Monday, March 7, 2011


Don’t let the big orange Nickelodeon logo fool you. Rango is a cartoon about little animals but it's not a cartoon for kids; at least not little ones. Cartoons seem to be getting very serious lately. Toy Story 3 definitely had its share of adult themes. Rango does too, but even more so. It’s also violent, dark, scary, and really noisy. I saw more than a few kids covering their ears. Not to mention, some of the cuddly little animals drink and smoke and curse. I loved it, but I’m not little. That reminds me, I need to get back to the gym.

Rango is somebody’s pet chameleon. He’s a privileged, self-proclaimed thespian, but he longs for something more. After a fateful accident, Rango finds himself in an old west town with some rather disgusting, but intricately rendered animals. Rango must prove himself to the town and answer life’s biggest question, “Who am I?”

The story is a pretty good one. It’s well-written and funny, but it’s also full of pretty standard old west archetypes. This movie is a clear descendent of Blazing Saddles and The Andy Griffith show. Rango, and more than a few of his quirks, is homage to Barney Fife. Another interesting comparison I couldn’t help but draw was to the movie Chinatown. Rango’s new home, aptly named Dirt, is suffering through a drought. Rango must figure out who or what is to blame.

What’s most amazing about this movie is the character design. The creatures of Dirt look like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They are so ugly, but you know, in a cute way. They are pretty gross sometimes but so detailed they’re almost beautiful. Although, the guy with the arrow in his eye was pretty gnarly. These are exactly the kind of rodents you’d assume you may find in a town called Dirt.

As much as I loved this movie I just can’t recommend it for families. The reactions from some of the little kids I saw were pretty telling. There are plenty of hilarious sight gags and slapstick jokes that got the little ones laughing. But there are lots of adult jokes and some inappropriate behavior. One has to take into account though that Dirt is an authentic old west town. Characters drink and smoke cigars. Characters point guns and characters get shot. There are a couple scenes that I believe would be absolutely traumatic for a kid. One of the main villains is a giant rattlesnake. I thought the snake from The Jungle Book was freaky, but this guy puts him to shame. He’s a pretty scary dude, and his “rattle” is actually a revolver-like cannon. Another scary scene, one I absolutely loved for its creativity, was when a posse of bat-riding rodents chase Rango and his gang. I mean… what’s more terrifying than bats? Well, rodents riding bats and shooting guns.

The great references and metaphors would also be lost on kids. There are so many cool themes and nods to spaghetti westerns to appreciate. And because Johnny Depp is the star, there’s even a hidden Hunter S. Thompson caricature. Look for it. Unless your kids know who Hunter S. Thompson is, this movie isn’t really for them.

4.5 filthy animals

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