Rango (2011): A Hilarious Homage to Classic Westerns
Love or hate Johnny Depp, you have to admit his filmography is diverse. He played a gangster in Public Enemies (2009), a pirate in Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (2003-2017), and also an anthropomorphic chameleon named Rango in the underrated animated film Rango (2011). Rango (2011) follows a pet chameleon that gets left behind on a family trip and now must find his own way in the world. He finds the small desert town called Dirt, where water is currency. When that water is stolen, he charges himself with finding it so the town can survive. But the town losing its water supply is only the beginning!
Having the main character be a chameleon is actually quite unique from a storytelling perspective as he is trying to stand out when chameleon’s normally blend in. Rango is trying to find his place, where he belongs, and what he wants to be. No one could’ve played him better than an actual acting chameleon, Johnny Depp. He brings his signature quirkiness to the role, as well as the character's insecurities; keeping Rango a well rounded and relatable protagonist. The supporting cast is great, with most being there to either keep Rango honest, with character Beans (voiced by Isla Fisher) leading the skeptics, or those that help support the fantasy he has created.
The story itself is actually smarter than we realize with a couple twists that keep the main villain hidden until the 3rd act. At first, the villains are led to be believed that they are the bank robbers everyone is initially after. But then in the middle of Act 2, we get outlaw Rattlesnake Jake (voiced by Bill Nighy) exposing the truth behind the fantasy of Rango. It exposes what Rango is and what he tried to be or what he is still trying to be. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 3rd act did we realize the true big bad was the corrupt Mayor (voiced by Ned Beatty) who is holding the water supply hostage to buy out everyone’s land in order to urbanize the community. It was good how they pulled the rug out from under the audience twice before getting to the shady businessman behind the curtain.
I also have to give credit to how much inspiration was taken from classic westerns. Every character archetype is in there like the classic but cool western outlaw, the corrupt politician, and the reluctant hero. They also were able to give a moment to pay homage to Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name in the form of the Spirit of the West (voiced by Timothy Olyphant). This cameo was basically an impression of Clint Eastwood and a good one nonetheless. Rango (2011) continuously gives off The Magnificent Seven (1960) vibes and, of course, The Man with No Name Trilogy (1964-1966).
Overall, Rango (2011) is all about how to find who you are in this world and how that can benefit everyone. Johnny Depp is downright amazing as the titular character and Bill Nighy’s Rattlesnake Jake just steals the show with his infinite coolness and his minigun in place of his tail rattle. This movie did find initial success upon release but it is also one that has easily been lost to obscurity. Given Depp’s reputation and public image at the moment, I am unsure how many people continue to watch or even look back on Rango (2011). Even though everyone should watch it!