My personal favorite animation company is Pixar. Not because they released many of my favorite animated films of all time, but because they’re consistent and promote a free-flowing work ethic that has produced amazing results. The company has yet to produce something that wasn’t either a financial juggernaut, a glorious piece of art, or both.
They’ve been in a bit of rut lately with works such as “Cars 2” and “Brave” but they showed there are many ideas and adventures they can explore with “Monsters University.”
With fourteen full-length movies under their belts, I feel there is enough room for a top ten list. These are the films which I feel best present Pixar and their ideals. They not only appeal to a wide range of audiences but stick with you long after the film is finished. These are my top ten Pixar films.
Ten: “Brave” (2012)
This one had some interesting ideas and great dynamic between the main character, Merida and her mother, the Queen. Merida just wants to be a warrior and enjoys hunting, but was essentially born the wrong gender and despises everything girly. Her mother not only wants what is right for her daughter, but for the kingdom as well. She cares enough about Merida to let her continue her pursuits of archery but still wants to be prepared for when she will take the throne.
As such, Merida hates her mother and wishes that she didn’t have to deal with. She gets her wish, but not exactly how she thought.
My problem with the film is everything else. The comedy is fart humor, most characters only serve as comic relief of said fart humor and the plot is standard. Which is why it gets the number ten spot. It has some elements going for it, but not enough to keep it above an “okay.”
Nine: “Monsters Inc.” (2001)
The one major complaint I have with this film is that its idea of monsters having day jobs is a idea that has been done to death, even when the film came out. We’ve seen that kind of story already, and this one didn’t necessarily do anything new.
Well, okay, it did have some unique ideas with how the monster world works compared to our world. The idea of using doors to transport between the two worlds is kind of neat, especially when we see it in action. It especially comes to a head during the climax of the film and there are thousands of these doors.
Monsters being afraid of humans certainly isn’t new, but when it is treated like a nation wide epidemic, then it suddenly becomes hilarious to watch, especially from side characters and seeing their reactions.
Finally, the relationships between Sully and Boo works well and even lead to some emotional moments. Sully and Boo have a simple relationship that starts out with Boo being curious and Sully being terrified but overtime the two have some genuine heartfelt moments and the two grow closer, leading to the final moment when Sully has to say goodbye.
Not the best Pixar film, but it was an enjoyable one.
Eight: “Ratatouille” (2007)
It took me a long time to finally sit down and watch “Rataouille.” Not because I thought it would be bad, but because I felt like no much would come from it. Of the Pixar films, this one has the smallest scope. The world feels so tiny and unexplored. We get to see many kitchens and Paris, which is beautifully animated, but that’s about it.
When I did sit down to watch it, there was that initial connect that I get with all Pixar films. The characters are beautifully fleshed out and immediately relatable that you feel like you’ve known them for years. From the background rats to the major players in the kitchen, they all have distinct personalities and each one is distinguishable.
The real clincher for me was the food critic, voiced by Peter O’Toole. Not only is a cynical take on the exciting world of cooking, not only is voiced by a wonderful actor with an impressive range (especially when he’s creepy), but he also has one of the best movie speeches in recent memory. That speech of his near the end of the film has been burned into my memory and will stick with me. As a critic, I appreciate and respect the honesty and credibility. As a person, I love the passion and heart behind his words.
It is a beautiful movie with many likable characters and an outstanding speech that will go down as one of the best speeches in film history.
Seven: “Monsters University” (2013)
The reason this film gets ahead of its predecessor is for a few reasons. One of them being how it was able to flesh out the monster world so much more than the first film. We get to see how much being a scarer means to these creatures and how many different levels there are being them. The hierarchy is impressive to say the least, as well as expansive and detailed.
Another being that the relationship between Mike and Sully is much more believable in this one. The two start off as rivals, but grow to like each other after bonding over how much they love to scare. This grows into respect and eventually friendship and what we saw in “Monsters Inc.” In that film, there friendship was cemented from the beginning and it didn’t really go anywhere. Here, it is fun to see the twists and turns and where their respect for each other came from.
Finally, this one speaks to an audience on a much deeper level than the first film did. While “Monsters Inc.” was emotional, this one was more reflective on one’s desires in life and how working as hard as you can still might not get you what you want. For a children’s film to discuss those issues is spectacular.
Six: “A Bug’s Life” (1998)
This one doesn’t get noticed that much these days. Mostly because a similar film, “Antz” came out around the same time and people naturally got the two mixed up. Both are about living in an ant colony and the kids who adored “Toy Story” were probably very confused to find two ant movies at the same time.
For what its worth, “A Bug’s Life” is the better film. Taking a much more comedic spin on films like “Seven Samurai” and “The Magnificent Seven,” this film is paired up with an impressive scope and a great performance from the always-awesome Kevin Spacey.
You feel like you’re on the same level as the ants, but still conscious that they’re tiny and insignificant compared to us. We see events like rain and tiny birds and how they’re all terrified of these creatures. Seeing their reactions is what makes the film worth it, as well as building legends around things that we take for granted.
The film feels tiny yet massive at the same time.
Five: “Finding Nemo” (2003)
Now we get to the really good ones.
This one hits all the marks of a great Pixar film. Wonderfully touching story, relatable characters, timeless comedy and an expansive world that is just as interesting as any character.
It is hard to make the ocean a compelling character, yet “Finding Nemo” was able to do that with ease. From sharks, to fields of jellyfish, to sea turtles that sound like surfers to massive whales, this one has an enormous scope that trumps any other previous Pixar work.
