Indeed, Rango has emerged as the mid-year Oscar front runner precisely because its cockeyed originality stands out in a season so far dominated by sequels. Director Gore Verbinski instills a live-action aesthetic (the hot trend lately in animation) for this funny and inventive mash-up of spaghetti Westerns and Chinatown; Industrial Light & Magic gets down and dirty and photo-surreal in its first animated feature; and Johnny Depp turns in a wacky combination of Don Knotts and Hunter S. Thompson for his shakiest chameleon in the West.
Meanwhile, four of the previous five Hollywood Animation Award recipients from Pixar took home the Best Animated Feature Oscar: Toy Story 3, Up, WALL·E, and Ratatouille. Cars, as we know, lost to Happy Feet, which makes for an interesting irony with Cars 2 now competing against Happy Feet2 (Nov. 18).
Still, it's an extremely wide open field this year. Also contending are Blue Sky's Rio, DreamWorks's Kung Fu Panda 2, Disney's Winnie the Pooh, which will be joined this holiday season by DreamWorks's Puss in Boots (Nov. 4), Aardman/Sony's Arthur Christmas(Nov. 23), and Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 23). Yes, the performance-captured adventure from Peter Jackson's Weta Digital should qualify, since it definitely utilizes the necessary frame-by-frame animation technique now specified by the Academy.