(director: Gore Verbinski; screenwriters: John Logan/based on a story by Mr. Logan, Mr. Verbinski and James Ward Byrkit; editor: Craig Wood; music: Hans Zimmer; WITH THE VOICES OF: Johnny Depp (Rango), Isla Fisher (Beans), Abigail Breslin (Priscilla), Alfred Molina (Roadkill), Bill Nighy (Rattlesnake Jake), Stephen Root (Doc/Merrymack), Harry Dean Stanton (Balthazar), Ray Winstone (Bad Bill), Ned Beatty (Mayor), Timothy Olyphant(the Spirit of the West) ; Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Craig Wood/Gore Verbinski/Graham King; Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies; 2011)

“Oddball existential western animation.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The first feature animation by Industrial Light and Magic is this oddball existential western animation directed by mainstream filmmaker Gore Verbinski(“Pirates of the Caribbean”/”Mousehunt”/”The Ring”), also directing his first cartoon. The voice of Johnny Depp is used to play the titular cowboy chameleon, giving the pic extra energy. It’s written byJohn Logan and is based on a story by Mr. Logan, Mr. Verbinski and James Ward Byrkit.The characters and images are all too familiar from many Westerns through the years, but the pic moves in its own direction making it seem fresh.

Rango is a pet lizard and wannabe actor who is accidentally released from his aquarium while the humans are taking a road trip and winds up marooned in the Mojave Desert. By chance a wounded armadillo (Alfred Molina) on the road gives the lost lizard directions to the dusty bleak frontier town of Dirt, a place running low on water. Posing in the local saloon as a gunslingerwho killed seven outlaws with a single bullet, Rango is believed because he tells his lie so convincingly and the desperate town is willing to believe him because it’s looking for a savior. When Rango accidentally kills a giant hawk, who frightens everyone in town, the re-invented wacko gets appointed sheriff and he starts to investigate the drought problem and deal with all the outlaws in town such as Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy). Sheriff Rango becomes romantically drawn to the feisty loner rancher frontier gal named Beans (Isla Fisher), investigates the crooked Mayor (Ned Beatty) for being responsible for the drought and comes into contact with other conspicuous Dirt residents such as Abigail Breslin, Ray Winstone and Harry Dean Stanton. By the end, Rango becomes a real hero, as the film’s quest theme reflects on the plausibility of reinventing oneself in a time of need.

The family-friendly film has an adult-like clever but shallow spoof, dumb jokes and broad farcical comedy. While the animation is resourceful with rich visuals and the action is almost non-stop like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, because of its mostly sophisticated dialogue the pic remains better served for adults and movie buffs rather than the kiddies. Though the film remains pleasantly weird and is not all that predictable for an animation, it never completely satisfies one’s thirst for a more cohesive flick. Thrown into the slight narrative is an apt plot twist from ‘Chinatown’ and a cameo by a Hunter S. Thompson caricature in the beginning segment (a nod to Depp’s inspirational writer figure).

A doom-predicting mariachi band of four owls serve as a Greek chorus, announcing the turn in events.

Rango Poster