This weekend Pixar's latest digital marvel, "Monsters University," roars into theaters (
14."Cars 2" (2011)
13. "Cars" (2006)
12. "Brave" (2012)
It was supposed to be the one that set things right: after repeated criticisms were (rightfully) leveled against the studio for what many perceived as outright sexism in its feature films, Pixar hired a wonderful female director (Brenda Chapman) and started development on what was known as "The Bear and the Bow." Later, the title was changed to "Brave" and, a little later than that, Chapman was unceremoniously removed from both the film and the studio. (When the movie later won a Best Animated Feature Oscar, she would accept the award with her replacement, Mark Andrews. The amount of pride that must have been swallowed that night...) With Chapman gone, a lot of the movie's moodiness (including its wintertime setting) was swapped for more traditional, what some would claim were more overtly "Disney" moments of sunny cheeriness. The sentiment, that a Princess (played by Kelly Macdonald) can choose her own fate instead of being auctioned off to some loser prince, is a powerful message and the closest any Pixar movie has come to being considered a "feminist" work (there is a feminist angle to another Pixar movie, but, in the words of Mr. Incredible, we'll get there when we get there). The problem is that the movie is clunky, with a narrative that, instead of allowing the princess to really become her own person, saddles her with a burdensome buddy movie scenario wherein her mother (Emma Thompson) is accidentally turned into a bear. She's never actually allowed to be the woman she should become since she's babysitting her bear-mom. It's a drag.
11. "Monsters University" (2013)
10. "A Bug's Life" (1998)
9. "Toy Story 2" (1999)
8. "Toy Story" (1995)
7. "Finding Nemo" (2003)
At the time of its release, "Finding Nemo" soon became the biggest animated feature of all time (surpassed later by one of the "Shrek" sequels) and it's easy to see why – the tale of a father clown fish named Marlin (Albert Brooks) who loses his son after years of being overtly cautious and super protective – is something that everyone can relate to (even cowboys have daddy issues). And the characters are well drawn, from Marlin's forgetful partner-in-crime Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) to the motley crew of fish that surround Nemo in the dentist's waiting room aquarium (most notably Willem Defoe). There's a reason that there are 'Nemo'-themed attractions at Disney's Animal Kingdom, EPCOT Center, Disney California Adventure, and Disneyland theme parks and a sequel in the works – people love this movie. But upon re-watching it during its recent theatrical 3D conversion, revealed that not all of "Finding Nemo" works. The bisected storyline, split between Marlin's journey and Nemo's imprisonment, often slows down the movie's pace (at times it nearly crawls); the Marlin/Dory dynamic was too familiar at the time, when it seemed like every Pixar movie was going to be a variation of a buddy movie; and the movie's extra climax, wherein Nemo gets caught in a net (again) and has to convince the similarly captured fish to swim to the bottom of the ocean so that they could all escape, is both tedious and thematically redundant. We get it. Let's move on. Still, "Finding Nemo" has an undeniable powerful, one that can speak to anyone, really. It's also a singularly beautiful Pixar movie too, with the naturalistic style that they pioneered for "A Bug's Life" plunged under the ocean, with relatively few stylistic flourishes (comparatively, "Finding Nemo" was a low-budget movie because they blew so much R&D money on "Monsters Inc."). It's just that, like Dory, it's easy to forget some of the film's problems because it's so easy to praise the work as a whole.
6. "Monsters, Inc." (2001)
Pixar had some experience in world building by the time "Monsters, Inc." rolled around in 2001, but the worlds they had constructed where microcosmic and very much a part of our own reality. With "Monsters, Inc." they crafted an entirely separate universe, one in which monsters cultivate the screams of children to power their own modern cities, using a system of magical doors. It's an ingenious concept and one that relates to our own childhood fears of the monster in the closet (who turns out is just an employee at what amounts to a large energy corporation). There's a kind of frazzled inventiveness to every frame of "Monsters, Inc.," from the design of the characters (like the one-eyed Mike and the blue, furry Sulley) to the system of doors, which really pays off in a jaw-dropping climax where our heroes and villains ride the doors through the labyrinthine back channels of the corporation. It's also a sly take on our ongoing energy crisis and a loving homage to the monster movies of yore (a popular restaurant in the monster-y universe is Harryhausen's, named after the great, recently departed effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen). But the real reason "Monsters, Inc." works so well is the emotional connection forged between the tiny human who is unleashed in the monster world (who they nickname Boo) and Sulley, a giant, fearsome monster whose job it is to scare little kids just like Boo. The way their relationship develops, mostly wordlessly, is a testament to the confident storytelling prowess of the studio. The way the movie ends is probably one of the most powerful moments the studio has ever crafted, one that is delicate and unforced. The simplicity and emotional power of "Monsters, Inc." is what made a sequel seem (for a while at least) inconceivable. But with a world as large and immersive as the one created for "Monsters, Inc.," there are undoubtedly many, many different stories to tell.
