Gore Verbinski’s surreal fable mourning the decline of the Old West makes for one of the best Westerns in recent years; the fact that it’s animated and features cute (and sometimes not so cute) animals just makes it all the more unique and bittersweet. Rango (Johnny Depp) is a pet lizard prone to theatricality and tall tales who suddenly finds himself on a real-life adventure when a bump (or, rather, an armadillo) in the road separates him from his human family; now stranded in the desert, he makes his way to the town of Dirt, an old Western town populated by various animals suffering from a severe drought, the cause of which stinks of conspiracy and political corruption. Branded the town’s sheriff after dispatching with a murderous hawk (by way of sheer luck), Rango sets out to fix the town’s water problem, an endeavor which pits him against a rogue band of moles and prairie dogs (who specialize in air attacks thanks to being adept at riding bats) — and the notorious Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy), whose rattler has been replaced with a deadly gattling gun. Some of the action set pieces here rival those in Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean films, particularly a hair-raising desert chase scene involving the aforementioned bat-riding critters; a few bizarre dream sequences also recall the stunning, stark imagery of the limbo-set first act of At World’s End, making for a particularly rich and occasionally subversive animated feature that might be that much more for adults than for children.
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