Posted on March 3, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor, language, action, and smoking
Profanity: Some crude schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Western-style violence with shoot-outs, characters in peril, injured and killed with some graphic images, snake
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 4, 2011

“Rango” is a deliciously demented and slyly satiric take on westerns, which means it takes on America’s deepest myths about our identity. It is wild and strange and blessedly idiosyncratic, with a witty and heartfelt performance by Johnny Depp in the title role.

Don’t let the PG rating fool you. This is not a movie for kids. This is a movie for cool, sophisticated, highly discerning teenagers and adults. Children who see it will have the pleasure of decades of “Ah, that’s what that reference in Rango was about” moments as they expand their knowledge of classic film and American history and folklore. But older audiences will be able to appreciate the way the movie salutes, tweaks, and repurposes western traditions, with shout-outs to a cornucopia of films and icons, from Hunter Thompson to Clint Eastwood and joyously cracked dialogue about conflict, irony, power, heroes, and destiny. And a brave girl lizard named Beans (voice of Isla Fisher), a mayor who is a turtle in a wheelchair (voice of Ned Beatty), a scary snake (voice of Bill Nighy), and some mangy varmints who are actual mangy varmints. And an adorable bird mariachi band to comment on the story.

It begins with an actor, a literal and metaphoric chameleon in a literal and metaphoric glass cage, sealed off from the world, his only co-stars a plastic fish and a headless Barbie torso. He is so existentially changeable that he can hardly tell reality from performance and like his cinematic western forebear, he has no name.

When a highway accident tosses his lizard tank on to the desert highway, it shatters and our hero for the first time must find a destiny and an identity. A mythic armadillo directs him toward a town called Dirt so he can find water. Once there, he picks a name for himself: Rango. And soon he is made sheriff. But it takes a bit longer for him to understand what that really means and what it will take for him to protect the town.

It’s all about water. The town needs it. But “the immutable law of the desert is — control the water and you control everything.” Rango will have to become more than a chameleon — he will have to become a hero.

There is so much going on it will require a second and third viewing, each more enjoyable than the last. Just watch Rango’s attire adapt as he gets in touch with his inner hero. There are hundreds of clever details and imaginative flourishes to make this film worthy of being put into the same category as the films to which it so charmingly pays tribute.

Related Tags:


Animation Comedy Fantasy Movies -- format Talking animals Western

14 Replies to “Rango”

  1. Wow. I really hated this movie. I agree it’s not for kids but it sure is marketed as a kids’ movie. The images were disturbing, the language was unacceptable and the jokes were crude and inappropriate. The mariachi band swinging from the rafters singing “death is near”is NOT adorable in any way shape or form. I surprised you weren’t more offended.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Alicia — it is certainly not adorable and it is not for children and it bugs me that it was marketed that way — they even made stuffed toys based on the characters. I wasn’t offended though. I liked it as a very idiosyncratic and knowledgeable take on Western myths and folklore — and films. There were dozens of references to everyone from Hunter S. Thompson to John Houston in “Chinatown” and of course Clint Eastwood. I thought it was smart and imaginative and I am glad that film-makers are recognizing that animated films are not just for children.

  3. Loved it, loved it, loved it. [And have made it clear to my kids that it is not for their kids.] Impossible to catch everything in one viewing; am going to re-watch “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” to look for something one of my friends pointed out to me. Will be buying this one when it comes out. Thank you for your very clear review.

  4. Nope,this movie not for kids, it’s for film buffs.The animation is incredible.The snake,and how he moves,is beyond amazing.The background artwork is almost as beguiling as the actual critter characters. However,as much as I appreciated the work,and it is astonishing,I didn’t actually enjoy the movie,simply because I kept waiting for the children’s movie that was promised in the previews.There were plenty of disappointed children in the viewing I attended. Wish I’d seen this with different expectations; it would have been a lot more fun.

  5. Much appreciated, Pat. As you saw in Alicia’s comment, many people were misled by the marketing for this movie. I wish they had trusted the film and the audience more as it has a lot to offer.

  6. Was SO disappointed in the use of profanity in this movie! WHY IN THE WORLD would ANYONE use such language in a movie for CHILDREN??!!?? Would have NEVER taken my child to see this movie, had I known of the TRUE content! Will NOT be one we recommend to ANYONE!!

