Recent Oscar winner Rango is an animated Western with a fairly typical Western plot. A stranger comes to town to discover an unhappy populace whose deprivations are caused by a wealthy and sinister landowner, backed up by criminals and thugs. The stranger, in this case a lizard named Rango voiced by Johnny Depp, having dissembled about his past, is deputized as sheriff and must walk the line between helping the townspeople and the evil boss. Of course, there’s a love interest, a weird female lizard with the unappealing name Beans, voiced by Isla Fisher, who is as odd as everything else in this movie, and an assortment of animal characters including snakes, rats, tortoises, hawks, and some creatures that cannot be easily identified.
Ultimately, Rango must, of course, face up to the lies he has told and the friends he has betrayed. He’s helped along this road by a famous actor in Westerns, who appears as a kind of spirit guide, part of the “mythical West,” and is voiced not by that actor but by Justified star Timothy Olyphant.
Rango must have confused many children, used to saturated Disney and Pixar colors, with its palette of grays and tans. It’s also got some violence and death which is not magically reversed, and some dialogue that would probably need to be explained to children, such as “I’m going to slice your face off and use it to wipe my unmentionables!”
Director Gore Verbinski probably never expected to be standing at the Oscar podium, having previously directed the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and The Ring. Animation proved the path to gold, but he was also fortunate in that Pixar’s 2011 movie, Cars 2, did not even get a nomination. Rango is a fun movie, and nobody said that all animated movies must be bright and shiny.