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Rango

A gorgeously produced kiddie tale, with shades of Chinatown

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A domestic lizard with a flair for drama falls off a moving truck and finds himself in a hardscrabble, waterless Old West town called Dirt. He passes himself off as Rango, a gunslinger, and thus is forced to solve the town's real problem: corruption. The digital animation in Gore Verbinski's off-beat family adventure-comedy is gorgeous; I loved the exquisite desert scenery as well as twisted perspectives (such as viewing the landscape through a rolling pop bottle). And there's plenty of A-list voice talent: Johnny Depp (Rango), Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy and Ned Beatty. The kids at my screening enjoyed it, I'd wager for the parade of kooky animal characters dressed up as Western hombres, action scenes and slapstick. (The PG film might be too scary for little kids, especially those with giant-snake issues.) But I'd guess that the adults had more fun, reveling in this film's homage to Chinatown, various classic Westerns, Star Wars and what seemed like dozens of other nods to adult-only material, like Hunter S. Thompson. I have become somewhat dispirited lately by inspirational talking-animal movies, but this one -- even if it was about 15 minutes too long -- pleasantly surprised me. But then, I'm not 7 and know way too much about Western water politics. Starts Fri., March 4.

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