Rick Snyder has put forth the idea that the only way to recover Michigan’s former economic success is to re-invent ourselves. Although Johnny Depp certainly doesn’t need to get his own financial house in order like our state does, he does seem to be taking our governor’s advice about shaking up the status quo. Because, at the age of 48, he’s finally doing his first animated film, “Rango.”
While Johnny Depp has taken on some of the most challenging roles Hollywood can offer, the talented actor has never been inclined to delve into animation, at least until his “Pirates of the Carribbean” director, Gore Verbinski, was hired by Nickelodeon films to do “Rango.” Although it may have taken Verbinski’s coaxing to get his “Pirates” star to sign on, Depp proves he can handle animation with the best of them. His quirky-yet-likable portrayal of Rango, a pampered chameleon with a thespian streak, is spot on.
Set free to fend for himself in the Wild West town of “Dirt,” Rango discovers that the tiny western hamlet, made up of an assortment of human-dressed reptiles and vermin, is fast becoming a ghost town. The water is drying up and the only way to get a drink is through the mayor, a creepy crippled tortoise voiced by Ned Beatty. Desperate for help, the townspeople turn to Rango, mistakenly taking the chameleon’s false bravado, after accidentally killing a dreaded hawk, for courage. With the help of a pretty young chameleon land-owner named Beans (Isla Fisher), Rango sets out with a posse to get to the bottom of the disappearing water before Dirt dries up forever.
Like Depp, this picture is also Gore Verbinski’s first suare’ into animated film. Leaving nothing to chance, he gives “Rango” the same playful energy that made his three “Carribbean” pictures commercial successes by using the same effects geniuses that made those films so visually stunning, Industrial Light and Magic. Their special effects touch gives Rango an amazingly realistic feel that captures in equisite detail the starkness of the Wild West which, combined with a clever spaghetti western-style soundtrack, is reminiscent of the great Italian westerns of Sergio Leone.
Overall, the best animated films not only entertain the kids but, also, keep mom and dad happy, too – a feat that Gore Verbinski has managed to do very well. Still, “Rango” would not be half as good as it is without a brilliant ensemble cast and, in particular, a quirky and wonderful performance by Johnny Depp. At least the #1 box office success last week that followed Mr. Depp’s re-inventing himself in “Rango” can prove, at least in theory, that Rick Snyder may be on to something.