Gore Verbinski's 'Rango' Runs the Table in Best Animated Feature Oscar Race (Video)

Rango Still - H 2011
Paramount Pictures

Rango Still - H 2011

One of the most noteworthy things about the 2011 awards race is how few "sure-things" there are this late in the season -- indeed, the best picture, best director, best actor, best actress, best supporting actress, best adapted screenplay, and best original screenplay Oscars, to say nothing of the below-the-line categories', are all still up for grabs! The one race that appears to me to be locked and loaded, however, is best animated feature, in which Gore Verbinski's Rango is the clear frontrunner.

PHOTO and VIDEO: Award Season Animation Roundtable

The Paramount release, for which the voice of the title character/chameleon was provided by Johnny Depp, may not have grossed as much at the box-office as its primary competition (Cars 2, Kung Fu Panda, Puss 'n Boots, Rio, and The Adventures of Tintin all out-grossed it), but it has vastly outperformed them in virtually every other respect: critical reception (it is at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, better than every other 2011 animated film except Arthur Christmas); early critics/precursor awards (it has been voted the year's best animated film by virtually every major awards-dispensing group -- among them the National Board of Review, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Boston Society of Film Critics, and San Francisco Film Critics Circle -- except the New York Film Critics Circle, which skipped the category this year, and the New York Film Critics Online, which opted for Tintin); and major awards group noms (it is nominated for best animated film by both the Broadcast Film Critics Association and Hollywood Foreign Press Association, whereas the former snubbed Cars 2 and the latter snubbed Kung Fu Panda 2).

In a year in which the animated category is packed with films in 3D and motion-capture (The Adventures of Tintin) and/or prequels (Puss 'n Boots) and sequels (Cars 2 to Happy Feet 2 to Kung Fu Panda 2), it strikes me as noteworthy that a 2D film made based on an original screenplay has emerged from the pack and seems all but certain to become only the third non-Pixar film ever -- and the first in five years -- to take home the best animated feature Oscar.

Here's a Paramount-provided look at the unusual way in which it all came together...