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Thursday, October 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 39.0° F  Fair
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Funky Rango features Johnny Depp's fun voice work
Comic chameleon
on
Surrender to the eccentricity.
Surrender to the eccentricity.

If you were operating under the impression that Rango might be your typical, formulaic computer-animated feature, take a moment to consider the involvement of Johnny Depp. When, over the course of a 25-year acting career, has this guy been known to take a role that could be called typical or formulaic?

Depp voices a pet chameleon whose elaborately staged terrarium productions - with little more than a headless Barbie doll and a plastic fish as supporting players - allow him to cast himself as a hero. But when a freeway mishap lands him along the side of the road in the Mojave Desert, a real-life adventure awaits him. The critter-inhabited desert town of Dirt is running out of water, and it may take a stranger wandering into town to give folks hope - a stranger who calls himself Rango.

The ensuing tale is a funky hybrid between a spaghetti Western and Chinatown, complete with a wheelchair-bound villain (Ned Beatty, finding a second career as an animated heavy) and showdowns on dusty streets. Director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean), making his first animated feature, treats the story as a full-fledged but fairly bizarre - and usually in a good way - action spectacle that's not necessarily pitched at kids. You've got a band of bat-riding outlaws, a mariachi Greek chorus of owls, more than a couple bits of off-color double-entendre and a whole mess of borderline hallucinatory images. Bring the 5-year-olds at your peril.

And you've got Depp, whose voice performance channels George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou? in its dandified hyper-verbosity. It's orders of magnitude more fun than so much mail-it-in animated voice work. As is true of many Depp films, you'd better be prepared to surrender to his brand of eccentricity.

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