(Gore Verbinski, 2011, USA)
The latest from Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski (though don’t let that put you off); Rango is an amusing, vividly entertaining tale, which blends first-class animation with a cine-literate, semi-western narrative and is one of the few contemporary animations that successfully straddles the line between the young and old demographics. Proving that he can play a chameleon both on and off screen career-wise (see his frequent collaborations with director Tim Burton), Johnny Depp stars as Rango, a charismatic reptile who enjoys reciting Shakespeare-esque monologues and staging amateur dramatics with a group of motionless, mismatched plastic toys within the confines of his four walled glass solarium. However, when he finds himself accidentally abandoned by his owners in the arid shores of the Nevada desert, Rango winds up amongst the locals of the tiny town of Dirt, where he is caught up in the mysterious drought they have been subjected to. Taking on the role of sheriff almost immediately and without hesitation, Rango takes it upon himself to rid the town of its liquid deficiency and the possible corruption of its bank, presided over by the meticulously devious Mayor Tortoise John (Ned Beatty), all the while coming to terms with his newfound identity in this most treacherous of surroundings.
As the titular hero, Depp channels his chameleon-like abilities to inhabit each and every role he opts for, and his smooth vocal capacity perfectly brings to life the witticisms that form the bulk of Rango’s lines. He is also supported by a likeable troupe of actors ranging from Isla Fisher, Alfred Molina, Ray Winstone and Bill Nighy, who plays Rattlesnake Jake, a slithering, gun-toting outlaw. Additionally, Beatty channels the same southern maliciousness he employed with the malevolent, strawberry scented Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear in last year’s Toy Story 3, though this time he is perhaps a less memorable antagonist, partly because he is bound to a wheelchair for the entirety of the narrative.
Thankfully parting ways with the increasingly verbose and manufactured Pirates franchise, Verbinski makes an impressive return to some semblance of form with Rango, which revels in its self-aware genre pastiches and more than a fair few loving nods to as many iconic Hollywood westerns as possible, also tipping its hat to the Depp-starring Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and, perhaps unconsciously, the storyline of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. Although at 107 minutes it is slightly overlong and admittedly my concentration did waver towards the films belated dénouement, Rango is a triumph of clever storytelling, self-reflexive homage’s and impressive animation, which all too easily could have been ruined by 3D. Fortunately, that wily extra dimension is non-existent this time round.