movie review: Rango

by Leonard Maltin
March 4, 2011 5:00 AM
50 Comments
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It would be unfair, and inaccurate, to call Rango a one-joke movie. There may be two or three; I didn’t count. The first laugh comes with the appearance of a funny-looking Mariachi bird quartet who opens the film and act as a kind of Greek chorus.

The central joke—in fact, the film’s entire conceit—is the sheer absurdity of its main character, a quirky, delusional pet lizard who sports an Aloha shirt and maintains a never-ending line of chatter. His stream-of-consciousness-style dialogue is filled with puns, non-sequiturs, and off-the-wall references, which are good for a couple of chuckles in the early scenes of Rango. In fact, the film gives every indication of being original and fun, which it is—for a while.

After the lizard is separated from his human family and stranded in the desert, he wanders into a desolate—

town called Dirt and, being a theatrical sort of fellow, improvises a persona for himself as a Western hero. It’s the incongruity of Rango in this role that’s supposed to propel the rest of the movie. (Incidentally, the creatures of Dirt spout the same kind of random dialogue as Rango; one creature recalls a time when he found “a human spinal column in his fecal matter.” Now, that’s comedy!)

From this point on, there is sufficient story and character development to fill out a 20-minute short. Unfortunately, Rango runs 107 minutes, and as it ambles along you can feel the life draining from it, like air slowly leaking from a helium balloon.

Much has been made of the fact that director Gore Verbinski, best known for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and writer John Logan, whose credits include Gladiator and The Last Samurai, have never worked in animation before. It shows. While master cinematographer Roger Deakins consulted on the staging (as he did on last year’s How to Train Your Dragon), to good effect, I wonder if anyone lent a guiding hand to the filmmakers on story development and pacing.

As for the look of the characters, the folks at Industrial Light and Magic who designed and animated the picture seem to have gone for realism, making sure we can discern every hair on the furry creatures and every ugly scale on the reptiles and amphibians. Rango actually becomes endearing after a short time, but many of the other characters are just plain gruesome. (Don’t ask me about the rattlesnake who turns up toward the end.)

Fans of Johnny Depp will enjoy his voice work as the nutty Rango; he is obviously having a good time. Ned Beatty’s voice is easily recognizable as the main villain, giving him a one-two punch after working as the nasty Lotso in Toy Story 3. Naturally, he turns in a fine job. The other actors do serviceable work.

This movie must have sounded like a fun idea when it was spitballed by Verbinski and his colleagues. Too bad it didn’t turn out better.

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50 Comments

  • Ted | May 20, 2012 8:19 AMReply

    Wow, visually fascinating if incoherent and inconsistent movie. One of my first problems was with scale. If these are small animals living in a world with humans, and things like the [spoiler alert] pop bottle that saves Rango from a hawk early on are the norm, how then later do all the animals have things scaled down for their world, and still have to rely on humans and their pipes for water? The scene underground [spoiler alert] had a chuckle when the characters file by an enormous eye that opens up and one of the animals deadpans "That's a big one." That's a big what?! What was this enormous creature. I agree with Maltin on this one - too bad it didn't turn out better.

  • Jay Lo | February 8, 2012 12:04 PMReply

    The movie Rango was an awesome kid western which I thought had a great story line to it. My son enjoys watching this movie all the time it’s one of his favorites. Now we can watch it anytime having access to DISH online. The DISH online will provide access to thousands of movies TV shows and right off the DVR. I can go from live TV to a DVR recording or renting a movie. I set this up on the iPad for my son to watch while I get other things done and he loves it. I think this is a great addition to my employee service from DISH.

  • Ceska | October 4, 2011 1:43 AMReply

    Rango is one of the most eccentric animated films you'll ever have the pleasure of sitting through. Its homage to westerns combined with its explosive action sequences, an endless amount of hilarity, tender and sentimental moments that actually make you feel sorry for a talking lizard, and even a little bit of romance pretty much has all your bases covered as far as genres are concerned. Rango is a dark, witty, and entertaining ride that's also fairly mature for an animated film. All in all, Rango is easily the best movie of 2011 so far.

