Top 5 Pixar films
Since 1995, the annual(-ish) release of Pixar’s latest movie has been one of the highlights of my year. Their films are always beautiful with extraordinary visuals and superb animation with an emphasis on rich story and well developed characters. Every one of their films is a pure delight and enjoyable whatever your age.
Sadly, with The Good Dinosaur being pushed back to 2015, this marks the first year since 2005 where we won’t get to see a new film from the studio. But let’s not dwell on that, instead let’s look back at the top 5 films the studio has released so far to help us whet our appetites for next year.
For this list I’m going to concentrate purely on the theatrical films so while there’s some shorts I’d love to talk about, I’ll ignore them (they’re worthy of their own top 5 in the future).
As ever, this list is purely my personal choice feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments. Also, if you haven’t seen any of these films, there may be some slight spoilers, you’ve been warned.
5: Toy Story (1995)
It might be somewhat sacrilegious to put Toy Story at the bottom of a top Pixar films list but hear me out…
I love Toy Story, I’ve loved it since I seen it in the cinema as a kid. It’s a fantastically realised, ambitious, beautifully told story with superb pacing and unique, memorable characters. But you can’t deny, it hasn’t aged well…
This seems to be a problem with CG animation, it doesn’t age half as well as its hand drawn counterpart. You can look back at old examples of traditional animation and they still look great, I was watching Pinocchio the other day and despite having an art style that was clearly from the forties, you couldn’t date the quality of animation at all. CG however, dates really poorly.
The problem seems to be that in CG, its not only the animators ability that shows on the screen, it’s also the power of the technology available at the time.
Toy Story shows this, it’s the talent of terrific animators and modellers hitting against the brick wall, pushing the tech to the limits. While groundbreaking at the time, today, the models look low poly and stiff in places. The low poly count is especially evident on the faces of the humans who look downright eerie. The textures too, look flat and unrealistic.
It’s a real shame, because the story and characters are still as note perfect as they were upon release and of course, it’s those factors that matter. Kids watching it today for the first time will still fall in love with it and it’s easily one of the best movies ever made, the aged visuals however become more and more noticeable every year.
4: Wall-E (2008)
Wall-E is easily one of the most adorable characters in the Pixar canon. It’s impossible not to love the inquisitive, childlike little guy. He’s also one of the studio’s best designed characters, while he has no actual facial features and a very limited body, he is capable of a massive range of emotions and expressions. The fact that such a limited character can be imbued with so much…well…character…is a true testament to the talent of the Pixar animators.
The reason Wall-E doesn’t feature higher on this list is that part of me still thinks that it would have worked better as a short film. It’s definitely a film of two halves. The initial half hour taking place on the desolate polluted earth, is pretty much a silent film with Wall-E the sole remaining robot left, tasked with the job of cleaning up the planet for the return of humanity. The rest of the film takes a huge turn into sci-fi action with Wall-E taken into space to the sleek ship piloting the surviving humans through the galaxy.
While the film as a whole is fantastic, I was left wishing for more of the opening. The quiet scenes of Wall-E soldering on through the broken city, uncovering subtle hints as to what happened to the world that caused the humans to leave, collecting interesting objects and filing them away in his home.
It’s a slight, sweet, idea which I feel is damaged somewhat by taking the audience into the sleek, bright, ship. It makes the film just another sci-fi flick with all the trappings.
3: Up (2009)
The first fifteen minutes of Up may well be the most heartbreaking fifteen minutes in all of animation. The beautiful montage, taking the viewer through the entire life of the main character Carl, through great moments like his wedding and buying his own house and through the dark days, learning of his wife’s infertility and her death. By the end of the montage, not only are you in floods of tears, but you also know exactly who Carl is. He’s a man with a big heart, who has lost the most important part of his life, leaving him bitter and closed off.
The rest of the film deals with Carl’s journey to complete the trip he and his wife planned on taking their whole lives, a pilgrimage to Paradise falls, in the footsteps of Carl’s childhood hero, the explorer Charles Muntz.
