Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Another entry in Pixar’s “more for grown-ups” canon, Wall-E is a movie that deals with environmental and societal issues, and somehow miraculously never feels preachy. If that isn’t a testament to Pixar’s storytelling prowess, I don’t know what is.
But those themes are actually secondary, even if critics have overblown them to the forefront. The primary story of Wall-E is a romantic one.
When Earth has been abandoned after it became overrun with garbage, the robots assigned to clean the place up eventually stopped working. Save for one. This robot is Wall-E, who has been doing what he’s programmed to do for centuries. But somewhere down the road, Wall-E developed a personality, and a soul. But with this newfound sentience came a sad realization. Wall-E was alone.
When a robot sent from a human spaceship arrives to see if life is sustainable on Earth, Wall-E falls head over wheels for her (you see what I did there?). Wall-E’s love for this new robot, named EVE, will take them on an adventure across the universe.
Wall-E is one of the most romantic love stories in cinema history, made all the more notable by the fact that the love story is between two robots. It’s also a beautifully atmospheric movie, with the early scenes in particular echoing feelings of loneliness and isolation. The animation is top-notch, and watching what Pixar does with a sci-fi setting is a wonder to behold.
Wall-E is a beautiful movie through and through. It’s both adorable and profound, and one of Pixar’s smartest creations.
4: Toy Story
Directed by: John Lasseter
The movie that kickstarted Pixar had to earn a high spot on this list. But Toy Story doesn’t simply rank highly because of its influence, but because Toy Story remains a pretty flawless film (some aged visuals aside).
Toy Story gave audiences an insanely likable cast of characters, a sweet, sophisticated story, and changed the face of animation forever.
When it was released, Toy Story was unique not just for the visuals, but the idea of an animated buddy comedy was unheard of at the time (almost all of Disney’s features were romance, and most other western studios simply followed their formula). It introduced the cowboy doll Woody and the space ranger action figure Buzz Lightyear. The characters and story were not only different, but they remain timeless.
Toy Story flows at a near-perfect pace, and remains entertaining throughout its entirety. It’s one of the few animated films that even the most stuffy and pretentious of critics will hail as one of the best films of all time.
Twenty years ago, Toy Story established Pixar as the leading force in animated films. Today, it remains one of Pixar’s very best.
3: Toy Story 2
Directed by: John Lasseter
To believe a movie as phenomenal as Toy Story 2 was originally going to be one of those awful Disney straight-to-video sequels that tainted the 1990s and early 2000s. Pixar wasn’t even originally going to have any say-so in the production!
Thankfully, clearer heads prevailed, and Pixar was handed the reigns to this sequel, which not only got promoted to a theatrical release, but it ended up being one of the greatest sequels of all time. Bar none.
Though there are now a good number of sequels that surpass their predecessors, when Toy Story 2 hit theaters, such quality sequels were few and far between. What is especially noteworthy is how Toy Story 2 followed up a pretty much perfect movie, and somehow ended up being way better than the original.
Toy Story 2 takes place a few years after the first film. Andy is going off to Summer camp, and Woody accidentally ends up in a yard sale, where he is taken by a grubby toy collector named Al McWiggin. Buzz Lightyear, along with a group of Andy’s toys, set out to rescue their friend.
Problems arise, however, when Woody contemplates whether he really wants to be rescued at all. Andy is growing up, and will one day outgrow his toys. But the rest of the Woody’s roundup gang – which includes cowgirl Jessie, Woody’s trusty horse Bullseye, and the mint in the box Prospector – are all off to a toy museum, where they will forever have a place.
Toy Story 2 takes the themes of abandonment and mortality that were hinted at in the original, and brings them front and center. It’s every bit as fun and exhilarating as the original, but it’s thematically richer and more tragic. Find me someone who claims to have never cried during “Jessie’s Song” and I’ll find you a lier.
Toy Story 2 remains a high watermark for Pixar, sequels and animated features.
2: The Incredibles
Directed by: Brad Bird
With all due respect to The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, Guardians of the Galaxy and Big Hero 6, The Incredibles remains the greatest super hero film of all time.
Being Pixar’s follow-up to Finding Nemo, The Incredibles was released during the height of the studio’s popularity. Thankfully, The Incredibles lived up to its lofty expectations by delivering a smart, sophisticated, meaningful movie that just so happened to also star super heroes and feature some of the best action scenarios ever.
The Incredibles tells the story of two aged super heroes, Mr. Incredible and his wife Elastigirl, who are stuck living under their secret identities of Bob and Helen Parr after the government has deemed super heroes unfit for modern society. Though Mr. Incredible loves his life with his wife and kids, he longs for the glory days of when he was able to showcase what made him special. A secret message gives Bob the opportunity to shine once again, but ultimately leads to an unforeseen adventure for him and his super family.
The great thing about The Incredibles is that it is, quite literally, a movie that has something for everyone. And everything it does it does to perfection.
The family is given basic super powers that reflect their personalities: Mr. Incredible, the father and backbone of the family, has super strength. Helen is a busy woman, wife, and mother, and needs to be flexible, so she has stretching powers. Their son Dash is energetic, so he has super speed. Their daughter Violet is a shy and vulnerable teenager, so she can turn invisible and create force fields. And Jack-Jack, the baby, has unknown potential.
Like Ratatouille and Wall-E, The Incredibles falls under the “more adult audience” section of Pixar, with themes of marital issues (can you think of another animated film that hints at marital unfaithfulness?), growing old, and dreams gone by all showing up, as well as Brad Bird’s much-appreciate love of exceptionalism (“When everyone’s super…no one will be!”). But, being a fun and colorful super hero action flick, this is still a movie kids will very much love (not to mention it gives them the kid characters to relate to).
From its animation (it was the first Pixar movie to center on human characters), action set pieces, character development and storytelling, The Incredibles is Pixar at its very best.