Reliance Home Video, R 599
Here’s another animation film that works for all ages. Imagine a cast of desert animals, give them a sense of toonish humour, and propel them through a modern-day fable punctuated with references to a number of ‘adult’ films featuring deserts: Lawrence of Arabia, spaghetti Westerns like Django, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, and Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Get the idea? If you don’t, don’t be too harsh on yourself.
A pet chameleon is thrown from his owner’s tank when a highway-crossing armadillo makes the hurtling car swerve wildly. The wise armadillo advises our devastated hero to hit dirt. Little does the lily-livered lizard know that Dirt is, actually, a wretched frontier town full of walking-talking porcupines, toads, jumping beans, desert dogs, rattle snakes and such. The canny mayor and his thugs control the most precious item: water. Our whimsical hero takes the name Rango from a random bottle label.
A remarkable trail of accidents sees Rango first becoming the town’s sheriff and eventually its most pitied loser. Dirt’s water is drying up, people are selling out, and the cigar-chomping tortoise of a mayor is buying up everything, much like John Huston’s character in Chinatown. Why? Rango doesn’t get the answer till he meets the Spirit of the West, a poncho-wearing Clint Eastwood. And the plot turns.
Johnny Depp, egged on by Pirates of the Carribean director Gore Verbinski, brings his caddish humour to the role of Rango. Ned Beatty is chilling as the mayor and Isla Fisher is cutesy-gutsy as Rango’s love interest Beans. On the whole, it’s a lively addition to any animation library.