Rango - Blu-ray Review

Stop and think for a minute: is this The Spirit Of The West the character kids really want to see in their animated films?

Gore Verbinski's Rango, a project eight-years-in-the-making, is an aspirational animation which spends about half its time being a typical CGI kid's film and the other half attempting to be a throwback to all sorts of classic Westerns. This leaves the film in rather a quandary. On the one hand, Rango does significantly more than most of its compatriots, throwing in tropes, ideas and even - in some cases - directly lifted shots from classic Westerns. On the other, this is a children's animation with colourful characters, well-rendered visuals and plenty of humour to keep the kid's distracted.

If the above seems like it might create a certain amount of tension then Verbinski is actually careful to avoid this. The 'Spirit Of The West' legend is initially inter-weaved well with the main narrative and there are great pains taken to ensure that even scenes where our hero must engage in definitively Western pursuits are framed well in the comedic world of Dirt which Rango (Johnny Depp) comes to inhabit. For the most part it's a successful melding of reverent genre imitation and beautiful animation.

The embellishments to these base values though seem designed to cause trouble and upset the equilibrium Verbinski works diligently to establish. The central plot is lifted almost verbatim from Chinatown, thus bringing in another overt influence which Verbinski is keen to ape. It isn't needed. Chinatown's plot is a twisting narrative of dark turns and crooked deals and whilst the director does his best to transplant it en masse what he ends up with is a narrative devoid of the subtleties Polanski's film had and left only with the tumultuous plot, which may well be too advanced for youngsters to keep up with. The group of hillbillies who emerge as token antagonists around halfway aren't developed enough and central evil presence Jake The Snake (voiced by a rasping Bill Nighy) has his reveal left too late.

More than that though, what suffers most in Rango is the film's innate sense of fun. Every so often the comedy or the action (or both) have to stop entirely to enable Verbinski to direct a piece of straight-faced Western-admiring. The most noticeable example is the eventual reveal of The Spirit Of The West (Timothy Olyphant) who will mean absolutely nothing to anyone below the age of eighteen but whose presence, Verbinski assumes, is an absolutely necessary one in anything ploughing through the vital brush-strokes of the genre. Stop and think for a minute: is this the character kids really want to see in their animated films?

The invention and aspiration is welcome, as is - to film aficionados at least - its cinematic literacy but the pacing and momentum of the story suffer because of it and several references will pass kids by entirely.

Look further...

'I wouldn’t be surprised if this film wins the Oscar next year... a breath of fresh air within the animation genre which you really can’t miss' - My Film Views, 9/10


  1. Loved this film when I saw it in cinemas, fun and engaging. The references may be obtuse for younger viewers (Chinatown and, oddly enough, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) but to me that was part of its charm.

    Plus its great that we have visual effects boffs ILM trying their hand at animation. The animation field needs a little more variety and while Rango still endorses "talking animals", at least it mixes it with the the more adult genre of the Western. Lots of fun.

  2. I really admired it for its literacy and for the fact that it tries to do something different but I still think it's either an adult film hiding behind kid's tropes or a kid's film with too much adult content. I'm starting to think it's more of the former. Verbinski wanted an animated Western-homage but wanted the box office of a children's animated film. Either way, I do think it creates a tension between the two, although I've read plenty of people saying that they've enjoyed it regardless.

  3. Yeah I get where you are coming from as to whether it is trying to be a solely adult film or not. I saw this in a theatre with a lot of kids and to honest it passsed them by. Too adult for them and that was the litmus testfor me. the humour was adult orientated but viusally and verbally, the kids stood no chance against it.
    I love the adult content though because it reinforces an age old argument of mine that animation is not the domain of just kiddies.
    Every adult I have talked to raved about Rango and I hope animation studios take it on board and make more of these types of features. The animation in this is just amazing and the detailing defies belief.
    I'm a 10/10 with Rango! I consider it the best animated feature of the year.

  4. I liked it a lot more than you did. Thought it was a lot better as other animated movies that are out this year. Its story is quite grown up and the animation is amazing. I'm sure this will walk away with an Oscar....

  5. Yes, I'm starting to think that the Oscar thing is absolutely spot on. There seems to be a lot of love for this around and it is different and aspirational and, in a year where Pixar has done none of those things, I can see it taking the statue.