Ever since Pixar burst onto the scene with Toy Story, its first CGI-animated feature film in 1995, it has consistently produced high quality and well-grossing films. And while the studio paved the way for a renaissance in CGI animation and, in turn, unfortunately lessened the mass appeal of 2D animation, its films have been able to capture the magic usually found in Disney 2D animation films from the past.
Now, 17 years later, this weekend will see the release of Brave, Pixar’s 13th feature film. That has inspired 5 of us — film contributors Paolo and Steve, anime contributor Erin, manga contributor Melanie and myself — to rank every Pixar film until we collectively came up with the 5 best. And boy was it close.
Did your favorite Pixar film make the list? Hit the break to view Pop GO’s 5 best Pixar films!
5. Finding Nemo (by Melanie)
If there’s one movie that stands out in my childhood memories, it’s definitely Finding Nemo. I saw this movie three times in theaters and continue to quote it to this day. Finding Nemo has the best of Pixar: fun, touching, a little bit heartbreaking, and a whole lot of hilarity.
At its core, Finding Nemo is the story of an overprotective father risking everything to find his son, and both father and son find themselves wrapped up in their own life-changing adventures. It incorporates themes of family, self-identity, environmental awareness, growing up and growing down. While Nemo went out learning lessons only life could teach him, his dad was getting in touch with the child inside him.
Humanizing animals is nothing new to the world of animated movies, but Pixar nearly perfected it with Finding Nemo, giving each underwater creature distinct and vibrant personalities. This is a mere taste of some of the unique characters in Finding Nemo: a young clownfish with an underdeveloped fin, a fish voiced by Ellen DeGeneres with short-term memory loss, a support group meeting for vegetarian sharks, a rebel escape group in a dentist’s office fish tank, California surfer dude sea turtles, and more, all within the waters of Australia.
Where any other animation company might have tried and failed, Pixar flourished. As challenging as basing an entire movie around talking fish might seem, the characterization was done so well that it was easy to forget the characters were fish within ten minutes. The swimming animation only added to the sense of immersion. I cannot have been the only person disappointed to see real ocean water and discover that it didn’t have the gorgeous glitter animation that Finding Nemo trademarked.
Completely enchanting from start to finish and truly fun for even the oldest, most jaded family member. People will be singing Dory’s “just keep swimming” song for years to come.
4. Toy Story (by Erin)
Kids have wild imaginations; they spend their time playing with people who aren’t there, spinning elaborate tales that will be forgotten by dinner time, and acting out their futures with the help of stuffed animals. In their first film Toy Story, Pixar captures the answer to a question niggling at the back of the minds of every child: What do my toys do when I’m out of the room?
I remember vividly pretending that my favorite dolls could come alive when I was at school, so I took care to make sure I did their hair and left out “food” for them every day before I got on the bus. Toy Story took this idea and took it even further; our toys have friends, enemies, leaders, and rivalries. They get up to more than my young mind could comprehend.
I saw Toy Story in theaters with my parents, and I remember it being one of the movies we enjoyed the most together; there was something for me to enjoy, and subtle jokes that they laughed at that I wouldn’t get until I was much older. In my house, we still tell each other to watch our language around my young godsiblings by saying “there’s pre-school toys present.” It’s hard to create that package, especially with your first film, but Pixar took an idea fundamental to our imaginations and tossed it together with slapstick humor and a strong moral ending for a resounding success. The animation may be considered old-fashioned now, but it was incredible at the time, and the outdated CG in no way diminishes current enjoyment of the film.
As my first Pixar film, Toy Story will always hold a special place in my heart.
3. The Incredibles (by Paolo)
The Incredibles stands out as one of Pixar’s best films since their debut feature in Toy Story. Directed by Brad Bird, The Incredibles marked the director’s second feature film after the critically acclaimed Iron Giant from 1999, and once again Brad Bird proved his ability to craft and tell an incredibly mature story in an animated setting. Not only that, the film was able to appeal to audiences of all ages much like other Pixar films, but in this case doing a first in centering around human characters rather than animals and inanimate objects.
The Incredibles also stands out as one of the better superhero films to date with its own take on the genre. The way the film addresses many of the tropes of superhero films and applies them into its real world setting is both humorous and creative.
The supporting cast is highlighted by Samuel L. Jackson, who provides many of the film’s most memorable jokes, and Jason Lee as the villain Syndrome is by far one of the funniest evil geeks of all time.
Going from Warner Bros. Animation to Disney & Pixar, the quality of the work Brad Bird was able to produce in The Incredibles is, well… simply put, incredible. The film is eight years old, but the quality of Pixar Animation still holds up well to this date by comparison to the latest CG animated films produced by the heavy hitters including DreamWorks Animation, Nickelodeon and etc. It is still a gorgeous film to watch particularly during the film’s many action sequences which may have very well been what convinced J.J. Abrams to hire Brad Bird into directing last year’s smash hit, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.
It’s a tough thing to look at Pixar’s bevy of work and determine what stands out as their best films, but The Incredibles easily is one of their best ever.
2. Up (by Ernie)
Going into the film in 2009 knowing only what was seen in trailers — a floating house, lots of balloons, an old man, a young boy scout, and some talking dogs — my personal interest was as low as it ever was heading into any Pixar film, and that included Cars.
I came out of that theater emotionally exhausted, and wanting more.
From talking toys, talking bugs, talking cars, talking fish, talking monsters, talking rats, etc., never has a Pixar film been able to convey human emotion as well as it has with Up. Yes, characters of previous films have been able to effectively portray human characteristics, ponder human decisions and morals, but never have they been this relatable and this real.
And while Pete Docter’s story takes its characters on the usually whimsical Pixar quest, the atypical human element was a breath of fresh air. Whether it’s Carl trying to cope with life without Ellie, or Russell questioning his father’s lack of presence in his life, Up centers around real, ordinary humans — the unlikeliest of Pixar protagonists — going through deep, layered and mature issues.
Up is an extremely heartfelt, emotional rollercoaster of a story set in an always visually gorgeous Pixar adventure that can be enjoyed by all, young or old.
1. WALL-E (by Steve)
The post-apocalyptic film has been done to death (thanks in no small part to Kevin Costner’s affinity for the genre), so when I first saw the trailer for Pixar’s 2008 film WALL-E, I was skeptical at best. Upon seeing the film, all that skepticism was erased within about ten minutes, and by the time WALL-E decided to leave Earth and follow EVE to the Axiom space station, I was slowly falling in love with the film.
Most of Pixar’s films are love stories of one kind or another, but never had they dealt with the discovery of love, and boiling such a basic human emotion down to its essence and placing it in the body of a robot is a stroke of genius. WALL-E’s quest to hold on to his true love takes him on a whirlwind tour through what mankind has become (complacent and lazy) and his desire to stop at nothing to get what he wants has an adverse affect on everyone he comes into contact with. It takes a robot who’s fallen in love with what humans used to be, to give humans the spark they need to fight for what they truly want.
It’s a beautiful story, filled with some incredible scenes like the dancing sequence, set to an amazing score by Thomas Newman, and Andrew Stanton streamlines things enough to not repeat the multiple climaxes that bogged down his previous Pixar effort. My wife and I decided that this would be our oldest daughter’s first movie to see in the theater, and years from now, I have no doubt that she’ll wear that badge of honor as proudly as I wear ET as my first film at the theater. They are films about outsiders who teach mankind what life and love are all about, and it is undeniably the best film Pixar has put out in its storied history.