Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
I'm not going to mince words: Do not bring your under-10 kids to see Rango, the new animated movie from Nickelodeon starring Johnny Depp.
The western-themed story of a lizard in the midst of an existential crisis, Rango spends most of its time making allusions to films kids will never see (nor should they), including Chinatown, Apocalypse Now and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Yes, we're all used to animated films making jokes at the expense of kids' understanding, but those jokes are typically few and far between -- and usually funny anyway.
The for-adults-only references in Rango are borderline inappropriate, ubiquitous, and neither funny nor relatable... unless your kids are amused by references to Kim Novak, can recognize a Clint Eastwood parody and understand both "thespians" and "lesbians."
In its credible assessment, Common Sense Media says Rango "deals with several mature themes that may go over kids' heads... There's also stronger language (both 'damn' and 'hell' are said several times)... and notably more violence than in many animated kids' movies." Amongst their parent and educator members, 76% say it has "language their kids can't use," and 67% say it's "too violent."
Writer/Director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Ring) told Movieline.com, "I'm responsible for my own kids and not responsible for anyone else's. So I think that’s what PG means, 'parental guidance.' There are some witty five-year-olds. I mean, sharp five-year-olds out there. So, if you've got one of those, bring them. You know?"
Well, there were plenty of children in my audience, my own three included (11, 8, and 8), and none of them had positive reactions. Mine were bored senseless, and they were not alone. From a kids' perspective at least, the scenes are too long, too complicated and devoid of fun. That's not an insult to kids; it's an insult directed at whoever marketed this film for kids. Verbinski proudly says the film "doesn't fit into Happy Meal boxes." Fair enough, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be comfortable in a kids' diet at all, especially if it enthusiastically teases their appetites.
But even if we excuse all the "aren't we clever" cinematic references, Rango's imagery and language are inexcusably inappropriate for a film produced by the no. 1 kids' entertainment network and marketed exactly as Kung Fu Panda was. Just a few examples: Explicit gun violence abounds, a bird character has an arrow protruding gruesomely into its eye, and the phrase "Go to Hell!" is said loudly and proudly.
But let's go even further: Excuse the violence, the complicated plot, the snarky homages to grown-up films and the overly-sophisticated dialogue. What we're left with is a film seriously and fatally dull for children. Even the Greek chorus-like mariachi band of desert birds -- so featured in previews -- fails to produce any real humor, insight or narrative energy. We kept waiting for them to say something mildly amusing, but the only running gag was how they kept predicting Rango's death, and even that had no payoff.
Don't just take my word for it. Get past all the adoration for animation technique, acting prowess and content exclusively for cinephiles (a word you would expect in the Rango script), and you'll find serious reservations about how this movie plays for kids.
A reviewer for TheReelPlace writes, "My three-year-old daughter has sat in front of the computer watching the Rango trailer over and over again... After a long wait, this week I was finally able to take her... Within the first four minutes she had lost all interest... The occasional slapstick and childish humor is made to tide the kids over, but it is not nearly enough to keep their attention for 107 minutes."
Say what you will about how satisfying this movie is for grownups (personally, if I wanted to see a western, I would have seen True Grit), this is perhaps the worst example of movie mis-marketing since Babe 2.
Rango is a six-shooter gleefully unaware of its target -- don't send your kids into the crossfire.