It seems that Pixar Animation Studios has hit number 13 on their hands this week with the release of Brave. Truth be told, I have yet to make it to the theaters to catch this latest triumph from the miracle workers at Pixar. I’m planning on heading out this weekend with the whole family. It’s sort of become a bit of a tradition that we see Pixar films together. While recent movies like Madagascar 3 was just myself and my sons, and The Hunger Games was just my wife and daughter, we have made it a point to see each Pixar film together ever since 2003’s Finding Nemo. The reason, of course, is that each film is just that good. To us, each Disney/Pixar release has truly been what’s referred to as an “event film.” They’re movies that we wait for. They’re a big deal. We all enjoy them together and that is perhaps Pixar’s biggest strength; they have the ability to create stories and characters that transcend all age levels.
But, a Top 5 is a Top 5 and it has to be finalized, so in honor of the release of Brave this past week, here are my Top 5 Favorite Pixar films.
5 - Up (2009)
The “Carl and Ellie montage” from the opening moments of Up should be required study in film schools everywhere. Perfection isn’t a word thrown around too much in cinema, especially in animation, but perfection is the most suitable word for this sequence. It’s funny. It’s romantic. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. It tells a complete history of a couple in a matter of moments, with no dialogue and, most importantly, it gets the audience totally invested in Carl’s quest which takes up the remainder of the film. I would have followed Carl anywhere after the first 10 minutes of this film. Pixar, once again, proved with Up that innovative storytelling is what they do best.
4 – The Incredibles (2004)
To me, The Incredibles is the best superhero movie of all time. It’s got everything going for it. Writer/director Brad Bird gave us a completely fleshed out and complex story. It had heart. It had a substantial and fully realized back-story. It contained everything you could ask for in a superhero or James Bond type of film and then some. I think it’s got several of the best-animated sequences in Pixar history. (To name just a few; Elastigirl infiltrating Syndrome’s hideout, Dash running on water, both scenes in Edna Mode’s home, the final battle scene with Syndrome and Jack-Jack.) At 115 minutes, it’s also one of Pixar’s longest, beaten only by Cars’ 117 minutes. That’s long for an animated film, but it’s necessary to tell the complete story. Put that story together with great characters, non-stop action and comedy and you’ve got a true winner in my eyes. I wish every big budget superhero movie were this satisfying.
3 – Ratatouille
Director Brad Bird once again takes us on a long journey into a fully realized story. Similar to The Incredibles in length, Ratatouille needs its’ 111 minutes to completely tell the story of Remy and Linguini. The best critique had to be my wife’s: “It’s not just a great animated movie, it’s simply a great movie.” Any animated film where you can forget that you’re watching something animated and get completely lost in the story is both a success and a rarity at the same time. Brad Bird and Pixar seem to pull this off on a consistent basis.
2 – Monsters, Inc.
Pixar has taken us into the world beneath the sea in Finding Nemo, the world low to the ground in A Bug’s Life, and into the automotive world in both Cars films, but Monstropolis has to be Pixar’s most fully developed world. Unlike the other films, this world gave the folks at Pixar the opportunity to fully explore and create their own unique universe of characters. The sky was the limit with monsters. They didn’t have to resemble actual fish or bugs, vehicles or toys. Consider the diversity of Monstropolis. No two monsters are alike. That must have been an amazing burst of freedom for the artist’s involved. Placing all of these far-out characters into a regular setting is this film’s stroke of genius. These monsters live in homes, drive cars, eat in restaurants and go to work just like you and I. It’s masterfully handled in Monsters, Inc. Everything about this movie is fantastic.
1 – Toy Story 3
How did I get to the third installment of the Toy Story series as my number one choice? How could I not choose the original, or the wonderful sequel, Toy Story 2? Valid questions. The first Toy Story film is flawless and I will never forget seeing it in the theater. I was speechless. It blew me away. It’s certainly a worthy start to the phenomenon that it created. Toy Story 2 blew me away even further than the original. It’s been said many times that Toy Story 2 accomplished the rare feat of a sequel topping its original. I believe it did. The second film introduced new, instantly adored characters, gave us one of the most heartbreaking sequences in film history with Jessie’s back-story, and reinforced the original characters as animated royalty. So how could a third installment 15 years after the original and 11 years after the second film possibly raise the bar higher? This is why the team at Pixar is so highly and deservedly revered. For me, Toy Story 3 knocked it out of the park.
Once again, the story is the key. Andy going off to college is the perfect vehicle to logically end this trilogy of films. It’s a masterful set-up and given the long history we all have with these characters, we were all along for the ride from the first frame. The opening sequence is incredible. Forgive me for using this quote, but they “had me at hello.” There are genuine laugh out loud scenes— the monkey with the cymbals makes me laugh just thinking about him! Once again, new characters like Lotso and Ken are introduced and they are viable and unforgettable. Last but not least are two of the most emotional scenes in movie history. The scene in the trash incinerator is absolutely harrowing. Was I just on the edge of my seat during a Toy Story film? Yes…yes I was.
The final scenes between Andy and his toys are so heartbreaking and sentimental—yet at the same time you are left feeling so optimistic for them. It’s brilliant. I was riveted in my seat the entire time in the theater when I first saw this film. We all were, and that’s why it lands here at number one.
There’s a story told by Bob Iger, the current head of The Walt Disney Company. He was at the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland watching the parade on Main Street, when he made an eye-opening observation. He noticed that the only characters in the parade that had been created in the past ten years, and were obviously endearing enough and popular with the public to be included in the parade were Pixar creations, not Disney Animation creations. This was at a time when Pixar and then Disney CEO Michael Eisner were at their wits end with each other and possibly about to sever ties. Iger knew that if he was to indeed succeed Eisner as head of Disney, the first thing he would have to do was to save the relationship with Pixar. That’s exactly what he did.
There’s obvious truth behind the revelation that Iger had that day in Hong Kong. People care about the Pixar characters for a reason; because they come from great films. Great films come from great stories and if there’s one thing that Pixar has always had since day one, it’s great storytellers. I’ve never been one of these Disneyphiles who tries to channel Uncle Walt by using sentences that start with the phrase “Walt would have…” I have no idea what Walt would have thought were he alive today, but I suspect he would still be able to spot great storytelling. So is it a stretch to say that if Walt Disney were hypothetically still around, he’d be making movies like the folks at Pixar? Aside from the fact that he would be an astonishing 111 years of age, I think you get what I’m trying to say. Walt believed in telling great stories. It was one of the cornerstones to his success.
Pixar has produced some of the best films of the past 17 years. Notice how I didn’t say animated films. I stand by that statement. To me, a great story with characters that people care about is the genesis of a great movie. Pixar is 13 and 0. (Say what you want about Cars 2, it still earned half a billion dollars.) It’s a remarkable track record, akin to the New York Yankees and World Championships, or Elvis Presley and gold records.
I can’t wait to see Brave with the whole family this weekend and whatever they come out with next (Monsters University is up next in 2013) I’m quite sure we’ll all be there waiting to be impressed. They haven’t let me down yet.
What’s on your list of top Pixar movies? Click on the “Discuss this article on MousePad” link below and let’s hear what you have to say.