Rango is not a children’s movie. The latest offering from Gore Verbinski may be animated like a children’s movie, may be advertised as a children’s movie, but this is definitely not a children’s movie. Instead, Rango seems to be targeted toward the film-lovers who can notice the many movie references and deconstruction of classic tropes.
That isn’t to say that Rango wouldn’t be enjoyed by the general movie audience. Actually, the opposite is likely; Rango is already rumoured to be a strong candidate for the 2012 Best Animated Feature award. Playing out like an existential comedy, the plot of Rango questions the identity of a story’s protagonist while lambasting classic westerns and film-noirs.
Like all good film-noirs, Rango focuses on a conspiracy, a conspiracy which is taken straight from the neo-noir Chinatown. And like all good film-noirs, the conspiracy is complicated with a death, setting into action the events which will shape the town of Dirt. In comes Rango, a wayward chameleon whose knack for telling tall tales earns him the job Sheriff of Dirt. Rango, beginning to believe in the role set out for him, starts becoming the hero he is acting.
This introspection of identity is persistent from the beginning of the film as Rango – who views himself as a sort of thespian – adapts his personality to his surroundings quicker than a chameleon can change its color. In fact, Rango isn’t even the chameleon’s real name; the chameleon has no name. This is exemplified in a hallucinatory dream where Rango meets his spirit guide, whose physical appearance and speech resembles Clint Eastwood. Rango quips, “you used to be the man with no name.” This has become Rango’s identity.
The dream sequences help the viewer experience the emotions of Rango. They are often convoluted and psychedelic, while always staying existential in nature. The dreams never give a clear picture, like viewing the movie through an oil lens, and as Rango travels the hot Mojave Desert it is hard to distinguish the hallucinations from reality. Yet, these dream sequences help us understand Rango’s inner-conflict of identity. They also provide the setting for some of the films funnier jokes.
The jokes of Rango are often references to other films. One of the more obvious references involves machine-gun mounted bats firing on ground targets while Ride of the Valkyries provides the score. In a more subtle parody, Rango splatters on the windshield of a red Chevrolet Impala driven by a raving, cigarette smoking lunatic with a Samoan attorney as passenger. Neither of these scenes would provide much humour if the viewer had not previously seen Apocalypse Now or Fear And Loathing, respectively. Even so, it would be wrong to categorize Rango as unwatchable to those who don’t get the references; while parodies may pass unnoticed, the film remains entertaining throughout.
Rango is a stunning film that a parent will likely enjoy more than their child. The dark tone of the film, gritty artwork, and plot including murder may be frightening to younger viewers (the showing I watched involved a few crying children). Regardless, this will likely be one of the best, if not the best, animated films of the year.