5. "Toy Story 3" (2010)
4. "WALL-E" (2008)
Beloved by critics (A.O. Scott called it his favorite film of the decade) and derided by right wing pundits (who claimed that its touchy-feely environmentalist message was harmful to kids), "WALL-E" is a boldly experimental movie that doesn't quite stick the landing but none the less feels like an out-there art house joint more than a hugely budgeted Hollywood kids' movie. Consider the movie's almost completely wordless first half, where a junky little droid named WALL-E (those of you playing at home might remember that WALL-E stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-Class) still cleans a completely deserted, garbage-covered planet earth hundreds of years after the last human lived there and at least that long since the last robot stopped working. The reason WALL-E has survived is that he has developed a personality: he forages through the wreckage for knickknacks that he brings back to his home and he has a pet cockroach that he cares for. When a spaceship lands in the wasteland and a sleek new robot named EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), WALL-E becomes smitten. When she discovers that he has a living plant amongst his souvenirs, she's recalled back to a floating cruise ship called the Axiom, which is bursting with robotic life but where humans have devolved into gelatinous blobs. While on the Axiom, WALL-E uncovers a conspiracy and "reboots" humanity. He also falls in love. There are moments of pure transcendence in "WALL-E," like the space dance that he and EVE go on outside of the Axiom, and the movie is probably the hardest, in terms of satire, of all the Pixar movies (co-writer Jim Reardon was a "Simpsons" bigwig for many years and in a lot of ways the movie feels like a really expensive episode of "Futurama"). It's also incredibly strange: from the wordless first half to the fact that this is a movie in which real life actors appear alongside their CGI counterparts (mostly by Fred Willard as the head of the Buy-N-Large corporation) to all the "Hello Dolly" references and the general bleakness in terms of tone, this is a ballsy, gonzo movie. The story, however, could have still used some tightening (if this super old robotic conspiracy to keep people from earth was in effect why send EVE down there at all?), the fact that they were so hell bent on assigning binary gender characteristics to sexless robots seems foolhardy and it goes without saying that the wordless first half makes the chaotic second half less powerful.
3. "Up" (2009)
2. "Ratatouille" (2007)
1. "The Incredibles" (2004)
When "The Incredibles" was released, it felt like a revelation, like a genuinely groundbreaking moment from a studio that had literally reinvented the animated feature at least once before. It was a first in a lot of ways: the first movie of theirs to have humans be the central characters (instead of bugs or monsters or toys); the first movie to be rated PG (because of its action and implied sexuality – that's right, implied sexuality); the first movie to be scored by Michael Giacchino (who would go on to become a Pixar power player); the first movie to flirt with the 2-hour mark (115 minutes); along with a number of esoteric technical innovations (skin, clothing, and physics engines that scatter light realistically). But all could have all been for naught if the story of "The Incredibles" wasn't so compelling. Ingeniously devised by Brad Bird, who had recently suffered terribly at the hands of Warner Bros Animation, "The Incredibles" is about an over-the-hill superhero Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) forced to relocate to the suburbs and assume a new identity, along with his equally super-powered wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and children, after superheroes have been outlawed. It's while Mr. Incredible is working at a soul-deadening insurance company that he's approached by a mysterious woman to carry out a series of tasks that only he can accomplish, on a secret jungle island. Suddenly, he's back in the game. He feels better about himself, walks with a spring in his step, and romances the wife again, which of course leads her to suspect that an affair is a part of this midlife crisis he seems to be going through. Instead, it's much more dangerous than that, and soon the entire family is in jeopardy. Metaphorically, "The Incredibles" is brilliant, with each family member getting the over-sized abilities of what is demanded of them at home (the dad has to be strong, so Mr. Incredible can lift train cars, the mother has to be in a million places at once so she can stretch, the awkward teenage daughter comes invisible, etc.) and stylistically it's still Pixar's strongest effort, with a design aesthetic that combines sixties sleekness with James Bond-ian gadgetry; it's both futuristic and timeless. Countless comic books and characters are referenced in "The Incredibles" – everything from Will Eisner's "The Spirit" and Alan Moore's "Watchmen" (both of which had yet to be adapted for the big screen at the time), and Bird builds action sequences the way that Robert Zemeckis does, with a series of escalating obstacles that never once decreases on the throttle. Bird doesn't shy away from violence (a little kid seemingly murders countless goons) or sex (the affair analogy, and some well-placed double entendres) and adds at least one amazing addition to the mythology of superheroes: Edna Mode (played by Bird himself), the costume designer to superheroes. "The Incredibles" is often so full of exuberant life that it threatens to burst at the seams. Thankfully, like one of Edna Mode's suits, it all stays together. The result is an unparalleled masterpiece and the very best Pixar movie.
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Hope this one gets through Mods because it's quite an interesting read, and also because I haven't seen this article posted here yet. Plus, "Monsters U." is killing it right now at the box office. Rest of the rationales for the other Pixar flicks can be read at the source.
Is this accurate list accurate, ONTD? Violent reactions? Let's rock this Pixar beeyotch!