Rango (Johnny Depp) and Wounded Bird (Gil Birmingham) in Paramount’s emotion-capture RANGO — Comic Riffs’ favorite to take home Oscar. (“Rango”/2011 COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES)

THE STREAK is over. And with a screeching halt.

Since the creation of the Best Animated Feature Film category a decade ago, every Pixar release had received an Oscar nomination — with six going on to nab the statuette. And the last Pixar feature film not to win the animation Academy Award was John Lasseter’s “Cars.”

So much for track records.

On Tuesday, the Academy completely snubbed Lasseter’s follow-up, the summer blockbuster that received some of Pixar’s worst reviews; “Cars 2” failed to score a single nomination.

[PIXAR PILE-UP: Is ‘Cars 2’ crashing into overheated expectations?]

Now worth tabbing as the immediate favorite to win, in Comic Riffs’s opinion, is “Rango,” that collaboration of the “Pirates of the Caribbean’s” original creative team and the tech wizards at Industrial Light & Magic, which for the first time was responsible for the entirety of a film’s animation. Directed by Gore Verbinski, “Rango” — which featured the voices of Johnny Depp, Bill Nighy, Isla Fisher, Alfred Molina and Ned Beatty — was a critical darling and upstart box-office champ last March.

“We’re thrilled that what started as a homemade project in Gore’s living room actually made it all the way to this,” “Rango” screenwriter and storyboard artist James Ward Byrkit tells Comic Riffs on Tuesday. ”It’s beyond our wildest hopes that the little lizard who dreamed of having an audience will get to bask in the spotlight for one mad moment. Absolutely amazing.”

Paramount’s “Rango” is a so-called “emotion-capture” (but NOT mo-cap) Western that turns on the fate of a thespian pet chameleon (all his terrarium’s a stage) who’s suddenly cast into the dry and prickly world of a water-poor desert town — and cast into the role of sheriff. Rango is voiced by Depp, who previously lent his performance to another Oscar animation nominee: Tim Burton’s ”Corpse Bride” (2005).

“Rango” is an ode to the silver screen itself as the historic film references fly fast and furious, including nods to “Chinatown,” “Apocalypse Now,” “The Odd Couple” and Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti Westerns.

In the Year of the Cinematic Valentine, the Academy also showered Martin Scoreses’s “Hugo” and Michel Hazanavicius’s “The Artist” with nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Also worth noting: Two of those love letters to Hollywood, “Rango” and “Hugo,” were written or co-written by John Logan, who is Oscar-nominated for his screenplay for the latter.

(And to further draw ties between those two films, for those who dig cinematic geneaology: One of the production companies behind “Hugo” is Infinitum Nihil, which is “Rango” star Depp’s production shingle. It all gets close-knit rather quickly, doesn’t it?)

[IT TAKES TWO TO ‘RANGO’: Why the animated Depp hit is a very, very good film]

Besides Pixar, the Academy also — quite surprisingly — snubbed the Golden Globe animation winner, “The Adventures of Tintin” (from director Stephen Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson) in this category. The artfully motion-captured “Tintin” did receive an Original Score nom for John Williams. The Academy also recognized the animated “Rio” for Original Song, for “Real in Rio” by Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown and Siedah Garrett.

In addition to “Tintin,” another Golden Globe nominee shunned by Oscar was “Arthur Christmas,” which was also nominated for BAFTA and Annie awards. The film features the voices of four previous Oscar nominees.

Filling out the feature animation field, the Academy went with two marquee blockbusters and — with an air of romance and retro-whimsy — two little-known-in-America entries.





DreamWorks Animation scored a big two-fer by receiving noms for its twin billion-dollar franchises: “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Puss in Boots.”

“KFP2,” directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and featuring the voice of Jack Black, has grossed nearly $700-million worldwide. The first “Kung Fu Panda” (2008), which likewise received an animation Oscar nomination, grossed more than $630-million globally.

“Puss in Boots,” directed by Chris Miller and featuring the voice of Antonio Banderas, has grossed nearly a half-billion dollars worldwide. ”Puss in Boots” is a prequel spinoff of DreamWorks’s mega-”Shrek” franchise.

Both “Shrek” (2001) and “Shrek 2” (2004) were Oscar-nominated, with the former receiving the very first award in this category.

And Paramount is sitting pretty: It distributed “Rango,” “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Puss in Boots.”



The Academy also showered much love this year on films illuminated by the City of Light. Besides the Paris-set “Hugo” (which leads the field with 11 noms) and Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (whose nominations include Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay), the jurors nominated “A Cat in Paris” (“Une Vie de Chat”), the charming tale of a housecat that leads a double-life as a cat burglar. “Cat” — created by Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli — is painted in lush, saturated-color cels, and it hails from the acclaimed French animation house Folimage.



The Academy’s fifth nominee not only features a few shafts of Paris light, too, but it also has one esteemed pedigree:

“Chico & Rita” is from Spain’s Fernando Trueba, a former El Pais film critic and Grammy-winning producer who previously received an Oscar for “Belle Epoque” (1994), and is co-directed by Valencia artist Javier Mariscal.

“Chico & Rita” sets the midcentury and many-citied romance between a singer and a songwriter against the backdrop of the rising Castro regime. As with “Midnight in Paris,” the music of Cole Porter can be heard — as well as the propulsive jazz of Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Freddy Cole. (The film won Spain’s Goya for best feature animation.)

The foreign “Chico & Rita” and “A Cat in Paris” feel like aesthetic throwbacks going up against state-of-the-art digital animation from America.

Disney, however, did help distribute “Chico & Rita”; including its pairings with Pixar and Studio Ghibli, Disney has now had a hand in an Oscar-nominated film in every year of this award’s existence.



Previous Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”) and Academy prez Tom Sherak unveiled many of the nominations this morning. Oscar winners will be announced at the ceremony Feb. 26 on ABC.


‘RANGO’: As renaissance man, James Ward Byrkit brings a pirate’s pinache to your screen

‘CARS 2’: Animator Bob Moyer embodies Pixar 2.0: The Next Generation

‘TINTIN’: The Art of Making the Movie