What do you get when you add Johnny Depp’s personality to an animated chameleon going through a major identity crisis? You get Rango, the namesake for Gore Verbinski’s latest film. The director of the popular Pirates of the Caribbean series has taken a plunge into the 3D animation world, in order to tell this lizard’s weird and whacky story. Does it work? It’s hard to say.
The story is your typical soul-searching, personal journey everyone can relate to. Starting as a pet with plastic toys for company, Rango finds his existence quite lonely and makes up for it by talking to himself, giving life to his artificial buddies. On a family trip through the desert, his tank flies out of the car and he gets left behind on a dangerous highway. Here he begins a personal and physical voyage to find out his identity. Along the way, he meets numerous other critters, and ends up in a small town where he puts on the guise of a tough Western hero. As his adventure continues, he slowly develops friendships and a clearer notion of himself.
As usual Depp’s performance in the film is quirky, a trait that has made him a poster-boy for millions of teenage girls. Rango the lizard is synonymous with a lot of other characters Depp has played, and through close up shots and monologues we get a sense of how lost he is. With striking visuals and the ever-changing oddball lizard, Depp pulls off a decent voice and screen characterisation. Strangely though, I found I had more of an affinity with characters other than Rango, purely because they were more amusing. For instance, the four Mexican owls narrating the plot while singing and playing Spanish guitars added a little bit of spice to an otherwise borderline dull film.
The overall effect of Rango was curious, because I never felt I was watching a kid’s film. I often note that animators attempt to make their characters accessible to all audiences, with adult themes interlaced within childish fun. Yet in Rango most of the humour was just strange and often awkward; for instance when the town rabbit/doctor offers to perform prostate checks. Every time one of the characters did something oddly mature or bizarre, I had to think twice, but I do think the eccentricity made it more fun to watch.
Rango isn’t ever going to be on my favorite films list. The characterisation was great, but it wasn’t as intriguing as it could have been. Despite the awkwardness though, it somtimes made me laugh, and the animation was stimulating. There was nothing about Rango that I particularly loved, but I did appreciate it.