  7. I am sorry you had a bad experience, CheriBaby — as you can see in my review, I explain that it is not really a kids’ movie and recommend it for middle schoolers and up. Aside from the language and smoking there is very scary material involving a snake and the wit and references to Western movies and myths are not intended for children.

  8. I was so irritated by this movie. Dress it up in animation and hollywood can send any message they want to our kids. After the fact I have been reading reviews and they miss the two worst messages sent in the film.
    One the illustration to Homosexuality where Rango dressed as a girl on the other guys head while riding the road runner, and the girls comes out of the dress and says “thats not all that bad”. My chin hit the floor. But the most disturbing was when Rango thought he had messed things up and nobody liked him anymore, he went to go kill himself by stepping in front of moving cars. So now my six year old gets the idea in her head when nobody likes you lifes not worth living. Being that my family has just dealt with a suicide, I am much more tuned in to all the illustrations in movies and music about suicide. no wonder is the leading cause of death for teens and young adults.

    1. Hello, Joy, and thanks for the comment! It will be a big help to parents trying to decide if this movie is right for their families. As noted in my review, I do not recommend this film for children. I must disagree with your point about the dress scene, though. That was a disguise, and in no way a reference to homosexuality or cross-dressing. I do appreciate your point about Rango’s brief suicidal risky behavior, one of many reasons this movie is not appropriate for young children. I do try to alert parents and other readers to any movie that contains a suicide scene or romanticizes suicide. I am very sorry for your loss.

  9. We, too, believed that this movie was aimed at children when we took our 9 year-old daughter to see it today. Hindsight and all, being what it is, I should have checked in here first in order to be prepared.

    To be honest, though, I don’t believe that what I’ve read here would have kept me from taking her. As far as the action/peril, it didn’t seem any worse than the things that have been shown on Disney channel, Nickelodeon, or ABC Family, and those are things definitely aimed at kids, or even as bad as the first Harry Potter movie, the book of which, I’m told, is popular in my daughter’s 4th grade class, though she personally has yet to read it. And for the language, while I don’t at all condone cursing and it’s forbidden in my house, my daughter has heard all that, and more, from the high school and middle school kids on her public school bus.

    To me, though, the key is in family discussion. She’s known for quite a while that there are bad words that she shouldn’t say. She understands that cursing is something used by those with poor vocabularies. And, being a Christian family, she’s long been aware that there is a place called hell, so using it in a context of depicting the source, and ultimate destination, of all evil fits with what we’ve tried to teach her.

    While I can understand the previous poster’s sensitivity to themes of suicide, given her recent loss, the road crossing scene did not even occur to my daughter or myself as such. Framed by the armadillo’s advice early on in the movie, it seemed like Rango felt that across the road was the only place left for him to go.

    Perhaps I’ve been desensitized by all the media that I’ve taken in during my 40 years plus. However, I was raised in a manner that didn’t try to keep me sheltered from the world and it’s “dangers”, but rather educated me that those dangers existed, how to identify them, and how to deal with them appropriately. I try to raise my daughter in the same manner. We can’t keep our children away from all the bad things that are out there. If we try to do that, we are short changing them of a coping mechanism for the time that they do experience them and we’re not around. I’d rather teach my child about what’s out there and how to deal with it appropriately, than to have her learn them elsewhere, in a context that I can’t control, and lose the opportunity for her to learn that, while she is IN the world, she does NOT have to be OF it.

    1. Thank you very much, Mr. English, for an exceptionally thoughtful comment. I agree with your assessment and approach entirely, and your remarks will be very helpful to parents who visit this site looking for guidance. Much appreciated.

  10. Of course its not for children… whose parents hide them from reality. This is a film that I personaly LOVE. It truly explains about finding yourself, to be somebody can start out by being “nobody”. Sure it has drinking and smoking but how can you hide something like that. Are you going to lie to your own kid every time someone smokes down the street or when their uncle Joe has an occasional beer? I am not a mother, not even close but I am a 16 year old sister of three and no I am not some stupid teenager who has a life on “facebook”. I teach my brothers about God and his will and they love Rango as much as I do. The characters in this film are amazing I personly favor “Rattle snake Jake”.

    1. Thanks for a great comment, Vivian! Sounds like you and your family know how to put this movie in the right context. I hope you will return to comment on other films you see!

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