  • Indy | October 2, 2011 4:35 AMReply

    Just finished this with my family and I chuckled at several lines, but overall found it dead slow and dull. My kids and SO didn't laugh At All.

    This movie could EASILY have been half the time and been well done. The animation was fantastic. Overall I'd give it a C-, and glad I didnt spend too much money on it.The scene in the canyon reminded me of Episode I of Star Wars. Just was tapping my hand it was so dull and inconsequential to the film.

    I am amazed at the critical acclaim frankly. Guess this shows how out of touch I am with mainstream opinion. (That is a good thing.)

  • Raykids | August 13, 2011 3:08 AMReply

    First, I like animated movies with a different point of view and not the typical story. The Iron Giant remains one of my favorites. Second, I rented Rango and I didn't read any reviews before seeing it. I had an open mind about this movie. Mildly put, I hated it. Sure, great animation, good voices to characters and interesting idea for a story. Sooo slow though, mostly without a point to much of the interaction. The big moment, when you think this movie may be about a greater story, like water depletion and waste in the USA, it's instead about strange cacti turning a shut off value on and turning the town of Dirt into the town of Mud??!! Personally, I liked only the snake and seeing as he was the bad guyand I was routing for him, well that's not a good thing by then. If you must see this movie, wait until it comes on for free on TV, then PVR it. If you're into wayward noir movies, perfect, watch it in it's entirety, if like most people you want some reason to watch a movie other than Johnny Depp's voice, you can speed through it in 20 minutes and just get to the snake part!

  • Dirk Dangler | July 30, 2011 10:29 AMReply

    Absolutely terrible movie. As another commenter said it oscillates between being an adult and a kids movie. There were perhaps three good laughs all in all.

    The ridiculous amount of movie references is... well ridiculous. Don't have enough of your own content? Let's shove in some movie refs - the average Joe loves it! Bill Nighy even took his Davy Jones signature voice from POTC and reused it. WELL DONE!

    Dialogue was forced and horrible.

    If this is a kids movie explain all the negative comments from parents who took their kids to see this. Bollocks.

    Take any Pixar movie and watch again for a better experience.

    Rango = TRAINWRECK.

  • spam | July 29, 2011 12:40 PMReply

    Loved it. But if you don't have a quirky sense of humour don't bother.

  • Jesseg. | July 25, 2011 4:38 AMReply

    This movie was great. If it wasn't for the opening credits telling me Nickelodeon made this I would've bet it was a Pixar movie. The animation was top-notch and story was thoughtful and entertaining throughout.
    I imagine some people won't like this, but if you're an open-minded movie lover and have an appreciation for originality, then I bet you'll like as much as me.
    Leonard Malten seems to have a very narrow-minded outlook on a lot of movies and it makes you wonder how a guy like that becomes a movie critic. At least the "Leonard Malten Game" is fun.

  • I Love You | July 4, 2011 9:42 AMReply

    I feel sorry for people that took issue with the language. I just watched Rango for the second time, paying careful attention. There wasn't a single swear word in there. No sexual inuendos either (which Shrek is full of by the way). Sure there was one murder, but it was off screen and important to the whole good guys, bad guys element.

    Who I really feel sorry for are the folks who choose to focus solely on one or two minor negatives, blinded to the fact that this movie is chock full of good Christian values from beginning to end in the form of both metaphor and symbolism. If you can't see that, then what do you think that says about you as a person? I'll give you all a hint; there is a reason Los Vegas is called the city of sin, which is exactly what it is supposed to represent in this film. Also ask yourself who historical person that first cactus we see looks like. I could show you a ton of others, but they are really something you all need to figure out on your own (the lizard has two visions for heavens sake, and even the flood of Noah is mentioned).

    For what its worth, I really loved this movie. It sported some of the best CG I've seen to date, a field I am intimate with. In part, the movie is about finding yourself, and ultimately choosing the kind of person you want to be. Another message is that it's not only important to believe in yourself, but more importantly one must also believe in something greater than ones self. That is most important of all if one is to have purpose during our short and fleeting existence. It doesn't even have to be religious. My hat is off to the folks behind this project, as it is an excellent first effort!

