Depp as Rango - a nod to the Corbucci western Django starring Franco Nero as the coffin pulling outlaw.
Not only is this Johnny Depp's best film in a long while it is clearly one of the zaniest and most idiosyncratic animated features to have emerged from a Hollywood studio. But I wonder from all the adult humour and complex post modern riffs to endless spaghetti westerns if the studio had any kind of input at all given the involvement of actor Depp and director Verbinski - both have worked on the pirates films together before and one can sense from the sheer fun they had making this acidic animated western that this seemed like a project which had less boundaries and more creativity given the absence of Jerry Bruckheimer. As Captain Jack Sparrow Depp certainly has shifted more to the mainstream, expanding his fan base from the gothic, quirky hipsters of the Burton generation to the kiddie friendly franchise hungry Potter crowd. It was a leap that curiously left his maverick like star image somewhat intact given the accusations of selling out governed by the media. Depp has tended to remain at a distance from the glamour of Hollywood star elite and much of his career reflects choices that have gone against the grain - with some surprisingly disappointing critical failures including the recent The Tourist.
With Rango, Depp invokes the spirit of his earlier on screen persona - the one most closely aligned with the bohemian and rebellious sixties gonzo journalist Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing. Borrowing the plot largely from the man with no name films and Once upon a time in the west, Leone's twisted and nightmarish vision of the west is particularly noticeable especially in the control of water, a plot point referring to the central yet enigmatic conflict between characters in Once upon a time in the west. Incidentally, the film opens with a direct homage to Hunter S Thompson and in many ways it is a wacky, off kilter precedent sustained throughout the rest of the narrative in which Depp's frenetic chameleon dashes around being chased by some of the unsavouriest and funniest supporting cast one is likely to encounter in a Hollywood produced animated feature. I'm not sure if this one was really intended for kids as it operates on quite a sophisticated level of intertextuality, referencing with great fun films such as Apocalypse Now and in particular the ride of the Valkyries dawn raid sequence. I guess this makes Rango a rarity as it is an animated feature designed by adults aimed at adults, making no qualms about its unhindered, chaotic and very breathless spirit - it's hard to resist.