Working in animation for the first time, Gore Verbinski’s homage to Hollywood westerns, specifically the spaghetti oaters of the 1960s, sustains a level of visual ingenuity (without recourse to the over-hyped 3D technology) that will likely become a benchmark against which all future computer-generated cartoons will be measured. In other words, Rango is pure magic.
The smart story revolves around a pet chameleon (Depp, in an astonishing voice performance) that gets stranded in a parched frontier town. Pretending to be the fastest gun alive, the titular lizard leads the colourful desert critters on their delirious quest for water.
The script also draws inspiration from Roman Polanski’s seminal Chinatown (1974). The baddie brigade is led by the town’s malfeasant tortoise mayor (Ned Beatty, channeling John Huston right down to the stentorian drawl).
Besides delivering hyper-kinetic action set pieces, the film boasts of droll wit and photorealistic character design. The Coen brothers’ regular cinematographer Roger Deakins served as consultant accounting for the vivid palette and textures.
At the same time, there’s a deeper emotional resonance in the scenes featuring Rango’s love interest, a headstrong female iguana (Fisher) intent on saving her family ranch.
Other high points include the quartet of wacky mariachi owls who act as a chorus and the encounter with the Clint Eastwood-like Spirit of the Old West (albeit dubbed by Timothy Olyphant). The retro-music score by Hans Zimmer is a delightful riff on the work of such westerns stalwarts as Elmer Bernstein and Ennio Morricone.
From the first frame right up to the funky end credits Rango rocks. Go for it.