    PS: I'm not a Christian or religious at all, for what it's worth. Just thought I'd mention this before the Atheists jump on me for posting something that should be painfully obvious, provided any of us has a lick of common sense (which ain't so common).

    PPS: Yes, it is also a Cohen-esque flick that pays tribute to a number of classics including, but not limited to, spaghetti westerns. It was very cool for this reason as well.

  • Foo! | July 15, 2012 4:46 PM

    This is the best review I've seen, and I totally agree. I've seen Rango six times now.

  • This Old Man | January 14, 2012 3:06 PM

    "Cohen-esque"? You mean Leonard Cohen?

  • ASB | June 28, 2011 6:24 AMReply

    Media-hyped! Script is oscillating between kids and adults view

    Good for a one-time watch. Johnny Depp steals the show just like in Alicein Wonderland. The rest is deja vu- Protagonist pretends to be hero, public finds out and then hero tries to prove a thing or two!

  • Open Minded | June 10, 2011 1:16 AMReply

    Was bored out of my skull...dragged on like forever...just to open a valve for water... and who the hell would of seeing the walking cactus bring the final ending...I'm all drained out.....sheeish!

  • Kate | June 7, 2011 9:34 AMReply

    It sounds like everyones main issue is that they think it's a comedy for children. This is by no means a childrens' movie. Animation no longer means "for kids", and it's an insult to the medium to think so.

    I saw it recently and was surprised by how good it was. It's quirkiness and awkward oddball humor may not strike a chord with some, but for those who this movie was made for, it's a fantastic and a beautifully weird romp. By some of the reviews I had read before-hand, I expected the movie to drag on in its final acts, but it kept its pace up throughout and ended at the right time. The villains were properly villainous, and Rattle Snake Jake was pulled off excellently (guaranteeing to scare your youngsters). Rango dares to be different where other animated flicks are intent on a play it safe formula.

  • Elise | April 22, 2011 5:33 AMReply

    I agree with Leonard Maltin. I am sorry I did not read the review before I went to see the film. I fell asleep twice. There was no clear goal for the main character. I found it practically impossible to identify with any of the characters and as a result didn't really care if they won or lost. I would have left before the end of the film but I was curious to see the snake. When is Hollywood going to realize how important a good story is to a movie. One more thing, did Johnny Depp write his own dialogue? It was silly and disjointed. I would not recommend this film to anyone. Watch the trailer if you want to see the computer animation. It will be a lot cheaper and less boring.

  • After the fact | April 22, 2011 2:50 AMReply

    Addendum:

    You won't enjoy Rango if the most complex story you're ready to engage with is something with colourful cartoon animals and music by the Black Eye Peas.

  • After the fact | April 21, 2011 12:20 PMReply

    I didn't find anything inappropriate in the film, perhaps aside from the prostate exam thing.

    I think it's too easy to confuse the film's inclusive rating with its target market. It's not a kids' film by any means.

  • sjo | April 20, 2011 12:30 PMReply

    My 11-year-old son and I kept waiting for the ending so we could leave. Started out okay but then it really dragged. Thought it was ending a number of times, but then it didn't. We finally walked out before it ended -- at the request of my son. I was glad to oblige him and leave early. Yes it was boring to me, but that wasn't the main problem I have with it; I was most annoyed at the innuendos and simply gross stuff in the movie -- can't believe Hollywood thinks such jokes are entertainment. There were kids and adults in the theater, but no laughter. Should not be marketed AT ALL as an animated kids movie. Maybe it can be aimed at serious film buffs who have the time to evaluate the underlying social meaning of certain comments, but I'm more concerned about what outright meaning of some of the things said here, and yes, a human skeleton in fecal matter that one character alluded to is just gross. Even for my 11-year-old son.

  • Foo! | July 15, 2012 4:50 PM

    This movie is a movie buff's movie. I got almost evry single pop culture reference and hilarious joke that is only funny if you grew up attached to the television by the eyeballs as I was.

