Don't be fooled by the kid-friendly PG rating attached to "Rango." Don't be fooled by the kid-friendly Nickelodeon Studios logo attached to the film. Don't be fooled by the ads that paint "Rango" as a kid-friendly animated film with a cute chameleon lead. "Rango" is not kid-friendly. Don't be fooled into taking your family to see it.
The film opens with an unnamed chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp) living a life of contentment inside his terrarium. The terrarium is in the back of a car, the car hits a bump, the terrarium goes flying, it shatters and the chameleon is left stranded in a desert in the middle of nowhere. The sequence is intense but necessary because we know that the chameleon is going to be removed from his comfort zone somehow. Then we see the bump that the car hit. It's an armadillo, his midsection flattened, still able to groan. It is the first of many gruesome sights in the film.
Wandering into the desert, the chameleon meets a lizard named Beans (voiced by Isla Fisher). Beans is tough, determined and she talks a mile a minute. She is also prone to freezing in a trance when her emotions run high. The chameleon is smitten with her, and throughout the film he uses these trances as opportunities to touch her affectionately, putting his arm around her and giving her a peck on the cheek. He waits until she is borderline unconscious and then he touches her. What a horrible example to set.
Beans takes the chameleon to the impoverished town of Dirt where he visits a seedy saloon swarming with unfriendly locals. Eager to garner acceptance, he regales them with bogus tales of heroism, giving himself the mysterious-sounding name Rango. He is then attacked by a hawk. Quite accidentally he kills the hawk and the town proclaims Rango a hero.
The mayor (voiced by Ned Beatty) declares Rango sheriff and his legend quickly escapes even his control. He gets a swelled head and we realize that this is going to be yet another animated movie about a cocky protagonist who learns humility.
Much is wrong in Dirt. There is a crippling water shortage and the populace lives in fear of overbearing outlaw Rattlesnake Jake (voiced by Bill Nighy). Rango uncovers a conspiracy that may mean less water and more Jake.
One thing Dirt has going for it is that the different animal species mostly live in harmony. The town is populated by small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, bugs and birds. Except for the hawk at the beginning, there isn't much threat of the characters eating each other, even if two creatures are natural enemies. Then again, most of the characters are so poorly animated that I couldn't tell what type of animal they were supposed to be.
The characters might not think of each other as food, but they attack each other for their own reasons and they do it often. This is a film that treats a woman getting punched in the face as slapstick.
I've already mentioned the gunplay and the roadkill, but there's plenty more. Most disturbing for me was a minor character with an arrow stuck through his head. There's also the matter of Rattlesnake Jake, who is a constant threat of crushing, strangling, biting, and poisoning with venom. It's almost enough to make one forget that has a volitale temper and a high-powered gun for a tail. He's way too intense for a kids' movie.
Death and violence are always in the air in "Rango." Kids will be terrified and parents probably won't approve of some of the language and humor. The few kid-friendly moments in the film feel like they were tacked on at the last minute when director Gore Verbinski realized that the film was too dark for young audiences.
"Rango" can fill a TV commercial with what it has to offer kids, but like Dirt's dwindling water supply, it's a minimal amount that masks a dangerous shortage.
One star out of five.
"Rango" is rated PG for rude humor, language, action, and smoking. Its runtime is 110 minutes.