It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that, in the opening moments of Rango, we see an image of one Hunter S. Thompson, behind the wheel of a speeding convertible, rolling through the dusty Nevada desert. An odd cameo for an animated family flick, a nod sure to zoom right over the heads of young viewers (and likely more than a few of the slightly more seasoned audience members as well). But then, this is a very odd movie, which is why a cartoon version of the gonzo journalist doesn’t terribly shock me.
See, while extremely unusual, Rango is a ridiculously creative feature. Gore Verbinksi, reteaming with his Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp, serves up a rootin’-tootin’ western nugget that’s probably a little too dark for wee ones, but then, maybe a little too silly for adults. Honestly, it bounces with caffeine-fuelled ferocity between the two extremes from the first frame right up until the closing credits. But when it does hit its across-the-board-friendly sweet spots — and good news, it does quite often — it really is quite a picture to behold.
Depp provides the pipes as the titular lizard. After being tossed from the cozy comfort of his terrarium when it tumbles from the back of the family’s station wagon, Rango is encouraged by a hunk of road kill (voice of Alfred Molina), to leave the highway, wander into the desert and discover his destiny in the desolate old west town, aptly named Dirt.
And if you’re hearing an Ennio Morricone-style spaghetti western score playing in your head right about now, you’ve already got a good grasp on the rhythm and flavour of Rango.
Rango’s gift for gab makes him an unlikely hero among the locals and soon, he finds himself in the role of Sheriff in the water-starved town. The ‘Dirtonians’ are at the mercy of a sinister mayor (Ned Beatty, a turtle, by the way — not like that really matters), who holds the key to the water supply. Add a nasty bird, a vicious rattlesnake and you’ve got a set-up that would make Clint Eastwood proud.
Oh, speaking of which, three guesses which other legendary figure gets a bit of a tribute via animated cameo? I’ll betcha a fist full of dollars you know him well.
Again, Rango is as strange as it is fun. I can’t recall a more colourful film, and while the gags are a little bit ‘out there’ (suffice to say, Verbinski does for cowboys what he did for pirates), my youngest daughter — who wouldn’t know Hunter S. Thompson from Hunter Hearst Helmsley — absolutely loved it. It is definitely tongue-in-cheek, though. A big lizard’s tongue at that.
Out of a possible five stars, I’ll give Rango a three and a half.The feature is currently playing at the Pen-Mar Cinema Centre in Penticton.
Jason Armstrong is a movie reviewer living in the Okanagan.