The creepy crawlies in Rango are a far cry from Pixar’s kiddie-friendly critters like the rat-who-can-cook in Ratatouille and the ingenious inventor-ant in A Bug’s Life, or even that faithful cockroach who follows around his robot pal in Wall-E. An assortment of ugly but fascinating creatures make up the cast of Rango, which, with its smart script and occasionally subtle humor, is unlikely to appeal to very young fans of animation anyway.
Johnny Depp voices lonely lizard Rango who arrives in Dirt, a small Western town populated with rodents and reptiles, which is on the brink of collapse because water supply is running dangerously low. Fooling the desperate townsfolk into believing that he’s a fearless gunslinger, Rango becomes Sheriff. Now he must help secure water for the locals, and find the strength to protect them from their Machiavellian mayor and a machine gun-toting rattlesnake.
Helmed by Gore Verbinski who directed Depp in the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, this clever adventure echoes many classic Westerns in its parched landscapes, and the use of such typical scenarios as bank hold-ups, saloon brawls, and high noon face-offs. The dialogue is razor-sharp, and the principal cast offers some fine voice-work, starting with Depp himself who invests Rango with a quirky temperament, and Isla Fisher who shines as Beans, the fast-talking female lizard who has a habit of freezing at peculiar times. In an obvious homage to Chinatown, Ned Beatty voices the town’s water-hoarding mayor who has sinister intentions.
The animation itself is ambitious and remarkably detailed, and the film’s tone is urgent without ever turning sentimental. Rango is that rare animation film that has edge, but doesn’t pander so it can reach out to larger numbers.
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Rango. It’s an unusual but enjoyable romp that demands patience, but leaves you feeling rewarded in the end.