Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Winstone, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Gil Birmingham

Director: Gore Verbinski
Released: 2011

Mood: If it’s a lazy weekend morning and you can’t decide between a Western or cartoons and you wish you could have it all.

“No man can walk out of his own story.”

Spirit of the West (Timothy Olyphant)



I always meant to see it, but I didn’t want it badly enough to put it on a wish list or anything. It wasn’t until I spotted the lonely DVD at a thrift store that I finally took the plunge. And holy forking shirtballs (respecting the PG rating) – this is a brilliant piece of work.


Whether you’re a Western fan with kiddos or just really love animated movies, Rango delivers endless laughs as it pays loving tribute to the genre.


photo of the Rango dvd


Rango is theSpaghetti Western-style story of a pet chameleon (Johnny Depp) who sees himself as a big star, but is more like an Instagram celebrity with no personality beyond the filters. But as his family’s vehicle is passing through the Mojave Desert, a bump in the road, aka Roadkill the armadillo (Alfred Molina), causes his terrarium to fall out the back window.


Rango ends up in a parched town called Dirt. Dirt has two big problems: a water shortage, and not one but MULTIPLE bad guys – a Gila monster, a hawk, a rattlesnake, and maybe even somebody the townsfolk trust.


By sheer dumb luck, Rango fibs his way into the role of sheriff. Now it’s his job to find not only his purpose in life, but also where the water’s gone – and this mystery runs deeper than any of the critters could have imagined.


illustration of a fancy moustache


There are tons of reasons to adore Rango, and they’re all thanks to the clever writing and the cast of memorable characters.


From the villains to the colourful inhabitants of Dirt, there are so many gems in this story. Each character is completely authentic to the Mojave Desert, and so well thought-out and animated that it’s worth watching the movie a separate time just to pause on each one and take them in.


Much of this is apparently thanks to designer Mark ‘Crash’ McCreery, whose work you’ve seen in the Jurassic Park and Terminator franchises BUT even more importantly, he’s the digital artist behind Davy Jones and his gang of piratical sea creatures in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – which also starred Johnny Depp and was directed by Gore Verbinski.


My hands-down favourite character is Spoons, the grizzled prospector mouse, who is so fiercely cute and funny that I want to get him tattooed on myself so I can look at his face every day. Other faves are Balthazar the blind mole, Bad Bill the Gila monster, and Rattlesnake Jake – whose coils make the sound of a spinning gun cylinder spinning when he moves. Seriously, every detail is so good!


Although Rango himself delivers lots of hilarious lines, he’s actually the least exciting thing about the movie.


The character is a literal chameleon, with no real personality of his own. Johnny Depp flip-flops between familiar voices from his many past roles, which could either be inexperience in voice acting OR a conscious choice to highlight Rango’s identity crisis.


illustration of a fancy moustache


For the adults in the room, Rango is jam-packed with little winks and nods that will make you shout and point at the screen. Or at least give an appreciative nod, if you’re not the shouty type.


This includes THREE great references to previous Johnny Depp characters:


  • Early in the movie Rango claims he will be the world’s greatest lover, like Don Juan DeMarco
  • Rango lands on the windshield of the ‘Great Red Shark’ convertible driven through the desert by Hunter S. Thompson (with Dr. Gonzo in the back)
  • Roadkill the armadillo is clearly based on Don Quixote; Depp and Terry Gilliam tried to make a Don Quixote movie, which underwent a series of catastrophic failures you can see in the documentary Lost in La Mancha

And DOZENS of nods to other Westerns, including:


  • The Spirit of the West (Timothy Olyphant) is Clint Eastwood, complete with Oscars – Rango also calls him “the man with no name”
  • Then there’s the final showdown, which references The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
  • Also the fact that Olyphant himself starred in the epic modern Western Deadwood
  • Speaking of which, there’s a view of the town that’s identical to Al Swearengen’s balcony view of Deadwood
  • Rango calls a mouse “little sister,” like Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) calls Mattie in True Grit
  • When Rango gets existential he says “Who am I? I’m nobody,” which could be a reference to Spaghetti Western My Name is Nobody
  • The name Rango is an awful lot like Django
  • Countless other Western plot, character, or actor references

That’s not to mention the blatant spoofs of everything from Star Wars to Star Trek, or the Easter eggs (peep the smoke and fire). I mean, the owl in the saloon is holding the ‘Dead Man’s Hand’, aka Wild Bill Hickok’s hand when he was shot. And each sage old cowboy line delivered by the Spirit of the West seemed to be a moral of the story for Westerns.


Rango is one of only two Nickelodeon movies to win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature in the 20-year history of the award. It’s the kind of movie where you can literally feel the joy from the voice actors – which makes sense, because unlike most other animated films the actors all got together on set, in costume, to record their dialogue.


If you’re not convinced by now that it’s worth a watch, you’re probably some kind of dung beetle who doesn’t like animated adventures because you only like dung.