What do Clint Eastwood (great cowboy hero,) Lee Van Cleef (great cowboy villain,) and Don Knotts (a great… er... cowboy comedian,) have in common?
I just came back from seeing the animated feature, Rango, about a misplaced lizard who must learn who he really is… or die. (Cue the spaghetti Western music.) The animators and actors lending their voices had specific people in mind. Let’s start with Knotts.
Johnny Depp had the Shakiest Gun in the West (1968) star in mind when he voiced the title character, a bug-eyed reptile, who, when we are first introduced to him is “acting” in his glass terrarium and directing the inanimate objects around him. Just when he realizes his script needs more conflict, he is thrust into the desert (I won’t tell you how so as not to spoil it, but I can tell you there is an armadillo involved.) He sets out on a very real quest to find water and eventually finds himself (literally and figuratively) in an old west town where adventure involves more than running from a hungry hawk.
Bill Nighy, who played Davy Jones (not the Monkee, but the locker guy,) in Pirates of Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), voices a villain so… so… venomous, I had a hard time watching the character on the big screen… in a good way. He had Lee Van Cleef in mind, the late actor who had ‘em shakin’ in their boots in such iconic films as The Magnificent Seven Ride (1972), The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), and For a Few Dollars More (1965).
Timothy Olyphant, who is currently in theaters with I Am Number Four (2011), plays a character who will remind you of Clint Eastwood… like… really remind you of him.
I bring these characters up because Eastwood and Van Cleef were known for the spaghetti westerns of the ‘60s and ‘70s. These were cheaply produced by Italian directors and actors, but featured Americans such as the aforementioned stars. It’s from these westerns that we have our pre-conceived notions of how the west was fought… and won. And it’s in this tradition that Rango presents a dusty town, a band of no ‘count, low down thieves, an ideal that springs from the Spirit of the West… and a lizard.
I give this movie 4 out of 5 stars. It’s extremely intense at times and might scare young children, although the mini-man that sat in front of me with his mother didn’t seem phased, especially when he ran to the other end of the row of seats and proclaimed in his theater voice, “So long, suckers!” He was promptly contained and watched the rest of the movie on his mother’s lap. But I digress.
I deducted a star for the intensity of the film and also for the language. Yes, it’s supposed to be based on the post-Vietnam westerns, and thus had some mild curse words, but if you’re sensitive, or if you don’t want your child quoting the few (a very few) lines, you might want to see it first before taking your family.
Other than those two things, the storyline was enjoyable. It took a predictable plot but twisted the suspense in a way that often had me breathless.
Here is the trailer.