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Did you get a slightly uneasy feeling when you discovered Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was a Disney movie? Mild surprise may be a better description, well - you may have experienced a similar feeling when you found that Captain Jack Sparrow, better known as Johnny Depp, is Rango. That's right... the coolest actor in Hollywood, famed as a clumsy pirate is a swashbuckling "lizard".

Just when you thought he couldn't possibly do anything without Tim Burton's permission, he unleashes Rango, a chameleon trapped in the Mojave Desert with nothing but his moxie and theatrical ability.

Depp's known for playing outwardly eccentric characters who are misunderstood by society, but this time it's difficult to determine just how freakish our reptilian protagonist is when he's surrounded by a motley crew of furry critters in the desert. He's supported by a voice cast including: Isla Fisher, Timothy Olyphant, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root and Ray Winstone. It's an all-star ensemble of voice actors - each adding their own dark slant like the casting for a Tim Burton movie.

Lars (Depp) stumbles into the small dusty town of Dirt before swindling his way to Sheriff with the help of a tall story and a gullible saloon. Before he's even wet his tongue, the chameleon adopts the name and legacy of Rango, a stranger-turn-savior of Dirt and its townsfolk, who are experiencing a drought with the added threat of local bandits. As Rango, Lars has to live up to the legend and survive longer than the town's last Sheriff.

This offbeat animated adventure and western comedy is quite remarkable. Rango's visuals are worth the admission price alone - boasting beautiful textures, imaginative characters and true-to-life backdrops. The colours are mesmerising and Pirates of the Caribbean director, Gore Verbinksi, has treated Rango like an live-action epic when it comes to cinematography. The story is pretty stock standard for a western with all the regular ingredients, except it's animated and played out by animals instead of people. However, the voice performances and production values create the illusion of reality - making some of the scenes seem quite real.

Rango isn't a kids movie. It flies under the banner of Nickelodeon, but don't be fooled - this one is quite dark with impending death pinned as a central theme. The comedy isn't as crisp as a Pixar script and the characters aren't as charming as they'd have you believe, but Rango still delivers on dialogue with a smart script and some witty interplay.

The novelty of the concept is that the classic Western has been given a new skin and a different shade of performances. There's a surreal element to the film reminiscent of Jack Sparrow's meanderings in the desert with bugs carrying our hero away. Verbinski has used light, colour and textures quite masterfully - using light refraction from bottles and warped reflective images from water to give the movie a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas overtone. Dreams, visions... this animated feature goes beyond the confines of a straightforward Pixar production to achieve something beyond normalcy.

Despite it's ambitious ventures to the outer edges of animation and it's adult themes, it doesn't quite deliver on laughs and story. The style and execution of Rango outweighs the slightly superficial attempt at a Chinatown meets the Three Amigos. It's largely entertaining with eye-popping visuals and a good pacing, yet without a truly original story... the brilliant animated effects seem vapid and without anything to keep it anchored, it all seems to be in the moment rather than memorable.

It's a fun, rollicking thrill ride from start to finish with dazzling animation and a first-class voice cast. The film comes across as something of a fluid artwork, maintaining its entertainment value and keeping the viewer transfixed in its trippy, quick-paced adventure. Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp bring their trademark mood across in Rango, giving the animated feature instant cult appeal. Rango isn't for everyone, but it's difficult to not to like it.

The bottom line: Enthralling.

8.50/10 ( 2 Votes )
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