The real heart of the film lies in Marvin’s determination to get his son back. Every other scene, Marvin must endure dangerous tasks with insurmountable odds, escaping by the skin of his teeth. Pixar has a thing for making grumpy characters go through these sprawling adventures that turn them into fun-loving people that want to get the most out of life. Marvin was the first, though certainly not the last, and one of the best.
Four: “The Incredibles” (2004)
A family of superheroes. As if that idea wasn’t great already, then you add in the comedic stylings of Brad Bird from “The Simpsons.” How can you not like this one?
This is the first Pixar film that is focused on human characters as opposed to animals or inanimate objects, but that doesn’t make these people any less interesting. These are probably the most relatable characters in any Pixar film, due to their quarrels yet willingness to forgive one another. They feel like a real family, especially when stranded on an island full of hostile threats.
Honestly, it is a good sign when the scenes of Mr. Incredible and Helen are some of the more memorable scenes, even more so than the action sequences. Not to the action sucks, but that the two arguing about why they continue to fight crime is so heartfelt and touching that its hard not to get invested.
It falls into the same category of “Finding Nemo” of being that Pixar film which hits all the right notes and is a fun ride from start to finish.
Three: “Up” (2009)
All you need is the first fifteen minutes of this film. That sequence is utterly perfect.
If there was ever a way to sum up life and all of its happiness, struggles, bitterness, sadness and regret, it would be the opening sequence in “Up.” No dialogue, just the marriage and life of Carl and Ellie. That is cinema at its most powerful, especially when you’re able to communicate so much with so little.
The rest of the film is still wonderful though. It takes a while to grow on you, but once you get past the fact that the highlight of the film is at the beginning, most scenes are enjoyed for their beauty, comedy and reflections of Carl’s life. What he should have done and why he feels he messed up.
It is a story of reclaiming the glory of life, at any costs. Whether its Carl making his time with Ellie count or Charles Muntz finding the bird that ruined his life. “Up” hits all the right notes and gives us one of the most memorable scenes in film history.
Two: The Toy Story Trilogy (1995, 1999, 2010)
Okay, I’m kinda cheating with this one. To be honest, I couldn’t pick one film in the series that I thought was better than the others. All three are excellent films and come together to form one of my personal favorite film trilogies.
The whole idea of all three films is to ask, “What would the life of a toy be like?” These three films examine that to its full potential, with each film analyzing a different period of a toy’s life. Because much like the children who play with these toys, they grow up and move on at some point. “Toy Story” was the point in which Woody realized that being someone’s favorite plaything will not last forever, while Buzz’s story was one of coming to grips with being a toy.
In “Toy Story 2” the situations are reversed, with Woody believing that he could have a better life if he stopped being a plaything and became an icon, only to realize that he’d much rather Andy play with him for a few more years instead of be in a museum for the rest of his life. To be a toy instead of just a hunk of plastic.
Then it all comes to a head in “Toy Story 3” when that dreaded moment comes: Andy doesn’t need Woody and Buzz anymore. Not only does this one have the most emotional moments of the series, but it brings the story of these group of toys to a close, rounding out their journey to find their purpose.
Much like the original “Star Wars” trilogy, these three films come together to tell one solid story over a long time. Watching all three films consecutively, you begin to notice over-arcing plot points and the character progression, specifically in Woody and Buzz. It gives us an aspect of life that many had never considered and gave new meaning to our toys.
Now you’re probably wondering what could possibly top all three “Toy Story” films, especially since all three are great films. Well, to me, there is one definitive Pixar film that trumps all other projects. Let’s take a look at it...
One: “WALL-E” (2008)
If “Toy Story” is the film that created the ideas and environment of Pixar, then “WALL-E” is the film where those ideas are perfected. This is the one type of film that was missing from Pixar’s library to make it an unbelievable: a masterpiece.
I’ve talked about how “Finding Nemo” had an utterly massive scope. Well, the scope in “WALL-E” makes “Finding Nemo” look like a puddle. Not only does it encompass the entire planet, but it goes through the cosmos and beyond just to see how far humans have come...only to immediately revert to babies because technology is so far advanced that we don’t even need to stand up.
An interesting companion piece to “WALL-E” is “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Comparing the two, you begin to see many similarities which I believe makes both films stronger, especially “WALL-E.” Namely the use of technology. In “2001” our tools were the instruments that led us out of our docile and cowardly state and into outer space. Now in “WALL-E” our tools have not only become self-aware, but our abuse of said tools has made us nothing but giant lumps.
I don’t believe “WALL-E” is necessarily saying technology is bad, but that if we continue to go down the path we are heading, we would be relying so much on technology that we would never have to lift a finger, which is contradictory to how humans are supposed to live.
I feel the movie can be summed up in one line and it has now become one of my favorite lines of dialogue.
There’s a difference between “survival” and “living.” To rely on technology too much would only be for surviving. To go out, attempt to make your life matter and explore would be to live. To do something fun and new with your life. We do it, not because it’s easy, but because that’s what living is for.
In “WALL-E” we could travel anywhere in the galaxy, have robots for any occasion, hover crafts so that children and the elderly can be just as capable as the rest of us. Yet we only use them for selfish gain. That’s not technologies fault, that is our fault.
I could go on for hours about why “WALL-E” is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. It has gorgeous animation, the fact that the first third of the film has no dialogue but gives you a perfect picture of how this world operates, the romance between WALL-E and EVE is one of the strangest yet most captivating romances I can think of, the continued similarities to “2001” and the characterization of WALL-E, his personality and how simple yet complex he can be.
Not only is “WALL-E” my pick for the greatest animated film, but it just might be my pick for the best film of the 2000s. Each time I watch the film, I catch something that I missed and I end up loving the film even more. That is a true test of staying power when the film gets better every time you watch it.
For me, that makes “WALL-E” the best Pixar movie.