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'Rango' review: Johnny Depp's take on animated western conquers reptile dysfunction

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

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With the voices of Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher. Animated adventure about a charismatic chameleon. Director: Gore Verbinski (1:47). PG: crude humor, language, violence, mature themes. At area theaters.

"A strange and bewildering tale" is what we're told to expect when "Rango" begins, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more apt description for Gore Verbinski's wonderfully inventive animated western.

The latest collaboration between Verbinski ("Pirates of the Caribbean") and Johnny Depp is sharp-edged, surreal, and often astonishing in its giddy creativity. What it is not, however, is a family film.

Or, at least, not the safe, cuddly type the movie's ad blitz may have led you to expect. John Logan's near-existential script is obsessed with death and violence and animals who are named "Roadkill" for a reason.

Then again, I can't remember the last animated hero as inviting as Depp's Rango, a lonely chameleon with untapped flair. He gets his chance to impress when he happens upon a parched community in the Mojave Desert, where the central well has run suddenly, suspiciously dry.

After regaling the desperate citizens with outlandish tall tales, Rango is elected sheriff — a job, it turns out, he was born to do. Aided by a feisty lizard (Isla Fisher) and obstructed by a shifty turtle (Ned Beatty), Rango sets out to uncover the truth and save a town.

A movie made by outlaw insiders, "Rango" is the rarest of studio releases: one that stubbornly resists limits. Which is not to say you need cult tastes to enjoy its irreverence. In a vocal performance of extraordinary range, Depp offers something for everyone, while those old enough to enjoy "Pirates of the Caribbean's" bawdy humor will welcome the similar sensibility here. Visual consultant Roger Deakins — who last made "True Grit" — ensures that each shot is a visual marvel.

Really, the animation is so gorgeously rendered, it puts every 3D effort in recent memory to shame.

Mostly, though, the picture feels as if it were made for movie-lovers — and not just those ready to spot each cinematic reference, but anyone who appreciates the risks film allows. Granted, not every joke works, and sometimes the pacing feels a little slow. But when uninspired comedies like "Gnomeo & Juliet" are the norm, it's nice to know there's also room for Rango. (Source)
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