by Gore Verbinski


I was filled with indescribable and immense joy when the end credits for Rango started rolling; what I had just seen was miraculous – an animated film that dared to use hilariously ugly-looking characters, dared to use wonderfully dark humour, dared to become rather surreal at times, dared to use jokes only true film-freaks will get and most amazingly, dared to NOT be in 3D.

ILM’s Rango is the most admirable and amazingly good film of 2011 and possibly the smartest, most well-made and most gorgeously grotesque animated film ever created. Yes, the film is, apart from an adorable mouse, bereft of adorable creatures with which you want to snuggle; these small critters are nasty and beautifully detailed in their absolute filthiness. Each character is unique and fantastically fun to look at.

Johnny Depp, one of my all-time favourites, voices Rango. He is someone’s witty, wacky pet chameleon who loves to act, and after falling out of his owners’ car on a road in the Mojavi desert – and running into another fun Depp-character: Hunter S. Thompson’s author avatar from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – he meets a wise armadillo, Roadkill (Alfred Molina) who explains that he must go into the desert if he is to find The Spirit of The West. In the desert he meets an iguana named Beans (Isla Fisher) who takes him to an Old West town, Dirt, where wonderfully scruffy-looking and marvelously detailed little animals reside.

Rango uses his acting talents to convince the townsfolk that he is a legendary hero who ain’t scared of nothin’ and after he, through pure luck and clumsiness, kills a huge hawk that’s been terrifying the animals of Dirt for a while, everyone is certain of his awesomeness and he is made sheriff by the shifty Mayor Tortoise John Lynch (Ned Beatty). Things get worse though, as someone, possibly a band of subterranean animals and their blind mole leader, Balthazar (Harry Dean Stanton), steals what little water the town has left; also the death of the hawk merely made way for a new threat, the murderous Rattlesnake Jake, voiced wonderfully by Bill Nighy. It is up to Rango to save the townsfolk, even though he is making it all up. The story is narrated by singing owls. Abigail Breslin, Stephen Root, Timothy Olyphant, Ian Abercrombie, Gil Birmingham and Ray Winstone make up a great supporting cast.

To call the film ‘refreshing’ is an understatement, but that is a great word to use to describe it. Aside from Pixar’s films, most of the recent animated motion pictures have been dumbed down for the children, both in their humour, dialogue and cute-looking characters. Rango is no such thing; it is an animated comedy that isn’t afraid to get weird, gruesome or smart.

Indeed, Rango isn’t exactly suitable for younglings, and wonderfully enough, nor was it intended to be. It is void of dumbed down dialogue; instead the characters use big words, make naughty jokes and speak on somewhat disturbing subjects. It does not attempt to be hip and cool by, like Dreamworks, making silly references to pop singers or popular rappers; instead it spoofs and pays tribute to classic films such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Django, Chinatown, Apocalypse Now and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, as well as the more recent Transformers. It does not try to be kid friendly with cute characters; instead we have those icky critters I mentioned. It does not try to be cool by being in 3D; ’nuff said. What I am saying is that there is much to be thankful for here. Hans Zimmer‘s score makes it all the better.

A rather surreal scene in the third Pirates of The Caribbean-movie, also directed by Gore Verbinski, specifically from the part set in Davy Jones’ Locker is similar to one in Rango. It seemed out of place for the Pirates-movie, I think, and served merely as an indication that Rango is the film that Verbinski was destined to make. This is a beatifully detailed, wonderfully grotesque, amazingly animated (ILM should be proud!), brilliantly written and awesomely charming movie. Indeed, I consider it Verbinski’s masterpiece. Is it the best of the year? So it seems.

Roger Ebert was 100% correct when he said that Rango is some kind of miracle. I love this film infinitely.

“By night he drank whiskey, by day killed bad men; and the townspeople knew him as Rango.”