Film Review: Rango

2011 – 107mn – U

Directed by Gore Verbinski. With the voices of Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Ray Winstone. Review by Walter Nichols.

A clever and surprising treat is Rango, Gore Verbinski’s first foray into animation with his Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp. The film follows Rango (Depp), an ordinary pet chameleon with identity issues who gets lost in the desert and becomes the sheriff of a lawless small town called Dirt. Dirt is populated by desert animals and running out of water, and it falls to Rango to save the day – and learn about himself in the process.

The film is tremendously inventive and unlike any other animated film you’re likely to see this, or any, year. It starts with Rango declaiming Shakespeare to the plastic decorations in his lizard tank, then spends nearly two hours in full-blown spaghetti western spoof territory, with a couple of psychedelic trips and references to Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas and Clint Eastwood thrown in for good measure. All of which is probable to go right over your kids’ heads, but fear not: there are three thrillingly devised and shot action set pieces in store for them, along with plenty of comedy and laughs. And Depp’s playful, anarchic performance and presence pervades the entire film, to the joy of children and grown-ups alike.

Rango might not have the flawlessness, creativity, or humanity of a Pixar film; and indeed at times it’s quite poorly written, with long unmemorable scenes taking up unnecessary room. It’s also often quite pleased with its own originality, which takes away slightly from its charm. But it’s such a unique, quirky change from the usual animated studio dross – aimed squarely at selling toys and stickers to 10-year-olds – that it’s worth thoroughly celebrating.

Star rating: 4 out of 5 stars