RANGO (2011) - Reviewed By Movies Zilizotafsiliwa Kiswahili

The Pitch
The last time Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski teamed up, we got Captain Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Caribbeans franchise. Now they are back with an animation about a pet chameleon roughing it out in a small old west town populated by desert animals.

We have seen Johnny Depp in a variety of memorable roles that range from a murderous barber, the owner of a chocolate factor, a author of a classic story and a character from a classic story. Mostly characters that are a bit weird but always interesting.

Rango, a talking lizard who is out of his elements seemed like a role that suits Johnny Depp like a glove. A domestic pet trying to act tough in face of adversity has plenty of opportunities for laughs and Johnny Depp might just be the man to deliver it. The story of an accidental hero is not new but it might be lots of fun with Johnny Depp in the lead role.

Plus Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) who gave us  memorable special effects in Star Wars and plenty of others films, would be providing their first full length computer animation feature. Would be interesting to see if they can challenge Pixar, Dreamworks animation and other animation companies for a piece of the animation market pie.

The Plot
A lonely pet chameleon became accidentally stranded in a dessert after his tank was knocked out of a vehicle. After getting some direction from an armadillo, the chameleon set off to find the town of Dirt. Before reaching there, he was chased by a hawk and was nearly eaten up.

He met Beans (Isla Fisher) and she took her to the Dirt, a small town that looks like the Wild West. He enters a bar and found that it was filled with mean looking animals that are about to chew him up. In a moment of inspiration, he decided to role play as a tough character and called himself Rango. To gain some street cred with the folks in the bar, he decided to share bravado stories of his "past"

 Meanwhile, Beans who was trying to save her father's property, discovered that the only bank in town was running out water. Water in this movie is like the money, a prized commodity in this town and without it, the folks are leaving town.

Rango on the other hand, fascinated the rest with his stories until the real outlaws came by to challenge him. A shootout was about to happen when the hawk returns to Dirt. While everyone scrammed to hide from this predator, Rango was blissfully ignorant about it. In the overused accidental hero angle, Rango eventually found out and in moments of panic, he managed to kill the hawk.

The town mayor decided to make Rango the sheriff of the town and without thinking much about it, he took the job on. A worried Beans then demand Rango to quickly solve the water shortage problem.  Town folks also informed him that with the hawk gone, the second super predator, the rattlesnake might return. Rango who was busking in his new found adulation did not take those warning seriously and promised that he will solved the problem eventually.

On the first night as a sheriff, Rango inadvertently gave the mole robbers the bank location and tools to "prospect" the bank. Waking up to the discover that the bank had been robbed, Rango was tasked to form a posses to retrieve the stolen water. Along the way, Rango and Beans noticed that something is fishy about the town running out of water and it might be more than a mere robbery.

The Perspective
With high expectation comes disappointment. Rango is still somewhat enjoyable entertainment but it's definitely not as good as one would hope for.

From the start, it was incredibly tedious first hour that almost put me to sleep. It could be that I was tired but it felt like a long walk in the hot dry desert. The jokes were mostly flat and the best scenes were already on the trailer. It doesn't help that the movie moves in such a predictable fashion that it felt like it was cut and copy from many classic (cult or otherwise) movies. It's like I seen this movie before, in many different other fashions.

The characterization was a problem here and ironically Rango was the biggest culprit in most part of the movie. It was really hard to relate to this character. Personally, that not much in Rango character that would make me root for this underdog masquerading as a top dog. In fact, he became rather irritating egoistic when he became over confident. Not to mention there a silliness about Rango that seems like a desperate bid to endear himself to the audience. Some might like it but it did very little for me. Using Jack Sparrow as a reference, Johnny Depp's Rango would be like the Captain Sparrow in the last two installments where it would have been better if there's less of Captain Jack Sparrow.

But then again, things start to pick up in the later half when the story finally moved into the right gear. Once Rango and gang attempt to retrieve the water bottle from the moles, the action adventure started to veered into the right excitement. Things became more sinister and dark truths about the missing water started to unravel. A villain that worthy of attention finally shown up and things escalated to an interesting twist. Our hero went on a  personal journey to discover his identity and met a very iconic western genre character before going for a grand showdown.

It makes me wonder what happened in the first half. Was there a change in writers? Why did the story took so long to get where it was going? The last act was the redeeming part of the movie. It makes Rango likable once again and brings some sort of excitement to the movie. If only the movie was consistently good as the last act.

The animation factor. ILM did a commendable job. Some scenes were beautiful to look at. The rendering of Rango and his animal friends were top notch. Personally, I am looking forward to their next animation project.

Last but not least, Rango is filled with reference to classic movies and particularly Johnny Depp movies. See if you could spot references like Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas and Mad Max 2 . Some hit the right spots as intended while others did nothing much as being an obvious reference to those who knows. References to other movies might help up the fun factor of the movie but too much of it might bring along a negative effect.

Watching Rango makes me wonder how is this movie going to be marketed to kids. There are plenty of moments that felt too dark for a kid show. The reference jokes might be lost with them too. Personally, the film is marred by the slow start but somewhat redeemed by the final arc. Rango is entertaining but not as good as expected. Perhaps it's the high expectation or personal weariness that didn't allowed me to enjoy the first half of Rango as much I would like to. I am more than willing to rewatch this movie again to see if the perspective changes.