It’s finally here, what you’ve been waiting for! I will say here and now that it was a teenage dream of mine to work for Pixar someday. Needless to say they did not even take a second glance at my many job applications, but I am sitting here today to tell you: don’t move to the Bay Area. It’s too crowded, gentrified, and expensive. This has been a public service announcement.
But beside the point, I think everyone probably has a special place in their heart for Pixar movies, certainly the Academy does since they seem to sweep the Best Animation category nearly every year a new film is out, minus a select few. But even the best studios have their ups and downs (see my Top 5 Studio Ghibli Films for reference), and Pixar is no exception. Truly their golden era began and ended in the 2000’s but slowly they’re marking their return, but just with sequels. So, let’s get right to it!
(#6) Ratatouille (2007, dir. Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava)
Purely for the fact that the incomparable Ratatouille is always gleamed over in the consideration of Pixar’s best works, I had to include ce film Français fantastique. Move aside Guy Fieri, get out of the way Gordon Ramsey, a new chef is in town and his name is Remy (not Ratatouille)! I don’t know who it was in Pixar to pitch the premise of a gutter rat becoming a chef in France’s finest fine-dining restaurant, but wow, I am glad it happened. This is an underrated classic that consistently serves relatable moments a la food, adorkable characters a la Linguini (who’s full name is literally Alfredo Linguini), and the original Goth Girl™ a la Colette Tatou.
And, as a frequent visitor of Disney’s parks, I really think they missed out on the many presented opportunities to incorporate a Ratatouille-themed restaurant. It could be placed in EPCOT’s France (because wow, talk about perfect location) or in California Adventure’s newly renovated Pixar Pier (because if you’re gonna get rid of the classique Paradise Pier, at least give us fucking Remy). Revisit Ratatouille when you can because it truly is a scrumptious little film, and I hope they never make a sequel for it.
#5 Coco (2017, dir. Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina)
If you haven’t already read my Top 5 Films of 2017, go check it out because I poured out all my feels about Coco there. If you’re feeling lazy though, luckily I got your back and have copied and pasted my entry there right into here. When I tell you I was ugly-sobbing in the theater, I’m not even exaggerating. I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around how astounding this film was. From its simply beautiful animation, to its magnificent attention to detail, to the heart-breaking story of Miguel, Héctor, and Coco, this film did so many things right.
In the beginning, there are slight similarities to Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001), but I think Coco takes the general story of crossing to other worlds a step further by infusing it with an incredible sense of heart and heartbreak. A scene I will always remember is when Héctor (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal), tenderly sings Everyone Knows Juanita to his dying friend, and as the bones fade and sprinkle away into the night, Héctor somberly takes a final shot of tequila before moving on. And at the end when Miguel desperately tries to save Héctor by making Coco remember her father, the entire audience was thrown into a hysterical communal sob-fest. It is scenes like these that immediately make Coco not only stand out among Pixar’s repertoire of charming animated films, but also make it an outstanding family film for decades to come.
The cultural specificity of the story is so important and is something I greatly appreciate about the film. The fact that the creators didn’t try to make a conflated “Latinx” film and instead made a specific story about Día de Muertos, a Mexican holiday, and focused on the Mexican people is great to see. (Although I won’t forget the fact that Disney tried to trademark the holiday). It is so interesting for me to see what kinds of films get released during particular social climates, and I think Coco’s debut (and positive reception) in 2017 says a lot about the changing society (albeit slow) that is emerging from this shitfest year. And now in 2018, it’s a good one to revisit because honestly, it’s only June and this year has already been a million times worse than 2017.
#4 Toy Story 2 (1999, dir. John Lasseter GAG!, Lee Unkrich, Ash Brannon)
Forgetting the fact that this was directed by a certain disgraced sexual abuser, Toy Story 2 is a Pixar classic and that much is undeniable. It’s agreeably better than Toy Story and Toy Story 3 and I’m unimpressed by the idea of a Toy Story 4 coming out next year because they really peaked with this sequel. No doubt the first Toy Story changed the face of computer generated imagery and animation, therefore impacting the history of cinema, back in 1995 but Toy Story 2 was the perfect combination of clean animation and cute story. We follow the original toys as they play games in Andy’s room until Woody is swiped away by Mr. Reddit-man (aka The Chicken Man) (I will forever use Reddit as a descriptor for gross looking men). It is in Al’s apartment that we learn the origins of Woody and meet Jessie, Bullseye and Stinky Pete the Prospector. Now I don’t know about you, but two scenes in this setting stand out to me: The One in Which Woody Climbs Over Cheetos Puffs and The One in Which Woody Gets a Makeover. No other scene Pixar has produced or will go on to produce will ever top these scenes.
While Woody’s Roundup gang are plotting their dangerous escape from Al’s greasy hands, Buzz & Co. encounter Utility Belt Buzz and Malibu Barbie and three new ALIENS! They all have to work together to save Woody but also fight off the Darth Vader-inspired Emperor Zurg! I just want to point out how perfectly in tune with pop culture Toy Story and Toy Story 2 were. This was set probably in the years prior to its release date and it was really around that time that space toys began to take over the toy world. If anyone’s watched The Toys That Made Us on Netflix, you know that with the onslaught of Star Wars toys taking over the market, older toys like cowboys and such (perhaps Woody’s Roundup) fell to the side, hence the premise of the first Toy Story.
Toy Story as a trilogy is ephemeral and is culturally significant, both to the world of film animation but also just in capturing certain aspects of pop culture, whether that be the war between space and cowboy toys or toy-collecting Reddit-men or the prevalence of other important cultural products (see: Totoro’s cameo in Toy Story 3).
