Reviewed by: David Graham

"It is admirable that Verbinski has chosen to forgo 3D, as the spectacle he conjures in his various set-pieces is enough to have you ducking and diving already."

Gore Verbinski's latest children's film goes someway towards re-establishing his reputation as a director able to entertain the whole family. Johnny Depp is given his most enjoyable role since the first Pirates Of The Caribbean, lending his voice talents to our titular hero, a thesping chameleon (see what they did there?) who finds his life of captivity turned upside down when a road accident leaves him stranded in the Mojave desert. So far, so Bolt, but Rango immediately distinguishes itself by taking the adult humour increasingly woven into modern animation to absurd new extremes. The first ten minutes alone encompass discussion of 'enlightenment' and 'metaphors' as well as a cameo appearance from Hunter S Thompson!

Refreshingly, the film completely avoids human characters thereafter, settling down to become an anthropomorph Western where adorably scrappy desert critters find their existence threatened by an ever-decreasing water supply. Their town of Dirt is delightfully detailed, with nods to Wild West lore and Spaghetti Western style cropping up in practically every shot. The characters are also right on the mark, with Ned Beatty making a splendidly slimy mayor, even if he is almost repeating the same role from Toy Story 3. A variety of other acting legends - from Harry Dean Stanton to Ray Winstone - lend excellent support but crucially don't allow their real-life personas to take over. There are even sly references to modern concerns, with today's recession, banking crises and oil power struggles all represented subtly enough to amuse without becoming distracting.

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It is admirable that Verbinski has chosen to forgo 3D, as the spectacle he conjures in his various set-pieces is enough to have you ducking and diving already. Often reminiscent of scenes from the Star Wars series, when the action kicks into gear you'll wonder if this is really the same director who last delivered the cripplingly uneventful Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End. He also shows a sure grasp of the inherent comedy in having animals play such familiar parts; much of the pleasure of the film is derived from seeing which beast is matched up to which Western town stereotype, whether it's the literally foxy French madam or the suitably squirrelly banker. The knowing humour reaches its peak with several Raising Arizona homages and a tribute to 'the spirit of the West' that would rank as the best cameo since Zombieland if it were actually who it appears to be.

Verbinski's sterling work comes a little undone, however, in his eventual over-abundance of characters and convoluted plotting. By the end, there have been at least five sets of villains to keep track of, leaving it hard to care about the inevitable hero's triumph. The darker moments peppered throughout are also a little incongruous; while in itself a perversely pleasant surprise for a children's film, the deaths of some characters are handled a little too flippantly. While never dull, Rango could probably do with losing 15 minutes and narrowing its scope to concentrate on some of the conflicts it establishes only to ignore until the final reel. But this is still an excellent parody of the Western genre masquerading as a family adventure; it works well on both levels thanks to the authentic score, imaginative visual flourishes and some stunning animation and design. While it never quite becomes as riotous as it obviously hopes to be, Rango still has charm in spades and easily stands out as a lovingly crafted original in its crowded field.

Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2011
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A chameleon finds himself in a Wild West town that is desperate for a new sheriff.
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Director: Gore Verbinski

Writer: John Logan, Gore Verbinski, James Ward Byrkit

Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant, Ray Winstone, Ian Abercrombie, Gil Birmingham, James Ward Byrkit, Claudia Black, Blake Clark

Year: 2011

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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