Movie Review: 'Rango'

Filed under: Movies



Rated ON for Ages 9 and Up

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this animated film starring Johnny Depp is as dramatic as it is comedic, and it deals with several mature themes that may go over kids' heads. The main character experiences an identity crisis and ponders life's big questions -- like "Who am I?," "Where do I belong?," and "Why am I here?" (to name just a few of Rango's existential issues). There's also stronger language (both "damn" and "hell" are said several times, as well as insults like "trollop," "tart," and "floozy") and notably more violence than in many animated kids' movies -- violent/scary scenes range from gun showdowns and a gallows outfitted with nooses to a frightening killer hawk and a sadistic snake that threatens beloved characters. A few characters are killed (or nearly killed), shot at, or crushed. But there are also positive messages about living up to your potential, defending those who are defenseless, and the importance of authority figures who do what's in their community's best interest instead of their own.

The good stuff

  • Educational value: The movie is intended to entertain rather than educate.
  • Messages: The movie's messages are mostly philosophical, with the classic "good vs. evil" battle (common to Westerns) as one of the overwhelming themes. Rango's character development encourages viewers to think about who they are and what kind of individuals they want to be; the movie also makes you think about what it takes to become a hero and how lawmakers and politicians bear responsibility to protect their constituents.
  • Role models: Beans is willing to stand up to the Mayor to fight for her family's farm. Rango overcomes his humiliation to defend the town of Dirt against corruption and ruin.

What to watch out for

  • Violence and scariness: Notably more violence than in many animated kids' movies, including a near triple hanging (three nooses hang on gallows) and many genre-specific kinds of violence: gun duels, shoot-outs, and more. In fact, characters all have guns, and most of the violence is at gunpoint, except for the very freaky looking rattlesnake, who threatens to squeeze characters to death (his rattle is a gun!). One character walks around with an arrow stuck in his eye (creepy image); another is suicidal. Characters are killed and shot at. A predatory hawk swoops down and picks up prey to swallow; she terrorizes the inhabitants of Dirt and is killed after a spectacular chase. Characters cross traffic dangerously.
  • Sexy stuff: Mild flirting -- first with a headless Barbie and then with Beans, whom Rango obviously falls in love with throughout the movie.
  • Language: More language than many other animated kids' movies, including "damn," "hell," son of a ...," "tart," "floozy," "trollop," "loser," "I want to see you die," "pathetic," and the Spanish words "cojones" and "huevos" (both of which are included in Mariachi-style songs and are euphemisms for "balls").
  • Consumerism: There's a headless Barbie, but the Barbie's name is never mentioned; also references to Clint Eastwood and his most famous Western character (The Man With No Name), as well as Pop Tarts.
  • Drinking, drugs, and smoking: Much of the movie takes place in a saloon, where the animals drink "cactus juice," which is treated like alcohol.

What's the Story?

"Rango" (voiced by Johnny Depp) is a lonely pet lizard with an active imagination; he fancies himself a swashbuckling hero and puts on "shows" with his companions -- a headless Barbie, a dead insect, and a wind-up plastic fish. But when his owner's car makes a harsh turn, Rango's terrarium falls out onto the highway, leaving him utterly alone in the Mojave Desert. After following the advice of a sage armadillo, Rango comes across a female lizard named Beans (Isla Fisher), who takes him to her Old West hometown of Dirt, where water is such a scarce commodity that it's kept in a bank. Rango spins yarn after yarn about being a legendary bandit killer and manages to fell a killer hawk that terrorizes the town, so Dirt's mayor (Ned Beatty) names him sheriff. But when Rango unintentionally allows the town's water supply to be stolen, he must either find it or admit that he's just a pretender.

Is It Any Good?

With "Rango," director Gore Verbinksi has made a unique animated film that's equal parts "mature" drama, old-school Western, and comedic adventure. This is exactly the kind of movie that proves Pixar isn't the only studio capable of making an animated film that grownups without kids would be compelled to see. From the mariachi owls that act as the chorus and the pitch-perfect voice cast to the gorgeously detailed set -- where the tumbleweeds and dust and desert sun seem as real as in any John Ford film -- "Rango" has a sweeping scope that's thrilling to see.

But for everything "Rango" is, it's definitely not a "whole family" movie outing. There's an intimately personal focus on its main character's development that may be tough for most young kids to understand. Rango often wonders "Who am I?," because underneath his charismatic persona lies a deeply lonely lizard who just wants to call someplace home. The violence feels very realistic, as does Rango's melancholy. Depp and Fisher act their parts wonderfully, and Beans is a particularly good role model for young girls -- she's tough, outspoken, and willing to stand up for justice. Families who want quick laughs, pratfalls, and adorable characters may not appreciate the movie's lingering establishing shots and existential lizard musings. But for those who want an animated homage to the Western with a heavy dose of deep thoughts and good humor, this is a must-see film.

This review of "Rango" was written by Sandie Angulo Chen.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.