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The Ten Best Films of Disney/Pixar
With their use of revolutionary animation techniques and their ability to craft heartwarming and ingenious films, it’s no secret that Pixar Animation Studios is one of the most interesting in the film industry today. And just in time for the release of their latest film Monsters University, we’re taking a step back in time to have a look at the best (and most important) films the studio has ever created.
While superheroes are not new to the big screen, Pixar managed to take the idea of a superhero film and make it both brilliant and unique in its own right. Starring an extraordinary family trying to live down their super powers and fit within normal modern society, the film not only was able to hit on some of the more familiar and exciting tropes of superhero action films, but also delivered a poignant and hilarious commentary on modern family structure as a whole. It had an amazing visual quality that upped the ante for CG animated films and utilized a driving and exilerating Big Band jazz soundtrack to accentuate the already solid narrative. Like any good Disney/Pixar film, The Incredibles has a sense of heart and timeless appeal that makes it easily appreciated by any person of any age.
Let’s be honest; even as adults, it’s more than likely that at some point in our lives, we’ve had flighty thoughts about someone or something hiding in our room and waiting for the opportune moment to strike once we’re fast asleep. It’s because of this that the premise of Monsters, Inc. becomes so brilliant. After all, who could blame a hard-working monster only trying to earn his keep by accumulating precious screams from kids?
Of all the Disney/Pixar films, Monsters, Inc. has to be one of the most ingenious. Commenting the daily 9-5 grind with adorable creatures whose problems and lifestyles mirror our own and hitting on ideas we’ve seen explored in sci-fi movies of the past, Monsters has quickly become one of the more beloved of the Pixar lineup over the years. Here’s hoping that Monsters University can once again deliver on the same level as its cherished predecessor.
With its groundbreaking nature and phenomenal quality, it’s arguable that Toy Story is quite possibly one of the most important animated films of all time.
Starring the infamous Woody and Buzz Lightyear (using the voice talents of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, respectively), the film took a look at one of the passing thoughts nearly every kid has had: what if, when you left them alone, your toys came to life? What would they sound like? What would they act like? The film told a compelling story about friendship and loyalty that still resonates today as one of Pixar’s strongest. It had a look and feel all its own, the premise was (once again) unique and full of heart, and it placed Pixar aptly at the front of the animation business, making it quite possibly one of the best (and certainly most important) films Pixar has ever created.
While it might not be quite as technically groundbreaking as some of Pixar’s other entries, WALL-E told a fascinating and foreboding story that provided a uinque commentary on society the likes of which we haven’t seen from the studio before. WALL-E is a garbage-cleaning robot who is sent to Earth after it has been abandoned by mankind due to its toxic levels of trash and waste in an effort to clean up and make the planet livable again. It’s there that he makes friends with a cockroach, falls in love with a reconnaissance robot, and eventually saves humanity from an auto pilot gone rogue.
WALL-E turned a mirror on our own society and showed us what the possible far-reaching consequences of gross consumerism practices could mean for humanity in the future. Much like 1992’s FernGully, the film provides a pointed commentary on environmentalism that, while somewhat fantastic, is actually interesting to consider. On top of that, the film also heavily borrowed influence from the silent film era that lends a clever and endearing air to the film, making it one of Pixar’s more unique offerings.
Toy Story 2
Sequels tend to get an unfortunate bad rap in the movie business for being lackluster attempts to follow up a great film. And to a point, this is understandable. After all, it’s difficult for anything to truly live up to the same standard set forth by an original film, especially when one considers the might of one like Toy Story.
Despite being a sequel, Toy Story 2 managed to not only uphold the conventions that made the original Toy Story so fantastic, it actually took the formula and improved upon it to deliver a film complete with the same tone, humor, and heart.
On top of that, the film had a much larger sense of scope that saw locations of the story taking us everywhere from Andy’s room to the famed Al’s Toy Barn and riffed on classics such as Star Wars and old-timey Western films. It’s more Toy Story, but it’s more Toy Story that adds to the overall quality of the franchise and delivered yet another high quality blockbuster for Pixar.
