HOLLYWOOD—After four years of Pixar movies winning at the Oscars, Paramount’s Johnny Depp-voiced “Rango” took the top animated film prize at the Academy Awards on Sunday.
The colorful chameleon beat rivals including “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Puss in Boots” and two foreign bids — France’s “A Cat in Paris” and Spain’s “Chico & Rita.”
The Academy’s choice of a swivel-eyed reptile could be said to be brave, given his lack of the usual child- and merchandise- friendly qualities associated with blockbuster animated movies — pandas, cats or toys.
The movie’s quirky tone and offbeat humor are striking.
“Tone is everything. I love films with that singularity of voice,” said Gore Verbinski, director of “Rango” and of the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films starring Depp.
“We tried to make a movie that made us happy and luckily we found an audience… I think if you work the other way around, ideas become diluted,” he told AFP.
“Rango” tells the story of a lonely chameleon who is used to making up stories — playing out scenes with a fellow cast of inanimate objects — and who finds himself stuck in the middle of the desert after a road accident.
He ends up in the parched village of Dirt, whose inhabitants ask him to become their sheriff — after a tour-de-force made-up bar-room scene in which he invents his own back story and name — to help them find water.
For Verbinski, who had never made an animated film before “Rango,” the biggest difference between live action and animation is that the latter lacks the spontaneous input of actors.
“There are no gifts in animation. Every blink, twitch and compression of the eye is a result of weeks of discussion.
“You have complete control on the one hand and the burden of that on the other. In live action, you never quite control the chaos, but there can be happy accidents along the way,” he said.
To help the sense of authenticity, Verbinski recorded most of the voices — Depp’s vocal co-stars include Britain’s Bill Nighy, “Little Miss Sunshine” actress Abigail Breslin, and London-born actor Alfred Molina — in the presence of the whole cast.
“One of my biggest fears was having the film become clinical or sterile somehow,” he said.
“The computer lends itself to perfection so easily. Having all the actors in one room was essential because it was one of the only opportunities in the entire process to react intuitively as things occurred.”
For example they “could not have done the bar scene with one person and a microphone,” he said.
“Rango” had been both a critical and commercial success, even before its Oscar triumph.
The movie has 88 percent of positive scores on the respected movie ranking website Rottentomatoes.com, and made more than $240 million at the box office globally, including $123 million in North America alone.