In this Oscar-winning animated marvel, Johnny Depp voices an actorly chameleon who gets the role of a lifetime when he somehow becomes sheriff of a dustbowl town. With the water nearly gone and villainy in the air, the citizens of Dirt are desperate for someone to restore order and end the drought. And his name is Rango! (Though actually, it isn't... ) Pirates Of The Caribbean director Gore Verbinski combines his eye for detail and visual humour with a wonderful appreciation of classic movies to create the world's first spa-gecko western.
Harry Dean Stanton
How best to describe a state-of-the-art kids' animation that channels the spirits of Sergio Leone and LSD freak Hunter S Thompson... while making a hero of a stage-struck chameleon suffering an existential crisis... before letting rip with a banjo version of Ride Of The Valkyries?
Surreal is not the word. Rango is as crazy as a one-eared jackrabbit with a stethoscope. And it's even got one of those.
In a lively turn, Depp leads the nuttiness as our swivelly-eyed protagonist, a reptilian hybrid of Frasier Crane and Woody the Toy Story cowboy.
We meet him as a frustrated pet, pining for the ironic plot development that will set him free. Boom, he is immediately thrown from the car boot onto a desert highway.
Following a pseudo-epiphany with a flattened armadillo (Alfred Molina), he meets a purty little iguana called Beans (Isla Fisher) who takes him to her hometown, the aptly named Dirt.
And hot-diggidy, if it ain't populated by the most sorry lookin', flea-bitten, plug-ugly bunch of varmints this side of Deadwood. This is no place for Hawaiian-shirted strangers.
After saving his own scrawny hide with a little acting and a lot of luck, "Rango" is swiftly appointed sheriff and plunged into a plot that gleefully mashes up Once Upon A Time In The West with Chinatown.
Borrowed though it is, the mystery of the water shortage provides Verbinski and screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator) with an effective framework on which to hang their array of quick-draw gags (visual and verbal), and breakneck pursuits (underground, overground, and bat-propelled).
Older cinema-goers will also appreciate the homages to Star Wars, Apocalypse Now and High Noon, the chorus of death-fixated mariachis, and - centring as it does around a chameleon who sticks out like a sore thumb - a script that proudly wears its ironies like a new sheriff's badge.
But the in-jokes and nuttiness never detract from what is a serious visual achievement. With True Grit cinematographer Roger Deakins credited as a consultant, it's clear that the utmost attention has gone into every detail.
From the slightest twitch of Rango's eye to majestic rides across shimmering sunsets, the characters and settings are marvellously rendered.
Rounding out the vocal posse, Ned Beatty plays it shifty as the tortoise mayor, Harry Dean Stanton makes a splendidly repellent blind bank robber, Ray Winstone adds muscle as a bullying henchman, and there's even a special appearance from the man who, in western circles, will always remain nameless...
And though Bill Nighy's hired assassin Rattlesnake Jake may be a little too fearsome for some nippers, not many animated escapades aim to please such a broad audience. Even the poo jokes are sophisticated.