If another stupid animated film with no message and gratuitous fart jokes is what audiences are looking for, they should stay far away from “Rango.” Without trying too hard, “Rango,” voiced by Johnny Depp, establishes itself as a visually stunning cartoon with a positive message and proves again that animated films can be entertaining and worthwhile.

“Rango”

At Quality 16 and Rave
Paramount

Hopelessly lost in the desert, a yet-unnamed chameleon with a crooked neck meets a fellow reptile named Beans (Isla Fisher, “Wedding Crashers”) who gives him a lift to the derelict town of Dirt. Upon entering the town, the chameleon promptly gets hammered on something called “cactus juice” (which seems to have the same effect as straight tequila). After some made-up tales about his imaginary Western gun-slinging, he becomes Sheriff Rango, leading the town on a quest to reclaim its disappearing water supply.

While the plot is children’s-movie predictable, don’t be too quick to judge: The storyline has several adult elements like the difficult search for an identity — seen through Rango’s literal and figurative search for a name — and themes of big-city greed and environmental harm. Water and its importance are a strong, central theme throughout the film, and the exhaustive quest for it prompts lots of empathy for these poor, parched little animals. Audience members might find themselves cheering for the little down-and-out creatures and booing the greedy water hogs of the big cities.

The voices by Depp and Fischer as Rango and Beans are transfixing. Because the characters were shot with a technique called “motion capture technology” — made famous in “Avatar” — which records actors’ movements and dialogue in a studio and then animates them, it is easy to forget that it is actually animated characters on screen and not the actors themselves. Furthermore, the effects — both visual and auditory — are amazing. Every frame is beautifully composed — from the cracks in the buildings to the arid, creviced landscape to the dust blowing in the Mojave Desert wind. In a scene toward the end of the film, audiences will be captivated and transported by a devastatingly beautiful desert sunset of reds, purples and blues stretching as far as the eye can see, followed closely by an extremely realistic shot of what looks like the Salt Flats of Utah. The sounds throughout the film make a perfect auditory cocktail, featuring noises like true-to-life crunching sand, shrieking hawks and sloshing water.

“Rango” is a great example of a children’s movie with relatable themes. It’s a visual and auditory treat with fantastic vocal and artistic talent backing it, and a message to overcome greediness and to persevere through everything, regardless of background or seemingly impossible circumstances. It’s a refreshing, worthwhile film that, after specimens like “Gnomeo and Juliet” and “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole,” brings some dignity back to the animated genre we know and love.

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