Rango: A clever, cool-looking movie about… uh… water rights?
Oh, Rango, I wanted to like you, I really did. Finally! An animated movie with anthropomorphic animals instead of those freakish, dead-eyed condom children who crawl out of Rockwell paintings when you take too much acid? Yay, I hate those! Remember how much cooler Robin Hood was when he was a fox instead of Kevin Costner? Let’s run with that. And throw in some Hunter Thompson references to boot! I’m lukewarm on the whole kids-movie thing, but if you relate it back to mayhem and drug use, I’ll follow.
And for 20 minutes, it was perfect. Quirky-cute, and with the coolest set of mariachi owls I can remember (it’s the droopy eyes that seal it). In fact, the animation is incredible the entire way through — strange yet photo-realistic at the same time — but this ain’t a graphic design blog. At some point, just wanting to like the idea of something has to give way to the reality of it, or else interest evaporates, which also explains Bob Saget’s last stand-up special. If the base joke isn’t funny, a thousand one-off taglines aren’t going to help it either, you gawky schmuck, but back to the movie. The plot spends far too much time exploring obviously dead-end tangents in 15-minute vignettes of animator masturbating (masturbanimation), which doesn’t disguise a central story that’s wafer thin. Yeah, that’s right, I said wafers. As in “things that are also thin.”
Johnny Depp voices the nameless, pantsless chameleon (JUST LIKE YOU, DAD!), whom we meet while he’s putting on a one-man show. It’s a two-minute scene, but I guess the character’s inherent theatricality is supposed to be a setup for all the movie referencing later on (sort of like Dream On, remember that show?). Suddenly, BOOM! We get snow-globed — in slow motion, to the tune of Ave Maria, which I’m pretty sure is a reference to something — when it’s revealed that the chameleon was in a terrarium, in the back of a convertible on the road to Las Vegas, which hit a bump and sent his whole world floating through the air and crashing onto a lonely highway through the Mojave. That’s how Depp’s tropical lizard comes to find himself stranded in Dirt, a hopeless desert town where water is the currency and there’s only a five-day supply. It’s depressing and sh*tty, just like the real Mojave, but with less meth.
By bumbling his way through a series of Frank Drebin-esque fortunate accidents, Depp’s chameleon comes to take the name Rango, kill an evil hawk, and become the town Sheriff. Soon he’s the town’s only hope, and what they hope for most is water. But why did the water stop, and how will Rango get it back? If you answered A: A greedy developer diverted it to feed his golf course, and B: Rango turns a mysterious valve that magically rights every wrong, floods the town, and kills only the bad guys, congratulations, you are correct.
Everything in between is just tangential fluff, like a 20-minute chase sequence in which Rango runs down some gophers who stole the town’s water. The town only had five days of water to begin with, and the 20 minutes of movie time he spends chasing them down is usually, what, a week in the story? You see what I’m getting at here? Oh, and then there’s the big, scary rattlesnake who shows up after the hawk’s gone (he was scared of the hawk). If Rattlesnake Jake doesn’t get you with his huge fangs, you still have to worry about his tail, which shoots bullets like a gatling gun. And if all THAT weren’t sufficient menace, he also constricts, despite the fact that RATTLESNAKES AREN’T CONSTRICTORS, YOU ASSHOLES. Artistic license, fine, but if we’re already accepting that there’s just this one character in the story who can fire bullets from a bodily orifice like Robocop, don’t start rewriting my goddamned Zoobooks. Moreover, they never fully exploit the comedic potential of the characters as animals in their natural state, like say, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Rango’s love interest is a lizard named “Beans” who freezes when she’s agitated, which would be a neat twist if it happened with any consistency. Meanwhile, Rango holds the distinction of being the only movie chameleon in history who never changes color.
The subplots are overly complex while the overarching story is simplistic and half-baked. Was this whole thing about water rights? So you’re saying we should… not irrigate golf courses? Was it about the power of hope? And if so, I’m confused, are the town’s hopes wrapped up in the water or the idea of a sheriff? Look, I’m not expecting nuanced politics or fresh insight into the human condition from a kids’ cartoon — I spent the whole movie chanting “it’s not going to be Pixar, it’s not going to be Pixar” to myself like an AA mantra — but if you spend the whole movie deflecting from the main conflict, don’t go back and resolve it in five minutes in the most obvious way possible. Also, constricting rattlesnakes? F*ck you, man, seriously.
I give it two shrugs and a “eh, whaddyagonnado.”