Rango-open thread

Impressions of Rango (nonspoilery)

I just saw Rango on Saturday with my two kids. It’s a long film, almost a full two hours. It stars Johnny Depp’s voice as Rango, the titular chameleon of the film, and several other well known talents, including Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Ned Beatty, and others. Check out the wikipage. (beware spoilers on the wikipage)


Rango is an old-fashioned Western, down to the spurs on Rango’s boots, the tortoise mayor’s soothing voice, and the dust in the air of the town of Dirt. Along with just about every Western movie cliche you can think of from High Noon on, Rango is…well, the voice acting was terrific. The animation was often just this side of unpleasant, with the realism too precise here and there, even though the creatures are obviously not human. And I found the design of the characters not particularly appealing, although excellently animated.

Getting past my unenthusiasm for the character design, let’s examine Rango for the roles. Well, it’s partly a send-up of Westerns, all the while embracing them lovingly and making references within the scenes to a variety of classics. That means gender roles are right where they’ve almost always been in the Western. You have a plucky desert iguana named Beans for Rango to become affectionate toward. You have Priscilla, a schoolgirl who warms up to the stranger in town, and there’s Angelique (voiced by Claudia Black), a foxy fox who hangs around as the Mayor of Dirt’s secretary, and several other named female townspeople, such as Bonnie, Delilah, Maybelle, Fresca, & Miss Daisy. Writing their names out like this makes me realize how many female characters there actually were. It’s not like it was a mysteriously all-male town or world (unlike more & more films these days).

But, all the power positions in the town were carried by male characters-the banker, the mayor, the doctor, as well the posse and most of the hill billies. The only one who broke out of the male characters’ trying to treat her as a girl was Beans, and of course, that was mostly because she fills the tomboy/romantic role in the film. After all, how can Rango develop feelings for her if we never see her with him? It’s unfortunate, because with all the other female characters, they’re not allowed to break out of their stereotyped roles in this Western play. Even Outland, a 1980’s SF movie based on High Noon, switched the character of the doctor to a woman.

I wouldn’t say I liked or disliked this fim, if you get right down to it. The humor was cute, the characterization was well drawn for the multitudes that inhabit this universe, and of course, there is the voice acting. It’s great for those who miss the classic Western (or who have never seen one!) and some eerily & excellently done CGI animation.

What do you think of Rango?


  1. Maria says

    Dannnnnnnnnnnng. This is really disappointing — I was planning on seeing this as a matinee next Monday. It sounds so meh!

    • says

      I’m glad I saw it, I guess. I go into a little more detail on my LJ, if you want to check that out. A Clint Eastwood ish character makes an appearance, too, that kind of freaked me out a bit. I just thought that visually, it was an excellently realized world, with tons of detail, texture, atmosphere, etc etc, but whoa, the character design and how their movements were animated was just this side of too realistic. It’s not Cartoon Style, like Despicable Me, or The Incredibles, or name your CGI movie. It’s something else. Hyperrealism. Someone else might have a different response to it.

  2. Attackfish says

    I’ve also heard it was really iffy on the disability front, with epilepsy providing comic relief. Did you notice this, or did I get bad intel?

    • says

      Ah, yes. Bean has a condition where her freeze-fright response is out of whack. The townspeople all take it for granted, and don’t make fun of her for it that I recall. It’s used for humor when she blanks out at one inopportune time. I was trying to keep track of it. There’s another scene where Rango approaches her as she’s looking out at the desert, starts talking to her about how he feels about her, stops short when he realizes she’s frozen again, and gives her a gentle kiss on the cheeck & leaves–but she’s aware of the kiss, so it’s not clear if she was faking it or not.

      I’ve seen some films that treat disabilities as a real hoot, and while Rango does use it as part of the story, it didn’t *seem to me* to as bad as many animated movies I’ve seen. It’s simply part of her character, but it is used for comic effect here and there. But I didn’t get the feeling it was to make fun of Bean. No one does anything mean to her on purpose while she’s blanked out; she simply asks, Did it happen again? Everyone says yes, and the scene moves on. However, YMMV.

      • says

        Beans’ seizure condition was mocked by the other characters. When she tells the banker she saw water in the desert, he says something like, “Oh, sure, right, water in the desert. Was this during one of your *imitates her frozen face*?” Pretty sure Angelique (the fox) brings it up in their verbal catfight, too.

        And I found the kiss scene very disturbing. Early in the movie, she freezes in the middle of a confrontation with Rango. He sidles up and puts his arm around her. When she comes to, she smacks his arm away and yells at him for cuddling her. Then, halfway through, she freezes in the middle of a more subdued, thoughtful conversation. He gives her a quick kiss and walks away; she turns her head and watches him walk away with a smile.

