With The Incredibles, Pixar began to infuse their animated adventures with more hooks for adult audiences. Rango goes further in this aspect, because the audience that would best enjoy this film would be adults, those that have seen a good crop of bygone era movies. It's all about homages (Chinatown, Apocalypse Now, both classic westerns and the spaghetti variety) and winking nods (LOL, Fear & Loathing in Vegas).
Thankfully none of the pop culture references feel bunged in. Character design and voice-acting, the bulwark of any animated venture, are top notch. Johnny Depp as the titular chameleon gives his most enthusiastic performance since Ed Wood, one of my favorite films. Old timer Ned Beatty's devious villain is a brilliant adaptation of the John Huston character from Chinatown, and Bill Nighy as the bad-ass gunslinger Rattlesnake Jake (supposedly based on the onscreen persona of Lee Van Cleef, and with a tail ending in chain-gun) is intense and memorable. One of the best surprises is when Timothy Olyphant (Hitman fame, or lack thereof) does an uncannily good imitation cameo of the No Name "Spirit of The West".
Hans Zimmer's guitar oriented musical score is sure to be one of his best, and I love the look of the film. Eschewing the glossy surfaces and hyper-saturated colors of most modern CG animated films, the makers consulted with long-time Coen Brothers cinematographer Roger Deakins to develop dusty naturalistic visuals that lend tremendous credibility and immersion factor to the setting. This may be Verbinski's and Industrial Light & Magic's first fully animated feature, but they've made a debut that stands tall with the best of the genre. “From the director of Pirates of The Caribbean”, the poster says, but unlike that frenzied, overburdened mess of an adventure film, this one entertains all the way.
On an aside, the film's 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical presentation seemed to me somewhat cropped at the top and bottom. Frequently the crowns of buildings and hats would get cut off. This may be intentional design, but I'm wondering if the eventual home video release will feature a 16:9 transfer with more vertical screen area. It'd be awesome if that happens, but I'll be wanting to own this in any case.