Making the Grades
It’s been 21 years since the satirical television show The Simpsons released, making animation
as much of an adult form of entertainment as it is for children. But while most of us know the antics of Homer and Bart aren’t always suitable for kids, many parents still get sucked into theater seats believing that if a movie looks like a cartoon it should be okay for families. However, unless references to male rectal exams, a mammography or activities that take place under a woman’s skirts are suitable for your children, Rango may not be.
This nod to the Spaghetti Western is an odd mix of genres as well as time periods and filmmakers don’t appear to feel too constrained to stick with any one for very long. We first meet the small green chameleon (who dreams of being a famous thespian) inside a glass cage in the back of a car speeding down a desert highway. When the driver swerves to miss an armadillo (voice by Alfred Molina) wandering across the road, the lizard (voice by Johnny Depp), his cage and the other inanimate objects inside it (including the naked, upper torso of a headless Barbie) are thrown out an open window.
Not only is the cage shattered in the incident but also the little creature’s hopes for survival. Luckily the armadillo that caused the accident (and now has a tire indentation running through his middle) sends the lizard wandering off across the sand in search of water and some friendly townsfolk.
Unfortunately the citizens of Dirt have neither water nor a friendly welcome, especially for a new arrival that comes dressed in a Hawaiian shirt. Trapped solidly in the old West of the 1800s, they are down to their last drops of the precious liquid and don’t want one more parched throat to quench. With his life in jeopardy, the jittery lizard sees a chance to put his acting aspirations into practice. Spinning a tall tale about his outlaw-killing past and introducing himself with the manly moniker Rango, he is soon pinned with a sheriff’s badge.
While the shiny star seems to make him feel better about himself, it does little to impress Beans (voice by Isla Fisher), a young woman who is about to lose her farm to the Mayor (voice by Ned Beatty), or the precocious little Priscilla (voice by Abigail Breslin). Even the rest of the townspeople become worried about Rango’s ability to lay down the law when Rattlesnake Jake (voice by Bill Nighy) slithers down their dusty main street.
The opening scenes of the animation are driven by a herd of droll one-liners and funny gag jokes. But by the middle of the movie, Rango succumbs to rambling soliloquies. While the long dry spell of action may send the attention of little cowpokes wandering, the film’s frequent gunslinger scenes may cause some consternation for parents. Although animated, characters are shot on screen, crushed, fired upon with explosives and put in dangerous situations. The threads of this story also start to fray when the script gets so tied up in spoofing True Grit, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars and Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name character that it loses its focus.
Much like the furry critters in this movie that spend their time wading through sand in the quest for water, the script seems to be on an endless search for solid footing. With too much content and peril for many young children and not enough substantial storyline for adults, Rango will leave many audience members thirstin’ for a more engaging entertainment option.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Rango.
This film pairs two different eras. Is this a confusing premise? What might be the purpose for it? Does that make the answer to the water question more understandable or is it any easy cop out for the scriptwriters?
What consequences does Rango face for his lies? Do people sometimes need to pretend to be braver or better than they are in order to achieve those characteristics?
This animation attempts to spoof or make reference to several other movies. Does that kind of humor work in this film? What are the drawbacks of using it?
In this movie, one man envisions heaven as a place where he can eat Pop Tarts with Kim Novak. What would your ideal heaven include?