Rango: A Kiddie Vision Quest

The one thing everyone kept telling me about Rango was that it wasn’t a "kid’s film." With the ticket price what it is in New York, it was enough for me to tell my boys we’d wait for the film to come out on DVD. I’d been burnt before – RobotsChicken Little.

Even when the DVD did finally come out, I wrestled with the decision. I worried about how long would it be before I would I end up trying to sell it on Ebay? Despite the largely positive reviews it received from critics like Roger Ebert, I was easily shaken by the lackluster reviews on Amazon.

I’m glad I got over it. Rango is a fantastic, trippy movie about the search for personal identity amid the desire for social conformity.

Yojimbo at the Let’s Not Talk About Movies blog does a nice job of citing a few of the movie’s inspirations and parodies.  I would like to add Woody Allen’s Zelig to his list.

While not a Western or Chinatown (the movie every critic seems to mention when speaking about Rango), Zelig shares the same questions of “being” as Rango – Who am I? The comparisons are made even easier in lieu of the fact that Rango is a chameleon and Zelig is a “human chameleon.” We learn in the movie that Zelig’s condition is a result of his wanting to fit in with whichever group of peers he happens to be with. This is Rango’s desire once he is taken out of his glass box and forced to interact with peers.

“Being” makes me think of Jean Paul Sartre and his book, Being and Nothingness. I must admit at this point, I remember starting the book and I remember really liking the notion of our “being” being defined by our expectations. But I don’t ever remember finishing the book or any details from it. So I’m going to rely on Wikipedia to validate me.

On the notion of “being” Rango shares a common thread with Alice in Wonderland (maybe not so much the movie, but the book).

It’s how Alice responds to the caterpillar’s question that makes the scene one of my favorites in the book (and outside of it). How many times are you asked, "Who are you?" And how many times have you responded with your name and perhaps your job title (depending on the occasion). When Alice says, “I don’t know. I’ve been so many things since this morning,” it speaks to the mutability of being.

What Rango does really well is depict a vision quest — an individual’s spiritual search for self — in a manner accessible to children. Of course, they won’t get all of the references, but they will understand enough to know that Rango is trying to figure out where he fits in and – more importantly – what to do when his peer group rejects him. Whether they admit it or not, most upper elementary and middle school kids will find comfort in the familiarities between Rango’s quest and their own.

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