Movie studios are not stupid. After years of having to sit through Disney mush like Snow White or 101 Dalmatians they are finally wise to the fact that given the option parents are much more inclined to plump for films that kill two birds with one stone; entertaining the "olds" whilst keeping their little angels/shits quiet.
Hot on the heels of Up and Toy Story 3, superb animations with moving adult themes, Rango is another computer generated masterpiece squarely aimed at the parents rather then the kids.
Directed by Gore Verbinski reprising his Pirates of The Caribbean relationship with Johnny Depp, Rango is an animated western in the classic Sergio Leone mold albeit one awash with film references and sprinklings of surealism that are way over the head of your average 6 year old.
Rango (Depp) is a chameleon with an existential crisis who gets stranded in the Mojave desert. After traipsing through the wilderness he comes across the dusty frontier town of Dirt populated by a rag-tag bunch of animals with problems of their own. They are running dangerously low on water and Rango as the stranger in town, in an effort to ingratiate himself witht he townsfolk sees a chance to reinvent himself as rooting, tooting gunslinger when their last reserves are stolen. Of course Rango is way out of his league but manages to bumble his way through in a typical fish out of water style. Think City Slickers meets Chinatown meets A Man With No Name meets Madagascar.
Make no mistake; Rango is a visual feast. Characters are anthropomorphic treats and the scenery is jaw-droppingly detailed. It is a testament to the technical know-how of the guys at Industrial Light and Magic (Lucasfilms team behind Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park in their first totally animated feature) that to call Rango a cartoon is akin to describing Charlie Sheen as simply "high spirited".
From the trippy dream sequences of cacti morphing into rattlesnakes to Rango and the gang riding into the glittering sunset over partched landscapes the film's eye popping visuals (True Grit cinematographer Rober Deakins should get a mention here) ensure that this is a film that does not require 3D gimmickery to sell the story.
Stylishly shot action sequences elevate the film way beyond your bog standard children's movie with interesting camera angles and atmospheric silences. The numerous extreme close-ups of the protagonsists echo Leone's spaghetti westerns. A thinly veiled Clint Eastwood cameo credited as "The Spirit of The West" who guides Rango on his quest is Verbinski's further doff of the Leone cap.
The screenplay written by John Logan whose previous work on The Aviator and Last Samurai is more cerebral then expected. It has subtle enviromental overtones with unscrupulous mayor (Ned Beatty) risking the town's existance by diverting the water to nearby Las Vegas to waste on frivolous golf courses and hints at how mankind's exploitation is putting lives at risk. Don't worry, Rango doesn't batter you over the heard with its morals like Avatar. Fun and quirkiness are still the name of the game.
Johnny Depp has built a career playing the eccentric oddball. It is something he does well. He uses his vocal talents to great effect here to create the confused distant reptilian cousin to Capt. Jack Sparrow.
Whilst the film is a superbly crafted it does not have the same emotional pull as Up or Toy Story 3 to elevate it into the Oscar bracket. Perhaps the sequel, Rango Must Die will have sufficient gravitas to bother the panel.
A damn fine try though and further proof if proof were needed that cartoons ain't just for kids.