Depp's fidgety lizard has a taste for the theatrical. Before his arrival in Dirt he whiles away his lonely existence performing in one-man plays. The switch in location provides him with the opportunity to reinvent himself as confident outlaw Rango. A clash with a grumpy bar patron and his inadvertent slaying of a killer hawk leads the town to anoint him their new Sheriff, a role he embraces with thespian enthusiasm. The town's water supply is dwindling, however, and the threat of Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy, relishing his role as a snake with a machine gun for a tail) provides Rango with challenges to face.
Director Verbinksi utilises classic Western archetypes to build his gun-slinging yarn: heroes and villains, romance and intrigue, gunfights and conflict - all in a town where various parties are wrestling for control. This debt to Sergio Leone is emphasised further when, as Rango walks through the scorched desert in a moment of existential crisis, he encounters a grizzled 'Man With No Name' type character (Timothy Olyphant doing his best Clint impersonation). There's a modern sensibility injected into Rango too, notably in an exhilarating action set piece that weaves between canyons. Verbinski, whose Pirates sequels succumbed to bloated running times and needlessly dense plotting, appears to have been re-invigorated by animation. His camera swoops into interesting angles (following the title character running inside a glass bottle) and a tight script means Rango always has a pacey rhythm.
The cast also appears to have benefited from being together to lay down their voice tracks (acting out the script was a trick used by Wes Anderson for Fantastic Mr Fox). The isolated sound booth recordings often bring disjointed results, but here there's a real dynamism to the performances that match the pristine visuals. It's not completely plain sailing for Rango - it takes an age to kick into gear as Verbinski spends a little too long indulging in his introduction to Depp's animated alter ego. Once the character pulls up into Dirt, though, Rango hits its stride and takes you on a memorable ride through a kookily realised Old West.
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