If you were operating under the impression that Rango might be your typical, formulaic computer-animated feature, take a moment to consider the involvement of Johnny Depp. When, over the course of a 25-year acting career, has this guy been known to take a role that could be called typical or formulaic?
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 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 so much mail-it-in animated voice work. As is true of many Depp films, you'd better be prepared to surrender to his brand of eccentricity.