From then on the film gears more toward child friendly content than its rather heavy opening. We’ve got Carl flying to paradise falls in a house held aloft by thousands of balloons, a large (female) bird named Kevin and talking dogs.
The great thing about the film though, is that while it takes such a strange turn, it’s so well written, you never question any of it. You remain engrossed in Carl’s story, wanting desperately for him to find his heart again. It’s an incredibly touching movie and easily among Pixar’s proudest moments.
2: Monsters Inc. (2001)
Monsters Inc. is just such a great concept. Children have always been scared of the monster in the closet, Monsters Inc. shows us that they’re just as scared of us.
The film tells the story of two friends, Mike and Sully who work in a factory collecting screams to power their city. Things go wrong however, when a human child (considered toxic by the monsters) crosses over into their world.
The great thing about monsters Inc. is how fully realised the world is. Everything in this movie, from cars to deodorant cans look familiar, yet have little tweaks that ground them firmly in the monster world. Every little fixture and fitting in the characters homes is pointed to look like fangs, stood next to the coffee machine are gargantuan cups for the huge monsters and teeny ones for the little monsters, even the cars, as they go past the screen, emit faint screams to show how they’re powered by scream energy. The level of detail in the film is amazing and you can spend hours happy pouring over the backgrounds looking for cool new things to find.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Pixar without great memorable characters and this film has them in droves, from our workaday heroes Mike and Sully to the jealous villain Randall, even the background characters, the voiceless extras populating scenes are so imaginative it’s impossible not to love them.
Compared to its 2013 prequel Monsters University, the graphics have aged quite a bit, textures again, look a little flat and the facial rigs tend to be a little stiff, but, like Toy Story, this does nothing to effect the story which remains as perfectly told today as it ever was. It’s a film that deserves to be remembered for a long time to come.
1: Toy Story 3 (2010)
And so here we are, the greatest Pixar movie of all time, and how could it be anything else?
Toy Story 3 is the final chapter of the trilogy and sees Andy, now grown into his teens, about to leave home to start college, donating his old toys to the local day-care centre before he goes.
I seen the first Toy Story in the cinemas back when I was a kid and have pretty much grown up alongside Andy. By the time this film came out I was in University myself and was just getting ready to move out for the first time into my own place. Countless others must have experienced these same set of circumstances and for those people, Toy Story 3 is an incredibly powerful film.
When you’re a child, your toys are some of your best friends and help provide many great memories that you’ll keep with you for the rest of your life. Hitting that age when you’re too old for them anymore and are forced to mature is a really sad moment when you stop and think about it.
You’re forced to finally admit that this object isn’t real. As much as you’ve bonded with it your whole life, and filled it with a personality all of it’s own…in the end…it’s just a toy and by giving it up you’re giving up that final piece of childhood magic.
Of course, in the Toy Story universe, the toys are real and that’s sad too as they’re forced to watch Andy grow up and stop playing with them. These characters who existed purely to provide joy to this child have finally came to the end of their mission and forced to accept that their time with him is over.
It’s not all as gloomy as that of course, Toy Story 3 is packed with as much action, laughs and great character as the first two instalments, in fact, the increased ability of the technology allows for even more ambition and inventiveness that either of the past incarnations could have hoped for.
In the end though, as funny as moments like the prison break, the playtime scene, Spanish buzz and Mr Tortilla-Head are it’s the bittersweet stuff that sticks with you.
The last scene of the film, where Andy passes his toys onto their new owner Bonnie is a little cheesy perhaps, but it’s a good kind of cheesy. Andy is able to show how much he loves his toys one last time and ensures that their legacy lasts on beyond him. It’s a moment that, even if we don’t all consciously acknowledge it, we all go through. That final wish to hold on to that childhood magic and the acceptance that, for us, that part of our life is over.
The fact that Pixar can capture such a delicate emotion on screen so perfectly goes to show that they may well be the greatest animation studio in the world, and Toy Story 3 is easily their best work.
So that's that, what do you guys think? Be sure to leave your thoughts on the best Pixar films in the comments.