"Rango," a new animated film from Paramount Pictures, opened a few days ago and topped the weekend box office with a gross of $38 million. The film, which stars Johhny Depp as a domesticated lizard marooned in a small western town, has recieved rave reviews from film critics. But not everyone is thrilled about "Rango." In fact, the film is taking heat from parents, health experts and anti-smoking advocates over its many images of cigarette and cigar smoking.
According to the Sacramento, Calif.-based nonprofit Breathe California, there are more than 60 instances of character smoking in "Rango." That's almost unheard of for a PG-rated animated film, one that is clearly marketed to kids. According to Breath California, the only other animated film with that much smoking in it was "101 Dalmatians," with about 60 instances of Cruella De Vil smoking — and that was made in 1961, before smoking in TV and films became an issue.
Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California-San Francisco, said in a statement that kids who frequently see smoking onscreen are two to three times more likely to begin smoking than peers who rarely see it depicted. He was so outraged by what he considered the gratuitous smoking in "Rango" that on Feb. 23, his group, Smoke Free Movies, took out a full-page ad in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter that slammed the movie, asking, "How many studio execs did it take to OK smoking in a 'PG' movie?"
Virginia Lam, a spokeswoman for Paramount, the company that made "Rango," defended the film by saying that the title character never smokes. "The images of smoking in the film ... are portrayed by supporting characters and are not intended to be celebrated or emulated," she said.
Nevertheless, "Rango" has reignited a call from anti-smoking advocates for the Motion Picture Association of America, or MPAA, to rate any film that shows smoking as "R."