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Written by: John Logan

Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant, Ned Beatty, 

Gore Verbinski’s Rango is a treasure. This is a children’s movie that is funny, smart, enganging and not an insult to the intelligence of its audience. Rango is an animated tribute to the spaghetti Western which was made with a lot of love, and it shows in every detail.

A pet chameleon (Johnny Depp) with a theatrical disposition falls from the window of his owners’ car in the middle of the desert and ends up in the shabby town of Dirt. Seizing the opportunity to reinvent himself, the chameleon begins calling himself Rango and begins telling tales of his own gun-slinging adventures. The towns people take Rango to be their savior and immediately he becomes the Sanjuro-like guardian of their tiny town.

In Rango there is far more than is required of a children’s film. This is not a movie as complex and substantial as the best Pixar films, but it is still a film that is rich and imaginative, and very smart in its construction. Pop culture references have become a bit of a staple of animated films these days,  but they tend to be nothing more than arbitrary appropriations of passing fads. Rango is different in the way it is steeped in the tradition of film, its informed by its own history. There are plot points, characters and images borrowed from movies ranging from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and The Looney Tunes to Yojimbo (1961) and Chinatown (1974), not to mention so many others. These references range from a momentary visual quotations to extended plot sequences, and taken all together Rango feels like both a game for film lovers as well as an exercise in film study.

The first animated feature by Industrial Light & Magic, Rango is, in terms of its appearance, in a class of its own. The amount of detail and realism in the animation is shocking, and at times utterly confounding. These days, the ubiquity of 3D is allowing many filmmakers the ability to provide their audiences with sham realism, and it is nice to see a film in which the animators painstakingly carve out all the textures of the real, physical world. The world of Rango is so dusty and gritty that there are moments when it is hard to believethat some of it is animated at all. Verbinski directs the fast paced action sequences with a great deal of flare, utilizing every inch of this gorgeous world as the stage for perfectly-timed action sequences that feel at once like Bugs Bunny gags as well as old Western horse chases and shootouts.

It’s so refreshing to see a kids movie constructed with love, and made to teach something, or introduce something special, rather than a childrens’ franchise designed to sell merchandise. Rango is exciting, and beautiful and offers up a truly immersive tale of adventure and action that I suspect would be loved by anyone. This is a movie for people who love movies, and for people who want to learn about how movies are made. I have seen this Rango three times now and while it’s not perfect, I cherish it as a very special experience.