PLOT: A nerdy chameleon reinvents himself as a Wild West gunslinger in this animated movie.
BOTTOM LINE: More Tarantino than Disney, with action that might be too intense for young ones
CAST: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty, Bill Nighy
Just when you thought you'd seen everything, here comes "Chinatown," the animated version.
If President Andrew Jackson can inspire a rock musical and Anna Nicole Smith can become an opera, why not turn a 1974 film noir about water rights into a kids' movie? That's what "Rango" is, though precious few children will get the overall joke, let alone the elaborate tributes to Clint Eastwood's spaghetti Westerns and the 1981 punk-action classic "The Road Warrior."
Parents and film buffs, however, may be delighted by this work of inspired lunacy, which breaks nearly every rule of animated movies. Its hero is not a child but a seemingly adult chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp) whose life as someone's pet ends abruptly when he falls from a car speeding through the Mojave desert. There he discovers the town of Dirt, whose talking-animal citizens aren't cute and fuzzy, but matted and ugly; some are missing teeth and eyes. Even the prettiest girl here is a flat-faced lizard named Beans (Isla Fisher).
Our hero reinvents himself as Rango, a wandering gunslinger, but bravado is of little use against The Mayor (Ned Beatty), a wheelchair-bound tortoise who controls the water supply, and Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy), a terrifying assassin with a Gatling-gun tail. The film's PG rating comes from some intense action scenes, as well as - get this - lots of smoking.
Directed and co-written by Gore Verbinski, of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, "Rango" is overlong and overclever but gets by on manic energy and a fantastic voice cast led by a wonderfully unhinged Depp.
Oh, the kids? Leave them at home.