Santa Cruz Good Times

Apr 24th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Green Party

film_rangosFunny script, Depp's lizard hero, highlight Western spoof 'Rango'

Johnny Depp has always been an experimental character actor trapped in the body of a guy who looks like Johnny Depp. But he finds a way to do an end run around the burden of his own good looks—and unleash his inner clown—in Rango, an abundantly silly and entertaining animated family comedy in which Depp brings voice and life to the film's unorthodox hero, a bulbous-eyed green lizard with big dreams.

Directed by Gore Verbinski (who has shepherded Depp through all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies), from a very funny script by John Logan, Rango both spoofs and celebrates the traditional Western set-up about a lone stranger in a hard-luck pioneer town. (Complete with a hilarious owl mariachi quartet singing a ballad of the story as it unfolds.) Big kudos are due to Industrial Light and Magic for its remarkable CGI animation; sure, the anthropomorphic cast of reptiles, rodents, and birds talk, walk upright and wear clothes, but each creature is rendered in impressively lifelike detail, right down to the tiniest scale and whisker. But the film is also a freewheeling pastiche of movie references (all genres, all eras) that will keep trivia fans on their toes, while amusing the young 'uns with its slapstick verve.

The protagonist is literally the lizard with no name as the film begins, a household pet in a red Hawaiian shirt who longs to be a swashbuckling hero. We first meet him staging a melodrama in his comfy terrarium, employing a supporting cast of props (a wind-up fish, a dead bug, a minute cocktail pick shaped like a sword, a one-armed Barbie torso) that are also his only companions. But an automotive mishap sends the terrarium crashing out onto the highway, and the lizard suddenly finds himself alone in the Mojave Desert.

Searching for water, and shelter, dodging a predatory hawk (with a silver-encased beak, a la Lee Marvin's metal nose in Cat Ballou), he finally makes his way to the small desert hamlet of Dirt, whose denizens are in the grip of both drought and despair. In the local saloon (run by a frog who resembles Jabba the Hut), the lowly lizard improvs a persona for himself as a tough hombre called Rango. After some high-octane yarn-spinning and unexpected events, the town makes Rango its sheriff.

From this premise, the movie cheerfully rackets off in all directions. There's a water scandal worthy of Chinatown, involving the leathery old tortoise mayor (voice by Ned Beatty, channeling John Huston). Love interest is provided by a feisty pioneer lizard gal called Beans (Isla Fisher), trying to hold on to her daddy's ranch, while a skeptical little mouse (Abigail Breslin) becomes Rango's biggest hero-worshipper. The great Harry Dean Stanton voices the leader of an outlaw gang of tunneling mole bank robbers (pursued by a posse of small varmints mounted on roadrunners). And, after "sinking deeper into the guacamole of his own deception" (as the owls say), Rango must finally find his inner hero, atone for his lies, and save the town, by facing off against a villainous rattlesnake (Bill Nighy) with the glinty eyes and pencil moustache of a Lee Van Cleef.

When the poster reads, "Johnny Depp is Rango," it's not kidding. Using an updated type of digital rotoscoping (the motion-capture animation technique pioneered by Disney in Snow White), Depp and his co-stars acted out entire scenes together on camera, from which their animated characters' physical movements were generated. This not only imbues the characters with loopy humanoid grace, the actors playing off each other keeps the dialogue fast and fresh as well.

Also fun (besides the non-stop in-jokes referencing everything from The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars to True Grit, and—yes—Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas), is the small-scale, critter-sized town itself, with its discarded tin can outhouses, its water supply housed in the bank in a giant water cooler jug, and its clock tower perched on a spice box marked "Thyme." But best of all is Rango himself, with his rolling gait and game demeanor, part Kermit the Frog, part Captain film_rangoJack Sparrow, and all Depp, a one-man onscreen party.


★★★1/2 (out of four) Watch film trailer >>>

With the voices of Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty, Bill Nighy, and Abigail Breslin. Written by John Logan. Directed by Gore Verbinski. A Paramount release. Rated PG. 107 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Best of Santa Cruz County 2014

The 2014 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll Come on in, and have a look around. There’s a lot to see—hundreds of winners selected by thousands of GT readers across Santa Cruz County. So if some of this looks familiar, it’s probably because you helped make it happen. But there are always new things to discover, too—you could go to a different winner or runner-up every day in the Food and Drink category alone, and you’d be booked just about until next year’s Best of Santa Cruz County issue comes out.


Something Essential Disappears

Lunar and solar eclipses follow one another. Lunar eclipses occur at full moons, and solar eclipses at new moons. Two weeks ago at the full moon we had the blood red moon—a total lunar eclipse (the next one is Oct. 8). On Monday night, April 28 (new moon), as the Sun, Moon and Earth align, a solar eclipse (Sun obscured) occurs. Eclipses signify something irrevocably is changed in our world. The Sun is our essential life force. Monday’s new moon, 9 degrees Taurus, is also an annular solar eclipse when the Moon moves centrally in front of the Sun, yet does not cover the Sun completely. The Sun's outer edges, still visible, form a “ring of fire” around the Moon.


Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.


Film, Times & Events: Week of April 17

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

Latest Comments


Palate-Stretching 101

A wine education with Soif’s experts As a veteran of many weekend wine “seminars” at Soif, I have to confess that I’ve never known less (going in) and learned more (coming out) than I did last week at the Spanish Wine Tasting with ace rep Brian Greenwood. These are classy, casual events and it’s hard to imagine having this much flavor fun anywhere for $20.


Martin Ranch Winery

Sauvignon Blanc 2011 One of my favorite wines is Sauvignon Blanc, and this one made by Martin Ranch is particularly lovely. Bright, crisp and refreshing, it’s perfect to pair with fish and shellfish—and good for picnics as it has an easy screw-cap bottle. There’s nothing worse than setting down your blanket, pulling out your sandwiches—and then realizing you don’t have a corkscrew.


Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.


How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management