Believe it or not, but buzz is already beginning to build for next year's Oscar ceremony. Trust us, we need a period of awards cleansing just as much as you do, but it is important to note that early word has this weekend's release of 'Rango' already being touted as an early favorite for Best Animated Feature in 2011. As of this writing there are only seven reviews posted to Rotten Tomatoes, but they're all positive and the film is currently sailing at 100 percent Fresh. Glenn Heath from Slant writes:

Haunted by the ghosts of Leone, Peckinpah, and Dali, Gore Verbinski's wild animated romp Rango turns an assembly line of classic western themes and iconography into a bustlingly fresh genre ecosystem.

He's just one of many who are already gushing over director Gore Verbinski's latest collaboration with Johnny Depp (the duo teamed on the first three 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movies). Via Twitter, UGO's Jordan Hoffman notes,

RANGO has the fresh, innovative spirit that MONSTER'S INC had. It's definitely a gauntlet thrown in the face of a complacent Pixar.

When asked for a little more breakdown on the hype, Moviefone's Sandie Angulo Chen told us that the film may run into trouble in terms of which demographic its actually targeting.

Well it's gorgeously animated, and perfectly performed, but it's not your typical kid-targeted animated movie. That's great news for grown-ups who love animated films but not so much parents who will wonder why they've taken their young kids to a movie about about identity, home, and existential ennui. I loved it but wished I hadn't taken my kindergartner who was really sad during some moments of peril.

We take a look at 'Rango's 2011 competition after the jump ...





The Best Animated Feature Oscar was introduced in 2001, and since then Pixar has claimed the award six out of 10 times and are currently on a streak of four wins in a row (for 'Ratatouille,' 'WALL-E,' 'Up' and 'Toy Story 3'). But this year Pixar is giving us 'Cars 2,' which, let's admit, is more of a marketing machine than anything else. The first 'Cars' was nominated for Best Animated Feature back in 2006, but lost to 'Happy Feet.' Even so, little boys were instantly hooked, and to this day 'Cars' is easily Pixar's most lucrative property thanks to the non-stop merchandising.

So, from a financial standpoint it makes sense that Pixar would put out a sequel to 'Cars' (they also produced a few 'Cars'-themed shorts), but from an awards perspective, there's not much there. If there was a year to end Pixar's Oscar run, it'd be this one. Question is, which of the following animated films will have what it takes to finally oust the animation king of the past 10 years?

We've already told you about the hype surrounding 'Rango,' but the film that defeated 'Cars' in 2006 also has a sequel arriving this year in the form of 'Happy Feet 2' on Nov. 18. 'Kung Fu Panda' was nominated for the Oscar in 2008, but lost to 'WALL-E.' 2011, however, brings a sequel to theaters as well, on May 27.



Other animated films hitting theaters in 2011 include ...
Out of that list, we could see 'Winnie the Pooh' making an Oscar upset, but as it stands right now it could be a fight to the finish between 'Cars 2,' 'Rango,' 'Happy Feet 2' and 'Kung Fu Panda 2.' Some have tried to slip 'The Adventures of Tintin' in there, but the Academy isn't so fond of motion-capture just yet, and so chances of that film sliding into this category are pretty slim.

Which 2011 animated film do you think has the best shot at next year's Oscars?