinatown" plot could they have possibly understood without a crash course and a road map?
Johnny Depp plays the titular chameleon, a domesticated animal who literally falls off the truck (it was a station wagon, but you get the idea) and into a tiny, dusty frontier town in the American southwest populated by anthropomorphic tortoises and moles and iguanas. Rango uses his natural self-assuredness to become sheriff of the town in short order, and takes it upon himself to discover why the town's water supply has recently dried up. Isla Fisher plays an iguana whose family farm is on the verge of insolvency because of the lack of water, and Ned Beatty plays the town's mayor, a desert tortoise who is portrayed in full Noah Cross mode, and whose mannerisms do not allow for much mystery as to who is the ultimate villain in this film.
It certainly looks great, with director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Carribean) making the sort of use of perspective that you don't always see in animated films, and the landscape having a beautifully washed-out texture. And there are plenty of laughs to be had, a lot of them coming courtesy of a mariachi band of owls who serve as the Greek chorus of the film, showing up at regular intervals to comment on the state of the plot. But it seems that, when you're making a movie aimed at both kids and their parents, you have to be very careful about how many of your jokes and references appeal entirely to the parents who have to take the children to the film, and Rango just doesn't do a great job of managing this balance. It's a fun movie for what it is, but somewhat of a hollow one, relying too much on the goodwill that its (adult) audience has for Western tropes, and not enough on building its characters and its world for a broader audience. B-