The following post contains not just major spoilers for, but a review of, Rango (now in theaters). It also has middlin’ spoilers for a handful of Bugs Bunny cartoons, The Man Who Knew Too Little, and major spoilers for Galaxy Quest. (The point of the review is this: See Galaxy Quest instead.)
One of the important rules of the whole “Willing Suspension of Disbelief” for a great many narratives (that aren’t zany comedies, anyway) is that you follow the rules.
We, in the audience, can handle a bunny rabbit with a Flatbush accent. We can handle this bunny rabbit getting into a struggle of wills with a little person involved with organized crime pretending to be a baby. The second you have him fall in love with a normal, mute, stupid (no offense to pet rabbit companions, of course), Lepus Townsendii, you invite the audience to say “wait, what the heck is going on here?” In a universe with Bugs Bunny, the moment you introduce run-of-the-mill bunny rabbits, you have a need for a Bugs Bunny origin story. We can handle Bugs being a metaphor for the common man until we get shown “reality”.
When “Reality” enters the picture, Bugs ceases to be a metaphor for an archetype.
The archetype of the holy fool is usually a fun story. (You know, the village idiot who trips over a mound and it’s buried treasure, he falls down a well and finds a missing icon, he wanders into a castle and gives an old man a drink and heals a grievious wound.) The most recent version of this story that I’ve seen is The Man Who Knew Too Little. Now, this has always struck me as a very Russian archetype. When America gets its hands on it, there’s usually a brief argument around the writing table about “character growth” (the holy fool usually doesn’t grow as a character much, you see) and so there’s a tweak here, a tweak there, and you’ve got a brand new story: The Accidental Hero.
The Accidental Hero has a pretty decent formula. A normal, regular guy finds himself in a situation and bumbles and trips and causes a serendipitous accident that gets “the townsfolk” to say “golly! Our hero!” and, of course, the normal, regular guy likes the attention and presige and runs with it… until the moment where he gets nose to nose with a really big bad. The big bad makes the “hero” explain to the townsfolk that, no, he’s just a regular guy… the hero, broken, then has a short spiritual awakening where he realizes that he needs to be the Hero he was only pretending to be before.
Galaxy Quest did this *PERFECTLY*. Oh, my goodness, did it ever.
Which, finally, brings us to Rango.
Nobody ever says “well, the first 20 minutes of the movie were crappy but the last 70 minutes really made up for it!” The first 20 minutes are usually forgiven and folks are talking about the ending. If the last 20 minutes of a movie disappoint, however, this becomes something worth screaming about. So I want to say that I was *DELIGHTED* with the first half of this movie. I thought it was charming, funny, action-packed, and a wonderful example of the Accidental Hero genre.
It’s just that, in the second half, there are a number of things that go all pear-shaped.
In the first little bit (after a lovely moment with Ave Maria) we encounter a spiritual guide for Rango (the armadillo). There is a pretty decent speech discussing the importance of getting across to the other side. It’s a metaphor.
Which is all well and good! But remember the rules I hinted at in the first paragraph? Well, one of them is that metaphors have to remain metaphors. For example, if you have a Greek Chorus in your story, it has to be their job to yell stuff at the audience or at the main character. You can even have the main character hammer stuff out with the Greek Chorus. They can argue. What you *CAN’T* do is have the main character, oh, attack the big bad and have the Greek Chorus help. That’s not what the Greek Chorus *IS*. That’s not what it *DOES*. I suppose you could have this zany madcap story in which a Hero and his Greek Chorus goes around beating up big bads but that would, at the end of the day, be a fairly unsatisfying story that would raise more questions than it answers… much like Bugs Bunny hitting on a member of Lepus Townsendii would do.
Rango yanked me out of my willing suspension of disbelief in the third act. I can put up with themes I don’t agree with, inside-jokes that refer to previous movies made by the actors (preferable when this happens in the first scene to later scenes, of course), even the main character stealing a kiss from a woman he thinks is catatonic (creepy!), but don’t yank me out of the movie because the rules are too constraining.
All that to say: Everything that it did well was done better in Galaxy Quest (theme) or the various Pixar movies (animation). I’d suggest watching those instead if you haven’t seen them or even again if you have. Rango disappointed… which is too bad because I really, really enjoyed the first two acts.