A surreal and beautifully animated film that may confuse its audience as much as it entertains them but in the end is a satisfying yet bizarre motion picture.
I do have to say that while the film is beautifully animated, it is not a children's film. There are many scary moments and I don't think it's appropriate for anyone under ten. That being said, the movie is really an animated western for adults. Most of the film feels like a strange acid trip but the movie works because it looks so good and the characters are well acted and well developed. Depp especially seems to be having fun in his role and he injects the character of Rango with just the right balance of charm and mischief to make the character come alive. The movie also has a powerful water conservation message that is not lost in the story. But what is really cool about the movie is that at its heart it is a Western. It plays to the classic Western beats that you would expect. Rango is the stranger from out of town that comes in to save the day from the no-good cowboys who have taken over. It's kind of like an animated "High Noon" or "Unforgiven" only with desert creatures as the main characters. It's kind of strange but kind of cool at the same time.
The film begins by giving us a glimpse into the cushy life of our main character, Rango, a pet chameleon that lives in a terrarium. Rango lives a lonely existence in his cage but has an active imagination and fancies himself a hero. While his family is moving to Las Vegas, Rango's cage falls from the car and leaves Rango fending for himself in the dangerous desert. Eventually he stumbles upon a town called Dirt. Various desert creatures populate the town that all end up representing different Western archetypes. Since Rango has always considered him self a hero, he takes on the role of lawman and accepts a job as the town's sheriff. Unfortunately, things are not as they seem and the town of Dirt doesn't have a very good track record when it comes to Sheriffs lasting long in the corrupt Western town. Eventually Rango comes face to face with the film's villains and must dig deep inside himself to find the courage to stand up to them. In the process, he gains the respect of the town, as well as himself, while solving the mystery of the town's missing water supply.
Depp has made a career of taking on strange and odd roles but playing a chameleon is certainly a first for the actor and he pulls it off well. Depp posses an offbeat comedic timing that is perfectly applied here and he gives a commanding performance that helps carry the film and makes the story believable. He breathes life into this character and Rango comes alive completely, practically jumping of the screen in some scenes. The rest of the voice cast was excellent as well including Isla Fisher ("Wedding Crashers"), who plays Rango's love interest, a desert iguana named Beans. Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine"), Alfred Molina ("Spider-Man 2") and Bill Nighy ("The Constant Gardener") are also great in their roles. But the second great cameo in the film comes from a character Rango meets near the end simply referred to as "The Spirit Of The Old West." The character has a striking resemblance to Oscar winner Clint Eastwood and is perfectly performed by Timothy Olyphant (TV's "Justified"). Olyphant has the perfect grizzly voice to come close to embodying the famous filmmaker.
Director Gore Verbinski sets an epic tone and scope for the film that he pulls off for the most part. At times the movie's story gets lost in the brilliant animation and wonderfully developed characters. John Logan wrote the script and I'm afraid that it doesn't quite hold up at times. I do give Verbinski and Depp a lot of credit for attempting to make such a strange and surreal film and at times they pull it off but in other moments its possible to get lost in the film's complicated plot. Again, this is not a children's animated film, although kids probably won't hate it but they will be scared by some of the movie's more frightening moments. In the end, I think I may have enjoyed the idea of "Rango" more than the film itself but appreciate the "big swing" that the filmmakers have taken and would recommend people check out the film and decide for yourself. It's a complex movie, but it has great animation and fantastic characters. I just wish the story had held together a bit better. But if you are in the mood for something totally different ... than "Rango" may be the film for you.