A pet lizard (Johnny Depp) falls out of a car in the desert, and earns himself a heroic reputation in the makeshift animal town of Dirt as gunslinger Rango. Dirts water-supply is controlled by a turtle mayor (Ned Beatty) and his gang, but Rango rallies t
Every year, CGI animation gets exponentially better at such a pace critics risk running short of synonyms for ‘amazing’. Rango probably looks as good as it does because Gore Verbinski and an army of processors didn’t get sidetracked and chose to make something ‘flat’ but amazingly textured and detailed. 3D is so obligatory for animation these days it takes a few minutes to adjust to the fact that Rango doesn’t make you wear glasses or throw snakes in your face … though, in every sense other than technical, it’s among the most three-dimensional films of the year.
Bravely, it risks not connecting with the traditional huge audience for toons by appealing more to grown-ups than kids. Johnny Depp delivers weird stoner patter as the voice of the kink-necked, swivel-eyed chameleon hero (the colour-changing gag is underplayed) and Verbinski extends the psychedelic fugue from his last Pirates Of The Caribbean movie as Rango wanders into a wasteland for guidance from the Spirit of the West (Timothy Olyphant). This is stuffed full of wry, knowing homages to the sorts of movies our market research tells us Empire readers love but which the average nine-year-old might be less familiar with. A Wagner-scored Apocalypse Now helicopter attack with bats ridden by Hills Have Eyes-look mutant moles is about as broad as it gets, with plot elements from Chinatown, Django and El Topo plus riffs on Depp’s appearances in Dead Man and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.
On top of the freeform movie freakery, this offers ‘funny animal’ denizens of Dirt which include disturbing-looking gila monster whores, rattlesnake hired killers, a spider undertaker and assorted uncomfortable-looking vermin (if the Muppets made Deadwood, this is what you’d get). Rango has more invention to the minute than almost any other movie this year – the lizard heroine’s defence mechanism statue act is an especial highlight – and, if it’s a little too peculiar to be all that funny, it delivers action, strangeness and sheer visual impact to make it a potentially lasting cult movie.
Lets face it, a spaghetti Western with reptiles was never going to be as comfortable a watch as, say, a kung-fu movie with a panda. A certain percentage of the audience will instantly sieze on this as their favourite movie of all time, and a small, but n