Rated: PG Reviewed by: Jim Release date: March 4, 2011 Released by: Paramount Pictures Corporation
If the story might be a little too parched and sprawling for its own (cactus) good, then this Wild West animated comedy adventure still has a rich reservoir of idiosyncratic attitude and vision to burn.
Gore Verbinski's Rango reunites him with his Pirates of the Caribbean megastar Johnny Depp (sufficient enough in Tim Burton's artistic Alice In Wonderland). Attuned wonderfully with a stereoscopic eye thanks to many at Industrial Light & Magic, it generates consistent amusement for a family audience, particularly older ones who fondly recall Segio Leone, Mel Brooks and Roman Polanski's Chinatown, as well as Sam Peckinpaugh's The Wild Bunch.
Depp more than ably voices a lost pet chameleon of a lizard, Lars, who makes his way through the Mojave Desert (after leaving his master's comfy backseat source) into a place called Dirt. Standing up to its vermin, he'll take on a new identity as its new, titular sheriff determined to get it out of the missing red when it comes to the water supply.
In John Logan's unoriginal, if distinctive screenplay (which may seem like a send-up of the Old West), he'll have to be more cocksure when it comes to an oily turtle of a property-hungry Mayor (Ned Beatty of Toy Story 3). There are a clandestine clan of moles and wicked Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) as he begins to warm up to a spunky lizard (with a weird defense mechanism of freezing up) in Beans (Isla Fisher) who's on the verge of losing the family farm.
Verbinski gets enough mileage from setting up a surreal, zany mood that almost imparts an ominous Road Runner cartoon. Some hilarity comes by way of voice-over from mariachi owls, as some of the more intense sequences feel the influence of George Lucas. The outcome is never really in doubt with enough tension built in to the unhinged slapstick and chases.
Plenty of gags pop up in askew, boisterous sequences with seemingly random meetings as the unsympathetic protagonist confronts what is more than a persona ("a hero can't exist in a vacuum"). The strong voice cast includes Alfred Molina as the informative armadillo Roadkill and Ray Winstone as a gila-monster, as well as Timothy Olyphant as Man With No Name, Spirit of the West.
Though it is kid-friendly (though not really for younger tots) and self-referential may clash a little, an unrestrained structure is strangely compiled with a touch of coincidence. In a way, an inspired Depp (way up from the teasy travelogue in The Tourist) channels his scruffy Capt. Jack Sparrow to humorous effect as Verbinski's work with the animators and visual effects teams unfolds with madcap creativity. Rango vibrantly rides through any pratfalls, predictability and discursive aloofness inviting much more than curiosity and admiration when it comes to visages, design and use of shadow and light stunningly framed with much dimensionality.