Friday, August 26, 2011


The foundations for the animated feature Rango (dir. Gore Verbinski, 2011) lie in old films about the American west, especially of the Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone variety, an essay by Joan Didion from the late 1960s, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, Carlos Castaneda, and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Early in the film we get a brief glimpse of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo speeding down a highway in a blue Cadillac. This gives us a clue as to what’s to follow. Not that the film concerns drug addled hallucinations, but that the desert landscape, the creatures who inhabit, are beyond the range of the usual documentary about western wildlife. Of course, Rango is no documentary.

Rango does a surprisingly good job of entertaining its viewers and of pointing out the impact of encroaching civilization on the American western deserts. The environmental dimensions of the desert are pitted against the demands of ruthless corporations for water and for replacing old ways with new ones.

This animated comedy depicts the desert landscape and its characters in a hyper-realistic yet comically exaggerated and caricaturish way. Even without a plot, Rango would be fun to watch simply as an exercise in animation. But it does have a plot: a lizard is thrust from the cage where he has lived all his life. He’s a tall-tale spinner, and when he stumbles into a desert town, his stories convince the townspeople that he is a great hero who will bring water to their parched settlement and vanquish their enemies. Rango must prove himself, win the female lizard who’s attracted his fancy, and defeat corruption and corporate greed.

I enjoyed this film.

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