  • Ryoku75 | April 11, 2011 10:48 AMReply

    Good spoiler-less review, dunno why people seem to want you dead over an honest opinion.

  • Where'd all the good children's movies go? | April 11, 2011 3:54 AMReply

    Seriously, this movie had a good storyline but what would make it worth seeing is if they deleted the inappropriate language and unneccessary sexual innuendoes. I took my 7 and 9 year old siblings to this and they hated it. If this movie was a "children's movie" then children should enjoy it...I would never see this movie again--

  • Really? | April 10, 2011 3:32 AMReply

    Honestly, you could put air in a helium ballon, it would just kinda suck. Get over yourselfs and realise he's only human and everyone makes a mistake.

    Took my sister to this. She didn't get a single thing about it but loved the owl Mariachi band

  • mikemedlake | April 9, 2011 9:05 AMReply

    Air is comprised of many gases...a helium baloon does not contain pure helium, so as it deflates, helium concentrated AIR is escaping. Amazing how people who can't back up their liking of this movie have to ATTACK the reviewer personally. Shallow movie, boring near end, too many finales, and the anti-christian message bashes you over the head (look at the bad mayor holding up the handle "cross" over the heads of the townspeople and showing how it won't give them the salvation their looking for)

  • Trey | April 8, 2011 12:55 PMReply

    Took my 7 year old to see this movie and was very disappointed and a little disturbed by the sexual innuendos. Is this movie intended for children or adults, because at times, I couldn't tell. One couple actually got up and walked out. I'm just sorry that I didn't do the same.

  • Brad | April 8, 2011 6:15 AMReply

    The problem with this film was that you could feel it reaching for the jokes, and pushing the messages. The producers, as Leonard mentions, never worked with animation before, and so they must think that in a cartoon, you need to use a sledgehammer instead of a suggestion to make sure that the audience gets it.
    And so it will fly right over the heads of kids, while adults will feel condescended to.

  • wing | April 5, 2011 11:40 AMReply

    Rango is indeed entertaining and extremely well-made. Unfortunately this is not a fun film. Since animation in America requires a degree of fun in order to obtain and maintain an audience (let alone the billion-dollar box-office to justify the expense of the film), there has to at least be a song, a human, a SOMETHING to make people run back to see the film again and demand it on DVD/BluRay, etc. This film is perfect for those who love painstakingly accurate visuals, off-beat Hollywood in-jokes, but it offers very little for children or families who just want to see a fun movie.

  • Ken | April 3, 2011 10:17 AMReply

    I disagree with Leonard on this one, the film is funny, quick witted, and moves along at a decent pace. Going in I expected something more for a 7 year old (after all it was done by Nickelodeon) but I was surprised and pleased to find that film held it's own, especially in a tough young adult market. Overall I give it an 9/10 it just needed a little better plot.

  • Julie | April 2, 2011 11:39 AMReply

    We must have been watching a different movie as I thought the characters were great as was the whole movie, but one does need an imagination!!!!!!

  • Nykolle | April 2, 2011 5:56 AMReply

    This review is really accurate to how I felt about the movie. While I understood the jokes, none of them seemed funny enough to remember. The animation was unnecessarily real and left me grossed out, and the plot was... eh. Like several animated movies before it, it's always the humans.

    And the walking cactus? I don't see how that was a logical ending at all. They could have thought that out better. Any movie can have a lot of meaningful, relate-able topics in it, but that doesn't make it a good film.

    I love Johnny, I love the people working in it, but it wasn't worth $10.

  • Eric | April 2, 2011 1:45 AMReply

    This critic should take a bath with a plugged-in toaster, and make his mother happy again.

    What an awful human being.

  • Riley | March 31, 2011 3:21 AMReply

    He didn't say oxygen out of a helium balloon. He said air. Would it have made all of you feel better if he said "gas"?