#3 Finding Nemo (2003, dir. Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich)
Finding Nemo, while personally is ranked third for me, is objectively one of Pixar’s absolute best films. Not only is it about fish (wow, already perfection), but it’s the story of an Odd Friendship duo looking for a smol, disabled clown fish! Bringing together amazing voices like Ellen Degeneres and Willem Dafoe, Finding Nemo, captures a greatly nuanced tone of somberness and light humor against the vast and mysterious backdrop of the deep blue sea. It’s delivered some classic moments of beautiful animation like the jellyfish scene, delightfully funny moments like Dory and Marlin trying to speak whale, and the meme-worthy scene that was SHARKBAIT OOH HA HA!
But in the heart of the film is a heartwarming story of a protective single dad looking out for his young son! Over the course of the film, the story becomes one of Marlin learning to become more brave and trusting of Nemo’s abilities as Nemo gains knowledge of the outside world away from the anemone bubble Marlin protected him in. And with the great help of Dory, who really was the breakout character of the film (obviously), and her shenanigans, they come together as a New Nuclear Family of misfits. But even more so than the three main characters, all the side characters that help them on their journey are just as, if not more, iconic. To this day, I like to go around naming my friends’ cars after the great white vegan shark Bruce and I will keel over in laughter any time someone says “Righteous righteous!” And of course, one could never forget Darla.
Current Pixar films seem to suffer from a bit of too much story-packing, but luckily that’s something that the earlier movies didn’t do. Finding Nemo was and remains to be the classic Pixar story, giving life to inhuman characters and delivering a simple but charming narrative. And as much as I liked Finding Dory, it’s just not as good as the original.
#2 Monsters Inc. (2001, dir. Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich, David Silverman)
To be completely honest, I wanted to lump this with its prequel Monsters University (2013) together for the 2nd place spot. These two films embody so much creativity and so much heart and so much humor more so than any other Pixar film, in my honest opinion. Pete Docter in particular, who also directed Inside Out, has a great ability to capture a mature yet childlike quality in his stories. With Monsters Inc., the story follows the world of Sully and Mike in their monster world where society functions via the screams of human children. What a twisted premise but it just somehow works! The city of Monstropolis and all the wildly creative monsters are a joy to look at. The way that the creators have set up the world of the monsters and exactly how they collect the screams and how the society caters to the elitism of the Scarers is honestly so fucking clever. Like, doors. It was that simple.
Mike Wazowski in particular was such a breakout character of that movie, and the simplicity of his character design certainly facilitates his popularity. He’s a ball with four skinny limbs and a huge eyeball. Amazing. Perfection. And I personally loved that Monsters University focused on his character more, it’s what he deserves. While the first film carried more heart with the inclusion of Boo as essentially Sully and Mike’s surrogate daughter, what I particularly liked about the prequel was that it was set in college! And as someone who attended a school with a banana slug as its mascot, that scene in which the yellow slug monster took forever to get to class really resonated with me. While maybe the first film focused on a more childhood-related story, I also thought Monsters University was able to deliver a story many young students could relate to. We know what kind of career Mike and Sully have in Monsters Inc. and to see the backstory of that originate in the second film and how they started by working in a mailroom and worked their way up just really hit me in my soul, ya feel?
Also, I'm so sorry but look at this.
#1 The Incredibles (2004, dir. Brad Bird)
If you’ve read my latest review for The Incredibles 2, you already saw this coming. Of course The Incredibles is number one for me! Of course it is! How can it not be! It’s utter perfection. From its retrofuturistic mid-century inspired aesthetic to the comical superpowers of the Parr family to the truly poignant story of a fanboy-turned-villain, The Incredibles has it all. In rewatching the film before venturing over to the theater to catch the 14 years overdue sequel last week, I realized just how great this movie really is. The film starts out with Mr. Incredible trying to save someone from a suicide and then getting sued for not letting the man die! What kind of animated family film will show that? He, Elastigirl, Frozone, and all the other supers go into hiding (which eerily reminds me of Legend of Korra actually) and have to live life among the common men. Years later and we meet Violet (another original Goth Girl™), Dash (who is just so adorable), and Jack-Jack (who would come to steal the entire show, let’s be honest).
One of my favorite sequences from The Incredibles is of course when Helen goes to meet up with EDNA MODE and we get to see all the new functions of the Incredi-suits. It’s really one of the best. Amongst all the comedy of this movie, the story really packs a punch because it’s essentially about a mom and her three kids coming to save their incompetent husband/dad! Bob gets captured by Syndrome (truly a great villain) and Helen and kids must save the day. Speaking of Syndrome, I mentioned this in my Incredibles 2 review but I have to reiterate just how fucking CLEVER and MASTERFUL the fan-turned-villain trope is. We saw it take horrifying turns in movies like Misery (1990) and funnier but still just as conniving twists in this movie as Incredi-boy transformed into Syndrome. And especially in a superhero movie where typically the villain is always some larger-than-life social metaphor type, Syndrome is literally a fanboy who became so obsessed with Mr. Incredible to the point of wanting to destroy him. Claps all around.
Also. Can we please talk about Mirage! Who even is she! Pixar really made a femme fatale character for this family-friendly children’s movie and had her sexually lure Bob away from Helen! I’m just gonna say, when I was in elementary school, I wrote a short story about a pregnant queen, and my teacher had the nerve to say, “This is a children’s story, don’t use the word ‘pregnant’. Say she was ‘with child’ or ‘expecting’.” And honestly, if Pixar can successfully produce and market a children’s story that includes a sexy siren home wrecker, I can use the word “pregnant” around children. So stupid. But I fucking love Mirage.
Let me know what your fav Pixar movies are (even though I won't be dissuaded from my Top 5)! Now go watch Ratatouille!