By Jonathan Decker (family therapist, film critic)
Don't let the ads fool you: Rango is a Western first and a family film second. The film is almost entirely devoid of cuteness; in its place is a gritty and psuedo-realistic portrayal of the American West. The landscapes are desolate and harsh, yet beautiful, and the same can be said of the characters. Like True Grit a few months ago, Rango reveals the beauty and unsentimental goodness of some characters who, on the surface, appear to be callous roughneck survivalists. And make no mistake, there are a slew of ugly characters here.
The film finds Johnny Depp (doing excellent voice work) as a wimpy pet lizard facing an identity crisis. Fate finds him stranded in the harsh desert, where he pretends to be a tough lawman to impress the locals, only to have his facade crumble when a drought and genuine outlaws come to call. His journey from zero to hero provides a surprisingly engaging character arch. The animation is amazingly rich with detail, the morbid humor is genuinely funny, and the action sequences are thrilling. If the film has a flaw, it's its pacing: it sags in the middle, is easily 20 minutes too long, and begins to bore. The finale however, rich in iconic Western imagery, humor, and action, hits the bullseye. GRADE: B+
CONTENT ADVISORY: Rango is rated PG for a reason. There's a real danger and menace to some of the scenes that will likely be too intense of small children (or adults with a snake phobia). It also has a fairly macabre and dark sense of humor, as well as a few light innuendos (none as crass as, say, Shrek). Also, the screenplay is lightly peppered with “hells” and “damns,”which authenticates it as a Western (as does the gunplay) but may concern parents of children who repeat what they hear.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: People who use, deceive, and take advantage of others will face justice. Those who boast to impress people will be humbled, while those who dedicate their lives to the well-being of others become truly heroic.
For another “fish-out-of-water” Western, I recommend Three Amigos!, which is my favorite comedy.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.