        To me, that sounds a lot like “No means try again”. The fact that she smiles afterward would seem to make this behavior okay: “If you keep harassing her, eventually she’ll like it.” Unless one interprets it as Beans pretending to have a seizure, in which case she’s a manipulative character who expects the man to take advantage of her while she’s unconscious.

        • says

          Well, that’s why this is an open thread. I’m glad you remembered more detail about those scenes than I did, because I’d forgotten about that whap she gave him.

      • Kalica says

        As someone who had petit mal epilepsy as a kid, and slowly grew out of it?

        The thought of someone doing something to me while my body is there but I am not is frikking TERRIFYING.

  3. says

    I heard it was iffy on representation of Native-coded characters, too, but I haven’t seen it, and the source I heard that from isn’t… great. Money’s tight, so I’m probably not going to see Rango until it hits DVD, though.

    • says

      There’s one crow who’s portrayed as a Native American. He’s funny, in the stereotypical Western Movie way. Rango’s aware of that, too, and ends up going along with it. Thing is EVERYONE plays a Western movie sterotype.

      • says

        So, a sendup of the “Funny Helpful Native Guy” (who I’m going to assume does NOT die by the end of the movie, seeing as it’s for kids), not “Murderous Faceless Native Bad Guy.” Which still isn’t groundbreaking or anything, but definitely not as sinister as it was implied to be by Mr. Unreliable Source.

        I mean, it’s cliche, but like you’ve said, it sounds like the movie is an affectionate homage to a cliche-ridden genre, a la The Mummy films.

        • Maria says

          Yeah, but there’re homages that tweak genre-tropes and then homages that reinforce them as nostalgic memories. This sounds like the latter.

          • says

            Yeah… I was hoping the movie was secretly subversive, but I haven’t seen it yet, so I didn’t want to try to guess as to which way it leans. Johnny Depp doesn’t usually do movies WITHOUT some kind of twist, but I suspect the “twist” for Rango is “lizards” and that’s it? Blah.

        • says

          It’s an odd combination of subverting the Magical Injun stereotype and playing it straight. Frex, there’s a scene where the crow is letting some of his feathers drift away into the wind. (paraphrased)

          Rango: Is that your mystical Native religion giving us guidance?
          Crow: No. I’m molting. It means I’m ready to mate.

          Which cracked me up because it showed the racism in some of the assumptions about the Other: it must be a religious ceremony or a superstition! It can’t be just a biological thing you’d know about if you had more exposure (Black hair and assorted hair care products come to mind for a real life example).

          But in other cases it was played straight.


          Your assumption about the NA character not dying by the end…is inaccurate.

            • says

              Characters dying is uncommon in a lot of children’s movies, but for traditional Westerns, various members of the cast dying on both sides is pretty common. John Wayne’s dog has died a lot, if I recall, and usually gets a better death than whatever the Wise-But-Wacky Indian Guy of the movie. Mostly because you can’t hack a dog to death with a machete and have people still want to watch your movie (Indians are fair game though. What??).

              I appreciate the molting joke, but it’s also something that I’ve seen done before (not with molting, obviously), usually with that being the only instance in which the Otherised character’s “Other”ness isn’t mystical in nature or in backstory or something. The formula still gets laughs (heck, I laughed), because it’s still one of those situations that rings really true, and awkwardly ignorant mistakes can be hilarious, but depending on the particular joke in question YMMV.

              Case in point: Molting joke above, presumably leading to awkward beat for audience laughter = funny. Scene from Mean Girls where Tina Fey’s character is told she has an African transfer student (actually Lindsay Lohan) and addresses a Black girl in her class, to be told that that girl is from Detroit, leading to awkward beat for audience laughter? Not actually that funny.

  4. firebird says

    When you listed the women’s names they seemed awfully…I dunno, stereotypical or coded or something. Delilah? Miss Daisy? Really? Is that just me or is it weird?

  5. says

    I focused on the water wars aspect of RANGO a lot, since I live in an area where yes, we do sue each other over water rights whenever things are slow, and, according to Unreliable Rumor, the ESA was used to cut off water rights to farmers in this area to drive land prices down so a big agricultural conglomerate could move in. Amazingly enough, the water was turned back on once a few letters to the editor to that effect were published in our local newspaper. Living in a very dry part of the US is actually Like That.

    It is quite true that no Western cliche was left unturned (I think it would actually be fun to see the lizard equivalent of True Grit with Priscilla in the girl’s role, but hey, I know that tastes vary here). And Rango struck me more as totally clueless rather than actively bad in his interactions with Beans–let us recall he was raised in a glass container with a busted Barbie doll and a plastic fish for company.

    Ok, I liked the movie.

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