In the wake of its 2006 release, it’s hard to argue that Cars is anything but a phenomenon. The film followed the exploits of Lightning McQueen, a racer with a taste for fame and mixed-up values. But when he gets stranded in a small town, Lightning finds what true friendship and family is all about, giving him new insight on what really matters in life.
While its story might not be the strongest of all the Pixar films, its ability to become a mega franchise almost overnight certainly speaks to the film’s lasting appeal. Kids took to Cars like bees to honey, and after the film was released, it was hard to go anywhere without finding some sort of merchandise relating to the mega franchise of Lightning McQueen and his friends. Also, it answered the timeless question of what Larry the Cable Guy would look like if he became a vehicle, which is always good.
A story of epic scope and breadth, Finding Nemo told the tale of Marlin, a timid clownfish who sets off on a journey to find his son Nemo after the small fish manages to be captured by an Australian dentist.
While it weaves together ideas of family and friendship, the most compelling value explored in Finding Nemo is the idea of stepping outside of your comfort zone and seeing the world from new angles. Truly, the most amazing and entertaining parts of the film are the ones that see Marlin and Dory meeting various characters and species of fish who all adhere to different stereotypes and offer us a glimpse of how we might change our own views if we are willing to open our minds and engage in new experiences.
In my mind, Finding Nemo is the perfect marriage of visual brilliance and narrative strength and belongs with the likes of Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., and The Incredibles as one of the best Pixar films of all time.
In an effort to live out one of his lifelong goals and fulfill a promise to his deceased wife, 78-year-old Carl decides to make the trek to South America. And with the help of thousands of balloons, the old man makes his home into a makeshift airship that carries him away from a modernized world. Of course, he’ll have to deal with a crazed villain, squirrel-crazed dog, and an 8-year-old stowaway before he has any chance to truly enjoy his journey.
While Up’s plot bundled together brilliant writing and a sharp sense of humor, it stands out as one of the most tragic and heartfelt of the Pixar films. The first ten minutes of the film alone takes you on an entire journey of hardship and loss that ultimately delivers one of the most interesting commentaries on true love the studio has ever undertaken.
A Bug’s Life
Weaving the story of naive adventurer Flik and his misfit band of “soldiers”, A Bug’s Life takes a look at symbiotic and parasitic relationships in both nature and in our modern society in a film that couples black comedy with darker undertones of loss and identity.
A Bug’s Life wasn’t the most innovative of films for the studio, but it is an outlier when stacked against the other films Pixar has made. Whereas a majority of Pixar’s movies take a look at the lighter side of friendship and family at the core of their respective plots, A Bug’s Life delved deeply into ideas of personal identity and self worth through Flik and his desperate need to prove himself to Princess Atta and the colony. Of course, it retains the feel-good conventions and personality that have made countless other Disney/Pixar films so great, but its darker nature and menacing undertones make it stand out among the others in an interesting way.
While it may have its famed Princesses who fit neatly into a damsel-in-distress mold, Disney has attached a strong independent edge to some of its more modern female characters that I find both inspiring and necessary. From the headstrong Jasmine to the sword-wielding Mulan, many of Disney’s more modern female characters have expressed a sense of strength and individual worth that ought to be applauded. After all, there’s an abundance of passive female icons in the world, and young girls can benefit from seeing the strength of a well-designed female character.
Brave managed to continue this tradition in a brilliant way, from showing Merida’s distaste for the betrothal process to her outright involvement in the competition organized for her very hand. Imagery such as her loosening of a corset in order to aim better with a bow portrayed a strong and brilliant sense of power and confidence that was both refreshing and enlightening to see in an animated film.
On top of that, Pixar once again took us to a somewhat foreign location in the Scottish countryside during a medieval age where women were seen as second-class and marriages served as political alignments. It also explored ideas of adherence to tradition and a fascinating relationship between a headstrong daughter trying to avoid the trappings of tradition and a mother who was trying to do her best to raise a daughter that would comply with the age-old rules she had been brought up with. While it might not stand up as one of the best Pixar movies of all time, Brave deserves a spot on this list for its ingenious portrayal of feminism and its exploration of family relationships as a whole.
What are your favorite Disney/Pixar films? Tell me in the comments below!