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Johnny Depp’s ‘Rango’ hit theaters last weekend, and according to USA Today, the animated PG western is causing a stir among anti-smoking advocates who deem the number of times characters light up unacceptable.

“A lot of kids are going to start smoking because of this movie,” said Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco.

Breathe California’s project “Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!” has been keeping a tally of instances where characters in ‘Rango’ smoke, and Kori Titus, CEO of the nonprofit, says the numbers are up to 60. Titus says the only other animated film to match ‘Rango’ was ‘101 Dalmatians,’ whose cruel character, Cruella De Vil, was a total chain-smoker.

Glantz’s group and other smoke-free organizations are renewing efforts with the MPAA to slap an R-rating on any film that shows smoking. In late February, Smoke Free Movies (another one of Glantz’s projects) ran ads in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter that panned studio execs for approving a PG-rating. “If we had known it’s as bad as it is, this ad would have been even tougher,” Glantz said.

Critics and audiences are praising ‘Rango’ for being a grown-up cartoon, making references to spaghetti westerns (lots of smoking in those films) and other adult-friendly movies, which really isn’t anything that animated flicks like ‘Shrek’ haven’t done. Disguising mature humor and situations in kids’ films isn’t the same as taking a puff, but as Virginia Lam, a spokeswoman for Paramount, says, “The images of smoking in the film … are portrayed by supporting characters and are not intended to be celebrated or emulated.”

Should the MPAA have upped the rating on this one since most audiences view ‘Rango’ as a kid’s movie?

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