  • Tommy | March 29, 2011 5:25 AMReply

    First animation film that I'll have zero interest in ever seeing again. When this movie makes it onto the premium cable channels I'll be sure to put it on when I need a nap. Great characters as far as animation imagery but otherwise the story was weak, undeveloped and lacked any suspense.

  • Fattie Acid | March 29, 2011 4:17 AMReply

    Ok seriously! people who take their kids, who are under 12 wont understand anything about the movie! it seems like the audience is for the kids but its not its for mid teens to mid twenties and maybe hitting up to the age of 30. I'm 21 and a film student. And i loved it. The movie had so many meanings to it, and it reflects to so many problems we have in our world, if you cant appreciate that, then why bother watching any movie!?

  • AuronSlayr | March 29, 2011 2:56 AMReply

    I was dying of laughter because of that movie, reading this review makes me sad

  • Peter | March 27, 2011 9:28 AMReply

    Im sorry could you please explain to me what makes you a descent American? is it that you swear, or that you raised snobby children, oh i see its that you are ignorant of other peoples opinions.

  • Decent American | March 27, 2011 9:14 AMReply

    I took my 12 year old and 10 year old to see it. Even they said it sucked. Stupid movie, a total waste of talent and animation. Who green lights this shit?

  • sorry for the spelling error | March 27, 2011 4:34 AMReply

    Sorry.... for us boring movie... not mobie...

  • For us, boring mobie and please get over the 'air' | March 27, 2011 4:33 AMReply

    We just took 5 kids and 4 adults to see this movie. Not one of us liked it, but thats ok. Different strokes and all that.

    The adults ranged from 38-63 and kids from 9-12.

    We all thought the story development was slow and all in all we were bored.

    I have to say one additional thing. Get over the air in the helium balloon for heaven sake. It wasn't that big af a deal.

    It is a movie review, not a lesson on the periodic table.

  • Kyle | March 27, 2011 3:40 AMReply

    I havent seen the movie but am thinking about it.

    But I love this line from the writer of this review: "...like air slowly leaking from a helium balloon." Wow. Not sure if I can take it seriously when the reviewer screws that one up.

  • peter | March 27, 2011 3:24 AMReply

    Within the group of people i know who have seen this movie whose ages range from 16 to 23 and then 40 to 50, over a hundred people have told me that they enjoyed it, almost all of them including myself even have gone back and seen it a second time, and we actually all enjoyed it more, the movie is clever, funny, and incase you have forgotten in your old age leonard it is a kids movie stop expecting some awesome deep meaningful story and look at it for what it is, quality entertainment.

  • mark | March 26, 2011 11:06 AMReply

    fuck you leonard ass face .....rango is the shit dumb ass..why dont you go blow mary and tesh

  • J | March 26, 2011 8:27 AMReply

    This review is smack on perfect! I believe people think they HAVE to like this movie for some odd reason?!? Take a step back and think about it...really was not that good after the first 15-20 mins

  • Howard Schmitt | March 25, 2011 12:08 PMReply

    Air in a Helium balloon ?

  • Ted Fufu | March 25, 2011 10:27 AMReply

    But is this movie worth more or less than the 2 and a half stars given to Laserblast? I'm guessing not from the review.

  • Peter | March 25, 2011 10:26 AMReply

    IN my opinion you aren't doing it justice if you give it less than 4 out of 5

  • peter | March 25, 2011 10:01 AMReply

    Not to troll or anything but why would air be coming our of a helium balloon?

  • Simon | March 24, 2011 4:17 AMReply

    Had the same views after coming out the cinema. Story development and pacing were terrible, how on earth did this not get improved at the storyboarding stage is beyond me. 89% on Rotten WTF 110mins for a movie aimed at kids with a wafer thin story that takes nearly an hour to start ,moving forwards. Should have known better after those terrible POTC sequals.

  • muriel | March 23, 2011 9:30 AMReply

    spoiler alert fucker

  • jacknell | March 21, 2011 4:35 AMReply

    Wow.

  • es | March 5, 2011 4:10 AMReply

    Fun to read a review I totally aggreed with. The voice of Johnny Depp was pretty much what made me stay awake...

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