Big guns fired up ‘Rango’ for success

Unusual pedigree behind Par's first inhouse toon

It started as a quirky pitch from Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp and Graham King: to make Paramount’s first homegrown animated feature. It wound up an Oscar winner.

Rango” won best animated feature Sunday night at the Academy Awards, and though it had no Pixar juggernaut with which to compete, its outside-the-box tone and pedigree were not a stretch for a category that’s seen a wide spectrum of unusual honors since its inception in 2001 — including past winners “Spirited Away,” “Happy Feet,” and “Shrek.”

“This is crazy!” Verbinski exclaimed. “It was created by a bunch of grownups acting like children.”

The pic came together with a series of disparate elements: King, a producer best known for gritty crime dramas like “The Town” and “The Departed”; Verbinski, a director who had never helmed an animated feature before; and Paramount, a studio that had spent a decade merely distributing animated fare, leaving production to DreamWorks Animation. “Rango” is also the first animated feature made by George Lucas’ special-effects company Industrial Light & Magic.

Verbinski charged through an extensive thank-you list, including Paramount — “who really let us do something different.” He concluded by saying, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

“Rango” topped “A Cat in Paris,” “Chico & Rita,” “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Puss in Boots.”

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