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Rango - Film Review

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by Nick Cowling (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer and editor living in Melbourne's western suburbs with a passion for film, books and gaming. Check out my blog at
Published May 15th 2014
A confused chameleon becomes the hero of his own story
Rango Film Poster
The eclectic cast of Rango.

No man can walk out of his own story.

There are, and always will be, two types of kid's films: the ones that the parents are dragged to and have no compulsion to see ever again, or the ones that the adults enjoy so much that they buy the DVD (leading them to hide it in shame when friends come over). Rango is without a doubt in the latter category.


Rango tells the story of a hyperactive chameleon named...well...Rango (voiced by a kinetic Johnny Depp) as he suffers from an identity crisis after a freak accident sees him ejected from his enclosure into the bleached-out harshness of the Mojave Desert.

Struggling to acclimate himself to a hostile environment Rango stumbles upon the ramshackle town of Dirt. The inhabitants of Dirt are a mix of the animals native to the American Southwest. Taking advantage of the confusion surrounding his arrival Rango reinvents himself as a gunslinger in town to restore justice. After a freak accident Rango becomes Sheriff of Dirt and enters the madness of the Mojave with gusto.


Coming in under the radar when first released back in 2011 Rango is a psychedelic Western by way of a detective story with a large dash of a child-friendly holiday film. The film's Wild-West-with-animals setting serves it well and creates some memorable background characters and lines of dialogue (particularly a surreal campfire conversation).

Director Gore Verbinski (who was fresh off of directing the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise at the time) makes the most of his action movie chops to deliver some inventive and beautifully-rendered set pieces. In fact every element of the film is incredibly detailed; the animals look as dirty and scruffy as the surrounding desert, the characters have more personality than some living actors.

Like the best films Rango is also charmingly self-aware: Johnny Depp imbues Rango with a manic persona; navigating a world he doesn't understand but in too deep to quit it. References to Depp's career and the western genre are sprinkled throughout, including a blink-and-you'll-miss-it homage to Depp's role in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which is DEFINITELY NOT a kid's movie (but still a fantastic movie - check it out if you get the chance). A mariachi/minstrel group made up of four owls provides narration of Rango's escalating exploits continuously breaking the fourth wall and entangling themselves in the film's events.

A strong voice cast made up of actors such as Bill Nighy, Isla Fisher, Alfred Molina, Ray Winstone and Ned Beatty breathe life into their characters to the point that you forget you are watching animals and you begin to think of them as humans.

Despite its intended audience Rango is a complex beast. At its heart it is a story of trying to find one's identity amid alien situations and gaining the confidence to become the hero of your own story. In this case I think we can all learn something from this absolutely insane beautiful little film.


Rango is an amazingly good time. People of all ages will find something to enjoy in the film's humour and poignancy. The film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 2011 Oscars, after you have spent two or so hours with the inhabitants of Dirt you will know it earned this award. Also it is really great to see Johnny Depp portray a character who's personality isn't boiled down to wearing a weird hat and talking with an accent.

If you like this also watch: Shrek (2001), WALL-E (2008), Megamind (2010)
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When: Out now on DVD and Blu-ray
Cost: $12.98 (DVD)/ $18.99 (Blu-ray) from JB Hi Fi
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