The Johnny Depp Archive

Rango (2011)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty, Harry Dean Stanton, Bill Nighy, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Ray Winstone, Timothy Oliphant

Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Johnny Depp is Rango

Being a Johnny Depp fan can take you to some strange places, from Endora to Wonderland, Machine to World's End. But nowhere is quite as strange as the tiny, ramshackle, frontier town of Dirt, inhabited by a ragtag bunch of maimed, sorry-ass, potential roadkill scratching out an existence in the harsh, waterless environment of the Mojave desert.  

Into this sad excuse of a settlement stumbles our hero, a genial chameleon in a Hawaiian shirt, who's currently undergoing an existential crisis and who seizes the opportunity to reinvent himself as a hero.

So far so fairly standard concept for an animated film. But believe me, it's so not: Rango is what's going on at ground level while Raoul Duke and Dr Gonzo are out of their heads in Sin City just down the road.

Sheriff Rango (Johnny Depp) with the townsfolk of Dirt

From psychedelic dream sequences to postmodern musings on the role of the hero, Rango is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly meets Deadwood meets Back to the Future III meets Deliverance, a cartoon animal reimagining of Johnny's back catalogue, from Lost in La Mancha to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dead Man to Arizona Dream, with a liberal dose of Pirates thrown in for good measure (well, it is directed by Gore Verbinski). And yet, while it wears its influences proudly on its tattered sleeve, Rango isn't quite like anything you've seen before.

Rango with lizard love interest Beans (Isla Fisher)

Eschewing bug-eyed Disneyfied cuteness, the creatures of Rango are exquisitely animated but often quite grotesque, each sprouting hair, snaggle-tooth , rheumy eye and bedraggled feather realised in perfect, ultra-real detail. They're voiced just as brilliantly, by a cracking cast led by Johnny Depp, whose own chameleon on-screen nature makes him the perfect choice for our mercurial hero. He's on top form here, ably supported by Isla Fisher, channelling Holly Hunter as his lizard love interest, Beans, and Ned Beatty as the town's wheelchair-bound turtle mayor. Plus look out for splendid cameos by Bill Nighy, Harry Dean Stanton and the lovely Timothy Oliphant.

Rango (Johnny Depp) confronts the Mayor of Dirt (Ned Beatty)

While the plot arc may be predictable, there are plenty of unexpected detours along the way, and the smart script crackles with wit and heart. With enough edge-of-seat action and slapstick humour to keep the little ones engrossed and some utterly superb set-pieces (loved, loved, loved the bat attack!), this film genuinely is fun for all the family. I wondered if some of the creepier characters and off-the-wall dialogue might be a bit much for some of the tinier tots in the cinema, but they appeared to be lapping it up.

So don't be put off by the thought of yet another animated animal caper: Rango is in a bonkers league of its own, a real Depp delight up there with his kookier classics. Fur and feathers and fun in Las Vegas.

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