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John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service

Rango, voiced by Johnny Depp, and Beans, voiced by Isla Fisher, are shown in a scene from the movie "Rango."
A mysterious stranger arrives in a remote outpost and protects desperate townsfolk from villainous elements. It's a staple setup of Westerns, both traditional and newfangled, and few iterations of the genre could be judged more novel than "Rango" (Paramount), a cartoon adventure populated by desert fauna.

Paying homage to classics such as "High Noon"—as well as to the spaghetti Westerns that put Clint Eastwood on the map in the 1960s—this comparatively edgy movie targets family audiences, yet is better suited to adults. In fact, even many of them will be put off by the script's passing, but nonetheless ill-advised, foray into religious humor.

So, once again, the marketing of a Hollywood release belies its content. In addition to anything else, centering as it does on a lonely chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp), "Rango" would befuddle and occasionally bore children, when not scaring them.

On the plus side, in their first animated feature, the special-effects wizards at Industrial Light & Magic have fashioned a visually striking picture without using 3D technology. And although derivative, the script is clever and literate, even when resorting to toilet gags, which it does fairly often.

Reteaming with Depp, star of his "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, director Gore Verbinski puts considerable emphasis on the surreal aspects of the hero's search for an identity, particularly in dream sequences that have a psychedelic tinge.

Following a highway mishap, Rango, as the domesticated pet soon dubs himself, wanders into a Mojave Desert community that's experiencing a severe drought. A teller of tall tales, mostly because he craves social interaction, he poses as a brave gunfighter and becomes sheriff of the town of Dirt.

This parched hamlet is home to a menagerie of colorful critters native to the harsh environment. They include The Mayor, a wheelchair-bound tortoise (voiced by Ned Beatty), who appears to be hoarding water, plus the comely lizard Beans (voice of Isla Fisher), who is struggling to save her late father's ranch.

The spiritual content, though slight, is distinctly mixed and nets out in the negative column. Initially, for instance, Rango is encouraged to embark on a spiritual quest by an armadillo called Roadkill (voice of Alfred Molina).

But in a later scene—reminiscent of a revival meeting and calculated to disconcert viewers of all denominations—the townspeople are shown venerating the water-yielding "Holy Spigot." A reference to the "face of God" during this episode approaches outright blasphemy.

Nor does Rango's brief recitation of the Lord's Prayer while fearfully crossing the desert earlier on in the movie register as entirely sincere.

The film contains some fairly intense cartoon violence, brief irreverent and frequent toilet humor, occasional innuendo and sexual references, an inaudible crude term and at least one instance of crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Francis of Assisi: Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance. 
<p>Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi's youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy." </p><p>From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down." Francis became the totally poor and humble workman. </p><p>He must have suspected a deeper meaning to "build up my house." But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor "nothing" man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up all his possessions, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis' "gifts" to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, "Our Father in heaven." He was, for a time, considered to be a religious fanatic, begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, evokng sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking. </p><p>But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: "Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff" (Luke 9:1-3). </p><p>Francis' first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no idea of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church's unity. </p><p>He was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa, but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. </p><p>During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44), he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, "Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death." He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.</p> American Catholic Blog The joy of the Gospel is not just any joy. It consists in knowing one is welcomed and loved by God…. And so we are able to open our eyes again, to overcome sadness and mourning to strike up a new song. And this true joy remains even amid trial, even amid suffering, for it is not a superficial joy: it permeates the depths of the person who entrusts himself to the Lord and confides in him.


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