Rango’s Wild West tribute is good fun

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I’ve been a fan of Johnny Depp for years and not just for the obvious reason.

I like him because he doesn’t trade on his looks.

He has deliberately shunned the romantic leads that someone of his dark, brooding good looks might be expected to fall into.

Instead he’s never been afraid to look daft by donning bizarre costumes to play kooky characters like Willy Wonka - what a fringe - the Mad Hatter - a ginger wig - and Edward Scissorhands - a scarred face.

In his early low-budget films, he always seemed to play the oddball, the person who isn’t popular or the centre of attention.

Sam who befriends a girl with mental health problems in Benny and Joon, or Gilbert, the unhappy eldest child in a family with a morbidly obese mother, in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Even when he does play romance, like his character Roux in Chocolat, playing opposite the delectable Juliette Binoche, he is the anti-hero, the outsider who isn’t to be trusted.

And then he went and sold out to Disney in Pirates of the Caribbean and went all mainstream on us.

OK, I liked Jack Sparrow the first time round as much as anyone, but did we really need a second, third and now a fourth sequel?

Depp teams up with PotC director Gore Verbinski in the new animation Rango.

But this isn’t your average cuddly kids animation, instead it’s likely to appeal more to adult film buffs trying to spot the various movie references it packs in.

Depp is back to what he does best, playing the awkward misfit.

It’s not him in person of course, he’s a green lizard with bug eyes, a crooked neck and a red Hawaiian shirt.

He’s a bit shy, a bit nervous, lives in a world of his own make-believe and is uncomfortable in social situations.

That’s my kind of Depp.

His mastery of accents and mimicry means he has a field day playing the part of a character who loves to pretend to be other characters.

The lizard lives alone in a tank with only a broken doll, a wind-up fish and a plastic palm tree to talk to.

He is being transported in the family car on a desert highway when a near-miss causes the vehicle to swerve violently and the reptile is catapulted on to the road.

Stunned, he meets a partly-squashed armadillo who directs him towards a town called Dirt.

This is your classic Wild West town and what follows are some classic Western cliches, including the stirring music which would do credit to Sergio Leone.

There’s the feisty young woman Beans (Isla Fisher) who is struggling to keep her pappy’s ranch going after he drank himself to death.

There’s the ‘cowboy’ everyone lives in fear of, Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) and there’s the crooked mayor (Ned Beatty) whose determination to control the water supply is a nod to Chinatown.

And there are a host of other ugly looking critters populating this one-horse town, which wouldn’t look out of place in the Dollar trilogy.

In fact a character looking and sounding suspiciously like Clint Eastwood pops up to guide Rango after he has been shamed into leaving town.

The lizard chooses the name Rango and invents the characteristics of a gun-slinging hero after walking into the saloon, where silence immediately falls as everyone turns to stare at the stranger who’s not from these parts. Another classic Western cliche.

When asked if he killed the Jenkins brothers, Rango boasts: “Yep. With one bullet.”

“All seven of ‘em?” asks an incredulous bystander.

This cartoon goes against the grain by refusing to be cute. A bit like Depp.

By Helen Johnston

Star rating HHHH