Rango (2011): Animated Animals Re-Create Spaghetti Western Chinatown

Rango (2011 film)
Rango (2011 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The alternate title for this review was going to be, “Silly rabbit these Trix are not for kids.” But it sounded too trite and perhaps eclectic, even though the film is definitely not for the younger members of the audience. Wikipedia calls Rango a ‘ computer-animated family comedy film‘and that’s not too far from the truth. IMDb comes a bit closer with simply categorizing it as an ‘Animated Adventure Comedy.

The marketing for Rango was abysmal. It was advertised as (like the Wikipedia entry) a family film. One that you could take your toddlers to and they would enjoy it whole heartedly. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on whether you are a toddler or not) the film is too sophisticated and clever for the younger audience members to “get.”

Trailers for the film focussed on the more ‘slapstick’ aspects of the movie and left out the sly nudges and winks that the creators intentionally put into the film to pay homage to just about every spaghetti western ever made. In fact the entire film pays homage to just about every western ever made.

What transforms the film from just being clever, witty fun and propels it into the realm of genius was the decision make the entire cast animated animals who, in essence, are re-enacting the plot from Roman Polanski‘s Chinatown. But that isn’t all the film pokes fun at.

The casting of the real actors who voice their animated counterparts is another nudge and wink, not only to the actor’s themselves but to the stereotypical roles that they usually play.  Alfred Molina the English Actor has been cast as a ‘Mexican’ heavy  a lot. Casting him as the ‘Mexican’ armadillo who starts the whole story moving was slyly funny.

Johnny Depp as the chameleon lead Rango was again another great touch and pointing out that Depp the actor was just that, a chameleon.  Ned Beatty as the villainous and scheming Mayor was another brilliant touch and the second ‘villain’ role for Beatty as an animated ‘baddy.’ Beatty had voiced the cruel teddy Lotso in Toy Story 3 so well in 2010 that I’m sure that’s why the creators chose him for the Mayor.

The rest of the cast are all equally impressive with pedigrees that cannot fail to impress. Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Winstone, Timothy Olyphant (in what has to be the coolest and best cameo in the world as ‘the spirit of the west’ aka Clint Eastwood) and Bill Nighy as Rattlesnake Jake who almost literally steals the film in his portrayal of the Lee Van Cleef-like character.

Johnny Depp’s Rango accidentally ends up in a western desert.  Stranded, alone, and out of his depth Rango meets Roadkill (Alfred Molina) who tells Rango that he needs to find the ‘spirit of the west’ in order to find his way (way meaning his purpose in life and also the way to survive). While running from an eagle Rango finds himself in the town of Dirt.

Dirt is a ‘dry-town’ in the literal sense. The town has no natural water supply as it suddenly and mysteriously ‘dried up’ and now the Mayor (Beatty) and his thugs rule the town with an iron fist.

Rango manages to annoy the Mayor’s thugs and accidentally kill the eagle (who terrorizes the town more than the Mayor and his thugs). He tells the townspeople that he is the notorious badman Rattlesnake Jake’s brother. He is then made the town’s sheriff by the Mayor.

Rango must now help the townspeople find water, hope and solve the mystery of the missing water.

This animated feature was so well written and executed that I completely forgot that the cast was made up of cartoon animals. It became a western, plain and simple.

A western that was funny, exciting and moving.

I am sure that Roman Polanski never realised that his film Chinatown would work so well as an animated western populated by animals.

About Michael Knox-Smith

World traveler, writer, actor, vlogger, blogger, journalist. Cinephile who reviews films, television, YouTube shows, Books and interviews professionals in the industry. Member Nevada Film Critics Society

5 thoughts on “Rango (2011): Animated Animals Re-Create Spaghetti Western Chinatown

  1. This just mite git on My Favorites List … love the bit about Clint. There’s probably a ton of references to other movies in there … gotta have another look!

  2. Did you notice at the start of the movie that Rango was dressed in a red hawaiian print shirt similar to the one Johnny Depp wore as Hunter Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”?

    Some of the animated films are very clever nowadays. I love spotting all their references to other movies.

    1. I did! I also noticed that the convertible windscreen that he landed on looked like the poster image of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as well! Yes it was fun spotting the movie references! Thanks for stopping to share! :-)

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