If you’ve ever heard me talk about animation, you know I’m at the forefront of the “Animation is not just for children!” movement. Opponents of that train of thought are, quite simply, daft. Just because children can find enjoyment in a particular animated movie does not mean adults can’t, or even that it was meant for them. Accessibility does not equate to target audience. While it's true that movies like Planet 51 are strictly for kids, films like How to Train Your Dragon, Tangled and many more have proven that animation can delight the young ones in the audience while also sparking the long lost imagination of the older crowd. Well, you can now add Rango, a downright delightful animated Western that ranks among the best non-Pixar offerings in recent memory, to that ever growing list.
As the film begins, we meet a chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp) trapped inside of a glass cage as he rides with his family across the Nevada desert. After the car swerves due to an animal in the road, his cage falls out of the window and smashes, leaving him stranded and alone. However, he soon meets Beans (voiced by Isla Fisher) an iguana who is on her way to Dirt, a town inhabited by animals whose only resource is precious water. When he arrives, he creates a rough and tough identity for himself, calling himself Rango and boasting of violent scuffles that never happened. Impressed by his words, the townsfolk make him sheriff. And he couldn’t have come at a better time because the water is drying up and they hope he will be able to find out why.
If you’ve seen the trailers for Rango, you may be aware of the unique filming style. Although animated, the actors voicing the roles physically acted out the performance. It wasn't motion capture, however. As Depp put it, it was “emotion capture.” This technique allowed the performers to interact with each other (as opposed to the usual solitary voice recordings most other films use) and be as silly as possible while cameras filmed their every move, footage that was later used as reference in the animation process. The approach worked because the fun they undoubtedly had creating the movie flows through the screen like no other film in recent memory.
While much of that is due to the terrific script and the funny delivery by the voice actors, it is also due to the beautiful and vibrant animation that is (shockingly) not hampered by the dimming glasses of 3D. The choice to not put Rango in 3D is a wise one and it shows just how much livelier your film can be with every bright color in its palette popping off the screen. In addition, the attention to detail is astonishing. Some are merely nice touches, like the inclusion of mustache-esque scales on Rattlesnake Jake (voiced by Bill Nighy), but others add to the realism of the unforgiving desert, like backgrounds that look like they’re moving because of the scorching humidity.
Rango may not have the heart of a Pixar film (though it tries), but it has fun, particularly with old Western tropes like horseback riding and standoffs, by putting its own little spin on them and crafting some clever jokes at their expense. It has everything that makes a great Western, only exaggerated and manic to properly fit with the animation style and it works. With the exception of True Grit, Rango is the best example of the genre to come along in years. All things considered, that’s pretty impressive.
Rango receives 4/5