My son had off from school today, originally for teacher in-service, but then they closed all the area schools due to flooding. So a friend and I took her 12 year old daughter and my 5 year old son to see “Rango.” Jake has been dying to see it since the previews first started running months ago. We caught an early show at Regal Cinema, even though it’s a good half hour away, because it’s nicer than my local theater.

For those who don’t already know, “Rango” is advertised as a children’s movie starring Johnny Depp as the titular chameleon who falls off the back of a truck, out of his aquarium sanctuary, and into “Dirt,” a town suffering from a drought and a slew of power-hungry, wild-west type bad guys. Sounds like a relatively simple children’s story plot, right? Well, what they don’t really imply in the previews is the utter surrealism that permeates the majority of the movie.

The opening was slow. Really slow. So slow that Jake asked if we could leave five minutes into the movie. I’d like to say that once it gets going, the speed picks up, but it doesn’t really. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. At some points, the speed is rapid-fire action, moving along like a bullet shot from the barrel of a shotgun. But at other points, it comes screeching to a halt, quite literally crawling across the road at a armadillo’s pace. It was, as I said, surreal. Yet is was still good. Once we made it through the first 15 minutes, even at its slowest point, the movie managed to keep Jake’s attention. Throughout the movie, I kept thinking I’d seen that lizard somewhere before. The split-second ode to Hunter S. Thompson (at least I think that’s who was supposed to be driving along in the red corvette, it happened really fast) should have cued me in. Rango’s outfit should have been the second clue. When I got home and googled “Rango and Hunter S. Thompson”  out of curiosity, the entire movie suddenly made a whole lot more sense. Johnny Depp apparently based the character Rango on the deceased Gonzo journalist.

“Rango” took some heat in other reviews that I saw, mostly because the movie does sprinkle a few “hells” and “damns” throughout,  although Jake didn’t seem to pick up on this. Also, a few of the characters drink, smoke and play poker briefly. I’m not all that conservative when it comes to these things, so it didn’t bother me, especially since it seemed to go right over Jake’s head, along with any other adult jokes, but I did want to mention it for those who do prefer to avoid those sorts of things.

At its heart, “Rango” is a movie about a lizard trying to decide who he really is. When he first arrives in town, he’s a stranger in a land where strangers aren’t looked upon too kindly. On a whim, he creates a back story for himself in which he is portrayed as a rough-and-tough, take no prisoners gunslinger who once took down 7 brothers with one bullet. He somehow manages to perpetuate this persona, hilariously managing to overcome various challenges and pitfalls. By the end, however, Rango is forced to decide what kind of lizard he really is and embrace his true self in order to save those who look to him to be the hero of the day. The overall message is a good one, even if the journey of self-discovery may be a little too much “Fear and Loathing” for some viewers. As a huge fan of both Johnny Depp and Hunter S. Thompson, I enjoyed most of the journey despite wishing they’d just get to the point a few times.