Hawaiian shirt. Cactus.
A complaint often leveled at non-pixar animated fare is that too many films have no personality, and don't create a living, breathing universe. Too many prefer to lean on irony, make a thousand references to be deemed meaningless by 18 months of time and well. Just generally being kind of shit. There's exceptions of course, but that sense of them telling the same jokes over and over is probably the main thing, that every animated film not by Pixar seems to be a spiritual remake of Shrek. Rango's greatest strength is that it is certainly unique. A lovingly made world, with a story told with intent and passion. Its a kids movie here not because Kids movies buy a lot of cake, but because its a project that meant a lot to someone. And that joy shows on screen, and thankfully its pretty infectious.
I suppose you could say that Rango is in its own way a series of homages too though, just not the same tired old ones. The film is a loving ode to all things Leone, from Hans Zimmer's pseudo Morricone score to more literal references such as the spirit of the west looking like an aged Clint Eastwood (Voiced in a pretty airtight impression by Timothy Olyphant), while the western town is loivngly realized and I think Rango might be one of the most spectacular looking animated films I've seen in a while, capturing the dryness and grime of a traditional western town, complete with its affects on the various anthropomorphic animals that inhabit it. Everything is captured with a detail that is mesmerizing in places, and its western iconography makes a pleasing change from fairy tales. I'm not one to care how things look usually, but this is standout work. More problematic is the story, which meanders, goes to some interesting places and some less interesting ones. Johnny Depp makes a solid anchor, but the characters alternates between annoying and entertaining. I got a lot more out of Bill Nighy's ridiculously awesome villain Rattlesnake Jake and Isla Fisher's love interest, named Beans for some reason. Depp was a little too self-conscious whilst those two committed to creating awesome characters.
The film's improvisational style both hurts and hinders it. There are times I'm glad it doesn't follow anything resembling a structure, it allows for cool one off scenes and inspired moments of visual creativity, but then we spend about half an hour on some aimless quest for water while the film figures out what do with itself. Rango's got a lot of charm, and a lot of earnestness which is good to see, but narratively its kind of a mess. I found myself being won over anyway.