OFTENTIMES YOU HEAR the phrase, "Hollywood doesn't give children enough credit." And maybe that's true... but then again, it's not like most kids are nuclear physicists. Generally speaking, they like movies about robot cars, insipid princesses, and talking Chihuahuas. So while a certain level of credit is certainly welcome, the new animated feature Rango provides far too much for the kids—yet not quite enough for adults.
Director Gore Verbinski's (Pirates of the Caribbean) tale of a lost, domesticated chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp) who winds up in a desert town of water-starved animals is a winky, but loving tribute to the cinema—in particular Westerns. The reptile, who fancies himself an actor, is all too happy to become the parched menagerie's sheriff/savior, dubbing himself "Rango," and vowing to discover who's behind the town's missing water supply.
Every possible classic Western personality—from the plucky heroine (Isla Fisher) committed to saving her ranch to the corrupt mayor (Ned Beatty)—is portrayed in animal form, and the genre's touchstone films (High Plains Drifter, Django, The Magnificent Seven, High Noon) are all touched upon. The visual element is stunningly realistic enough to cause distraction as one admires dust swirling in the street, a gorgeous purple sunset, or the tobacco juice dripping from a critter's whiskers. Likewise, the vocal characterizations from all involved are spot on, melding effortlessly into the animals they inhabit.
So what's so wrong? Primarily a script that depends far too heavily on adult laughs (there's even a prostate joke for chrissakes) and not very good ones at that. With so many jokes whizzing over a child's head, and too few hitting their adult targets, Rango plays like a gorgeous love letter to the Western genre that ultimately only its creators can appreciate.