With 'Rango,' the only thing more astonishing than its subversive sense of humor and general anarchy is the fact that a studio is putting it in wide release. It's a cartoon about talking animals, but I don't know if kids will like it. I'm not even sure it's intended for them. Some of the jokes are surprisingly grown-up. The story has direct references to 'Chinatown,' 'Blazing Saddles,' 'Star Wars,' 'Apocalypse Now,' and spaghetti Westerns. The humor is slapstick one minute, hallucinatory the next. The characters are deliberately un-cute in appearance, with great attention paid to the grimy details of their matted fur, unsightly scales, and physical imperfections. The whole thing feels like the Coen brothers made a Tex Avery cartoon set in the Old West, ran it through a Pixar filter, and then dipped it in LSD.
Rango, voiced by Johnny Depp, is a pet chameleon suffering from an existential crisis. A natural-born actor, he amuses himself by carrying out playlets with the props in his terrarium (headless Barbie doll, wind-up fish toy), until one day fate delivers him out into the world -- the Mojave Desert, specifically. Advised by a wise, elderly armadillo (Alfred Molina), our lizard friend goes on a spiritual quest that takes him to the tiny town of Dirt, a saloon-and-mercantile outpost populated by desert animals.