Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Written by:John Logan, Gore Verbinski, James Ward Byrkrit
Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy
Released: March 10, 2011
Grade: C+

We see plenty of animated films made every year and to its credit, Rango is trying to distinguish itself from the pack.  You can see there has been a concerted effort from the writers to satisfy all types of audiences.  Kids will enjoy the cute little chameleon and his strange sensibilities.  Adults are likely to see it as a homage to westerns and may chuckle at a few other cinematic references.  The benefit for everyone is that it’s been shot in 2D!  You don’t need to worry about being overcharged for unnecessary 3D effects.

The story begins with our soon-to-be hero (voiced by Johnny Depp) living a solitary existence as pet.  He dreams of adventure but it appears he will be forever stuck inside his terrarium.  That changes when he thrown out of a car window during an accident and he now winds up beside a major highway in the middle of the desert.

Gifted the opportunity of freedom and adventure, he is suddenly feeling quite anxious about the situation.  He’s hot, he’s thirsty and he doesn’t know where to go.  It gets even worse when he becomes the lunch target of a hungry hawk.

With a little skill and a lot of luck, he manages to escape its claws and ends up in the small town of Dirt.  It’s filled with an assortment of creatures – iguanas, toads, possums, moles and armadillos.  Time has forgotten this place.  It looks like something out of the 19th century with its dirty saloon, gun slinging cowboys and domineering mayor.  The town is struggling however.  The water supply is low and many land owners have given up and moved elsewhere.

Some chameleons have the ability to change colour but it appears this one also has the ability to change personality.  He walks straight into the bar, looking to make a strong first impression.  He does just that.  After downing a glass of “cactus juice”, he takes on the new name of Rango and stands up against a repulsive gila monster known as Bad Bill.  Before the day is over, he will be the town’s new sheriff.

With the stage now set, the film’s focus turns the strange circumstances surrounding the dwindling water supply.  Rango assembles a team and they go in search of answers.  Many will be trying to stop them however.  Heading the list is a sinister rattlesnake with an ulterior motive.

The general vibe from other critics I’ve spoken to has been positive but I wasn’t a fan of Rango.  Perhaps my expectations were misaligned.  I smiled at a few of the adult references (like the Fear & Loathing In Vas Vegas tribute) but had trouble envisioning the film’s appeal to younger audiences.  The storyline involving the water supply isn’t told clearly enough.  I also noticed a distinct lack of kids’ laughter at the preview screening I attended.

My biggest criticism is that these strange looking characters are hard to love.  They didn’t generate the excitement and enthusiasm that I was hoping for.  This seems even more obvious when I reflect back on some of last year’s great animations - Toy Story 3 and How To Train Your DragonRango is missing a key emotional ingredient.