Depp voices a pet chameleon whose elaborately staged terrarium productions—with little more than a headless Barbie doll and a plastic fish as supporting players—allow him to cast himself as a hero. But when a freeway mishap lands him along the side of the road in the Mojave Desert, a real-life adventure awaits him. The critter-inhabited desert town of Dirt is running out of water, and it may take a stranger wandering into town to give folks hope—a stranger who calls himself Rango.
The ensuing tale is a funky hybrid between a spaghetti Western and Chinatown, complete with a wheelchair-bound villain (Ned Beatty, finding a second career as an animated heavy) and showdowns on dusty streets. Director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean), making his first animated feature, treats the story as a full-fledged but fairly bizarre—and usually in a good way—action spectacle that’s not necessarily pitched at kids. You’ve got a band of bat-riding outlaws, a mariachi Greek chorus of owls, more than a couple bits of off-color double-entendre and a whole mess of borderline hallucinatory images. Bring the 5-year-olds at your own peril.
And you’ve got Depp, whose voice performance channels George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou? in its dandified hyper-verbosity. It’s orders of magnitude more fun than most mail-it-in animated voice work, which perhaps emphasizes that the supporting voices—including Isla Fisher as Rango’s romantic interest—aren’t nearly as interesting. As is true of many Depp films—including one that gets a great cameo here—you’d better be prepared to surrender to his brand of eccentricity.
Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty