Gore Verbinski’s “Rango” tells the familiar tale of a sheltered animal hurled from captivity into the savage wilderness. In this case, Rango (Johnny Depp) is a thespian chameleon that, having lived in a cage all his life, wants nothing more than some real company.
After his owners hit a road bump, his cage is flung onto the freeway and Rango is stranded in the Mojave Desert. After getting help from Roadkill, a mythical armadillo (Alfred Molina), Rango makes his way to the town of Dirt. He encounters a farmer’s daughter named Beans (Isla Fisher), and after some improvised tough-guy routine, accidentally becomes the new sheriff of Dirt. Now tasked with finding the source of the town’s water supply shortage, he attempts to fake his way into being a legitimate Western badass.
These days it is rare to go see an animated film that is both worth watching and not from Pixar or Dreamworks. When the movie isn’t saturated with pop culture references or excessive dancing, it is shoving bad plot and unfunny jokes. For the most part, the animated film genre is riddled with weekend fodder designed solely to keep Junior occupied for about an hour and a half while mom and dad try to get in a quickie. This is why movies like “Rango” are such a treat: they entertain kids and keep the adults from bludgeoning themselves with blunt objects.
“Rango” rips its premise from “Crocodile Dundee,” but “Rango” spends more time exploring the Western genre than the fish-out-of-water trope. There are gunslingers, droughts, bank heists, hangings, and religious imagery. Verbinski stepped on eggshells when creating the film but handles the material very well out of deference to the genre. The flakes of the shells provide a bit of texture, too.
Johnny Depp steals the show as Rango, the chameleon that brings the law to the Wild West, not to be confused with “Wild Wild West.” Bill Nighy, who voices the outlaw Rattlesnake Jake, provides excellent voices but Depp is the focus here. Though at times he kind of sounds like Kermit the Frog — never a terrible thing — Depp was great overall.
While the ending felt a little preachy, the sermon was quickly swept under the rug to get the film back to the story. “Rango” seems like it packs a lot of material (and it does), but Verbinski handles the pacing with a skill reminiscent of Pixar’s Brad Bird. With witty humor, tons of nods to the Western genre and a solid story, “Rango” is a bullseye.