A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this animated film starring Johnny Depp is as dramatic as it is comedic, and it deals with several mature themes that may go over kids' head. The main character experiences an identity crisis and ponders life's big questions -- like "who am I?," "where do I belong?," and "why am I here?" (to name just a few of Rango's existential issues). There's also stronger language (both "damn" and "hell" are said several times, as well as insults like "trollop," "tart," and "floozy") and notably more violence than in many animated kids' movies -- violent/scary scenes range from gun showdowns and a gallows outfitted with nooses to a frightening killer hawk and a sadistic snake that threatens beloved characters. A few characters are killed (or nearly killed), shot at, or crushed, and there's a fair bit of smoking by supporting characters. But there are also positive messages about living up to your potential, defending those who are defenseless, and the importance of authority figures who do what's in their community's best interest instead of their own.
What's the story?
RANGO (voiced by Johnny Depp) is a lonely pet lizard with an active imagination; he fancies himself a swashbuckling hero and puts on "shows" with his companions -- a headless Barbie, a dead insect, and a wind-up plastic fish. But when his owner's car makes a harsh turn, Rango's terrarium falls out onto the highway, leaving him utterly alone in the Mojave Desert. After following the advice of a sage armadillo, Rango comes across a female lizard named Beans (Isla Fisher), who takes him to her Old West hometown of Dirt, where water is such a scarce commodity that it's kept in a bank. Rango spins yarn after yarn about being a legendary bandit killer and manages to fell a killer hawk that terrorizes the town, so Dirt's mayor (Ned Beatty) names him sheriff. But when Rango unintentionally allows the town's water supply to be stolen, he must either find it or admit that he's just a pretender.
Is it any good?
With Rango, director Gore Verbinksi has made a unique animated film that's equal parts "mature" drama, old-school Western, and comedic adventure. This is exactly the kind of movie that proves Pixar isn't the only studio capable of making an animated film that grownups without kids would be compelled to see. From the mariachi owls that act as the chorus and the pitch-perfect voice cast to the gorgeously detailed set -- where the tumbleweeds and dust and desert sun seem as real as in any John Ford film -- Rango has a sweeping scope that's thrilling to see.
But for everything Rango is, it's definitely not a "whole family" movie outing. There's an intimately personal focus on its main character's development that may be tough for most young kids to understand. Rango often wonders "who am I?," because underneath his charismatic persona lies a deeply lonely lizard who just wants to call someplace home. The violence feels very realistic, as does Rango's melancholy. Depp and Fisher act their parts wonderfully, and Beans is a particularly good role model for young girls -- she's tough, outspoken, and willing to stand up for justice. Families who want quick laughs, pratfalls, and adorable characters may not appreciate the movie's lingering establishing shots and existential lizard musings. But for those who want an animated homage to the Western with a heavy dose of deep thoughts and good humor, this is a must-see film.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's message about becoming who you want to be. How does Rango change from a wannabe hero to the real thing? Would you consider him a role model?
There are some pretty heavy themes here. Do you think that makes it too grown-up for younger kids? Who do you think the movie's target audience is?
How does the violence in this movie compare to others you've seen? Does it have more or less impact? Why?
- In theaters: March 4, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: July 15, 2011
- Cast: Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Isla Fisher, Johnny Depp
- Director: Gore Verbinski
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Misfits and Underdogs, Wild Animals
- Run time: 107 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: rude humor, language, action and smoking
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.