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The Forgotten Johnny Depp Western That's Killing It On Netflix

Remember when Johnny Depp could be in family movies? In the present, he's been let go from the Harry Potter franchise, presumably in response to his ongoing court cases, but in the not-so-recent past, Depp was the highly bankable star of movies beloved by kids and adults alike — including the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the animated western comedy Rango

Rango is currently blazing up the charts on Netflix, where it arrived on December 28. The film is currently sitting pretty at number six on the streaming service's most-watched movies in the U.S. for Wednesday, December 30.

In Rango, which came out in 2011, Depp provides the voice for the titular Hawaiian shirt-wearing chameleon. Rango is a pet chameleon who lacks much life experience, and who finds himself in trouble when he becomes stranded in the Mojave Desert after his terrarium falls from his owner's car. He eventually turns up in a town called Dirt, which is experiencing a water shortage that imperils its animal inhabitants. He introduces himself as a tough guy named "Rango," and is appointed Dirt's sheriff after accidentally defeating a hawk that was terrorizing the town. 

Ranger gets close to a feisty desert iguana named Beans (voiced by Isla Fisher) and uncovers a conspiracy involving the mayor Tortoise John (voiced by Ned Beatty), who's orchestrating the water shortage to drive down the price of land around Dirt so he can buy it up for cheap and build a city on it. It falls to Rango to stop pretending to be a hero and actually become one.

Rango is an Oscar-winning film

A Nickelodeon Films production, Rango won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 84th Academy Awards — the first non-Disney or Pixar film to win the award since Happy Feet in 2006, and the last one until Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won in 2018. It also won the Annie Award for Best Animated Feature, the highest honor in animated film. It's a beautifully animated movie, particularly for the outstanding character design of its desert creatures. Rango also has exceptional voice acting from its star-studded cast led by Depp and Fisher and featuring great character actors like Alfred Molina, Ray Winstone, and Harry Dean Stanton.

Additionally, the movie is packed with references to other classic Westerns and other films from yesteryear. The water crisis plot in Rango is reminiscent of Chinatown, and there are nods to The Shakiest Gun in the West, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Once Upon a Time in the West. There's also a funny callback to an earlier Johnny Depp movie, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, that's a joke for the adults in the audience.

Rango was directed by Gore Verbinski, who reunited with Depp after the success of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Verbinski was hoping to do something smaller and easier after those blockbusters, not realizing how time and labor-intensive animated films actually are.

It may be difficult for some viewers to enjoy Johnny Depp movies without thinking about his offscreen behavior these days, but at least in Rango, you don't have to look at him — you can just enjoy the adventures of the funny chameleon with the familiar voice.