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Stars: Voices: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Harry Dean Stanton, Stephen Root, Timothy Olyphant and Ray Winstone

Director: Gore Verbinski

Cinemagoers have reason to be wary when an animated film is promoted on the strength of a single voice, in this case Depp, who speaks for the lizard/chameleon (it’s never really made clear what kind of reptile Rango actually is), the hero of this offbeat comedy Western.

Happily, for once Hollywood hype hasn’t harmed the film.

Depp is terrific value as the titular character who falls out of a speeding car and ends up in the arid wastes of the Mojave Desert where, following the sage advice of a laid-back (and initially run-over) armadillo, he heads into the waterless waste and finally arrives in a wasted Western town where, as befits the genre, the tenderfoot ends up as lawman.

Being sheriff of the water-starved town is clearly not going to be easy for Rango - in the graveyard the headstone of the previous incumbent reads: “Sheriff Amos: THU-SAT”. Undeterred – and after innocently abetting the robbery of precious water from the bank – Rango rides at the head of a posse to find the robbers and bring water back to the town…

It’s one of those very rare cartoon features that will appeal to both youngsters and adults. The former can’t fail to enjoy the gallery of grotesques that populate the picture and their wild and wacky adventures which include gophers on squadrons of flying bats soaring to the attack; and there's some splendidly adult dialogue: “I suppose we should bury him. No! Birds have to eat too”.

Take George, 9, who rightly says: “I liked the setting which was in the wild west. My favourite scene was when all the water came back to the town. I give the film 8/10”

There’s plenty of loony Western action and spectacle topped by a traditional High Noon shoot-out at the climax and, for cinema-savvy adults, splendid and in-context, well-deserved, references to such films as Star Wars and Apocalypse Now and an animated appearance by Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name who, asked by Rango if this is heaven, laconically replies: If it was, we’d be eating pop tarts with Kim Novak”.

Reunited with his ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ star, director Verbinski turns out to be the right man for the job. While Depp’s has the lizard’s share of the comedy and drama , strong casting makes the most, particularly, of Beatty as the venal bank manager, Molina’s sage Armadillo and Stanton as a creepy villain, while Nighy (always better heard than seen) is ideal casting for the giant rattlesnake villain who is allegedly Depp’s evil brother (Depp’s explanation of this odd Darwinian event is that his mother “had an active social life”).

Alan Frank

USA 2011. UK Distributor: Paramount. Colour by deluxe.
107 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 02 Mar 2011