Set in a surreally off-kilter version of the Wild West populated entirely by animals, computer-animated Western Rango is both a witty spoof and loving homage to the genre.
The plot’s familiar – the stranger who becomes the saviour of an imperiled town - but here the hero is Johnny Depp‘s skittish chameleon, who passes himself off as gunslinger Rango and becomes the sheriff of the parched desert town of Dirt, where the water supply has suspiciously run dry.
Among the critters and varmints he encounters are Isla Fisher’s feisty lizard heroine, Ned Beatty’s treacherous tortoise mayor and Bill Nighy’s lethal villain Rattlesnake Jake.
As the story unfolds, the gags zing by like bullets from a six-gun; most, it has to be said, will fly over children’s heads, but buffs will relish allusions to dozens of Western classics, from High Noon and Shane to Sergio Leone’s legendary Spaghetti Westerns.
Director Gore Verbinski, maker of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, doesn’t just reference Westerns, though. The water-theft plot owes a debt to detective classic Chinatown, and there are visual nods to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and an extended sequence that replays the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ aerial-attack scene from Apocalypse Now with bats instead of helicopters.
With its quirky characters and vibrantly realised settings, the film looks fabulous – and it sounds great too, thanks to Hans Zimmer’s Ennio Morricone-inspired score and songs from Los Lobos as a band of mariachi-playing owls who pop up now and then to provide a running commentary on the action.
Released on DVD & Blu-ray by Paramount Home Entertainment.