If I asked you to name a western where the characters were all sunburnt and were cast to stock-character type, you would normally be right to think of Sergio Leone’s widescreen epics.
To this fine company you should now add the excellent Rango (2011), an anthropomorphic spaghetti western starring an animated chameleon, voiced by Johnny Depp.
After a mishap on a desert highway and an encounter with some strangely mystic roadkill (Alfred Molina), Rango ends up sheriff in a draught-affected town and finds himself confronting the corrupt local big wig (the legendary Ned Beatty) and his enforcer, a rattlesnake with a gun for a tail (the always excellent Bill Nighy).
What raises this gloriously animated film above its faceless and interchangeable peers is the sheer talent of its makers: the pitch-perfect character animation by ILM, the cinematography of Roger Deakins, the writing of John Logan and the direction of Pirates of the Caribbean’s (and the Budweiser chameleon adverts’) Gore Verbinski. Don’t be put off by the animated trappings, this is western homage at its finest.
Depp and Verbinski fell out of favour after the confused mess of their The Lone Ranger (2013). Depp, as we all know, has had marital problems that have rendered him unemployable, which is a great shame given just how many great movies he made in the nineties; Dead Man (1995), Ed Wood (1994) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), to name but three. His performance here recalls his cowardly turn in the Sleepy Hollow (1999).
If, like me, you have avoided this since its release a decade ago, thinking wrongly it was just another generic kids’ film, you should give it a second chance. Its reputation had only grown over the years and having seen the result, it is easy to see why.