Disney and Pixar have been at the forefront of innovation since their separate conceptions. Disney's animation studios was created by the late Walt Disney years ago and they have produced some of the all-time classic family films. Pixar started off as a division of LucasFilm Ltd. and was set up to help with progress of digital technology. Then in the 1980s, Pixar's animation department began making huge leaps forward, creating some truly wonderful short films. But nothing could have the impact of their first film Toy Story, which came out in 1995. Since then, Disney has purchased Pixar and together they have been responsible for some of the most visually exciting, technologically innovative, and character-driven animated films ever made. However, in recent years Pixar's films have been on a decline, at least in my opinion. The films, which started out as being blazingly original, are becoming formulaic, and adding to this is the fact that Pixar receives so much praise and virtually rules over the Box Office. So, to examine the Pixar phenomenon I've created this list of Pixar's best and worst films...
Pixar's most sophisticated and entertaining film in my opinion is this classic Brad Bird-directed hit. Ratatouille is more thematically complex and subtle than some of the previous Pixar films and in that regard it will appeal more to a mature audience. For the kids, you have some great slapstick humor, cute characters, and of course a nice moral message that doesn't beat you over the head. For adults, the film operates on multiple levels simultaneously. At first glance, it appears to be the story of an outsider who will do anything to fit in and then finds his opportunity to fit in by essentially cheating, but he then learns that it is more important to be yourself. Now, interestingly this film has two outsider characters that fit that description: a rat who loves to cook and a wannabe cook who needs to prove himself. The film boasts a great voice cast and impressive animation.
Another Brad Bird-directed film, The Incredibles is an exciting and adventuresome story of the Parr family, a family of "supers" (people with special powers) who live in suburbia. The founders of the family were once masked crime fighters, but after a series of disastrous rescue attempts and some bad press, the government has outlawed superheroes. As a result, the Parrs are forced to fit into the mundane world and to hide their unusual abilities. But when Mr. Incredible is asked to come out of retirement, the entire family finds themselves facing a very real threat to their lives. Their only hope is to learn how to use their powers and work together in order to defend themselves and save the world from a diabolical plan. The Incredibles is a bit darker than the Pixar films that came before it, but it's also a more emotionally powerful film, full of equal parts comedy and family drama. Again, the animation is innovative and the voice cast is superb.
Probably the most important film on this list from the perspective a film historian, Toy Story was the film that really started it all.The film works on the simple premise that children's toys come to life when nobody is around. All in all, this idea is nothing new, but the way the characters are created and forced to deal with real-life situations is quite original. The characters were brought to life with more complexity and nuance than one would expect in a children's film, animated or otherwise, and as such the film was just as entertaining for adults as it was for kids. The film's animation is a little bit dated since there have been so many jumps forward in technology, but the story is timeless with its heartwarming message and irreverent humor.
Not only is Toy Story 3 better than Toy Story 2, but it actually stands side by side with the original Toy Story film, being equally entertaining and touching. The film is also a standout in the history of Pixar since it marks the first time that Pixar has completed a whole series. What the film does and does well, is introduce new characters, more sophisticated concepts and some darker story elements, some truly creative and hilarious scenes, and one of the most emotionally satisfying finales to any film trilogy ever. The animation far surpasses the previous two installments and it's actually a film that's fun to see in 3-D or in 2-D.
Monsters, Inc. is probably the most underrated of the Pixar films. The story is one of the most quirky and touching, but it never becomes annoyingly sentimental like a lot of kid films tend to do. The idea of a world of monsters who live for the sole purpose of scaring children may have kept some parents from allowing their very young children to see this, but at the story's heart is a nice tale about two unlikely heroes learning to do the best thing for a little girl instead of trying to scare her. Plus, there's a very subtle moral about not judging people based on their outward appearance. The animation is quite good and the humor is well-balanced with more dramatic moments. The voice cast is terrific as well.
Although A Bug's Life didn't receive the critical acclaim of Toy Story, the film takes a similar perspective, though instead of having the main protagonists as toys it focuses on the secret life of bugs. Unfortunately, the film came out right around the same time as Antz, which had a similar premise, and as a result the film seemed even less original. However, I think that it features higher quality animation than Toy Story or Antz and though it's geared for younger audiences than either of those pictures, it has an undeniably charming cast of characters and some great moments. The voice cast is perhaps less showy than in other Pixar films, but no less great.
Making a sequel to the original Toy Story was totally unnecessary and totally inevitable, since Disney seems to make sequels to all of their classic films these days, but no one would have predicted that Toy Story 2 would actually stand beside its predecessor as a worthy follow-up. It may not be as original as the first film was or as endearing, but Toy Story 2 introduces us to new characters, a larger world, and amps up the humor. Most of the voice cast is good, though Joan Cusack gets annoying pretty much from the get-go. Still, an enjoyable film that eve surpasses the original in terms of digital technology and animation.
Certainly one of the most acclaimed films that Pixar has produced and certainly one of its most memorable. I really enjoyed this film, particularly the great voice cast, however, I didn't feel that it quite lived up to the hype that surrounded it. It's a masterpiece of digital animation and features some lovable characters, but somehow the story felt a little weak to me in comparison with all of the great films that Pixar and Disney have released. Sure, it's a classic, but one that has received more positive attention than it deserved.
The single most daring film that Pixar has released and also one of its most commercial. Wall-E is a paradox in a lot of ways. On the one hand you have a story that encourages environmental preservation and accuses technology of having made us lazy and wasteful. Yet, on the other hand you have a film in which the main characters are born of that same technology and the film was marketed and merchandised so heavily that the message seems a little hypocritical. Still, a great story with a unique cast of characters, since most of them aren't human and can't communicate verbally. I also appreciated the more simplistic storytelling here, which actually lended the film an air of sophistication and maturity. Less slapstick and kitschy and more character-driven then most of the films that have come from Pixar since.
The most thematically uneven, over-hyped, and disappointing Pixar film I've seen thus far. Up had all the ingredients for a great film, however, the final result is a mixed bag. The story starts out very strong emotionally and tells the tale of a couple who met in their youth and dreamed of traveling, but then they get old and realize that their dreams may not come true. After one of them dies, the other goes traveling in his house via thousands of balloons. Ultimately, the story changes around this point from a heartfelt love story propelled by character into a very bizarre adventure story with talking dogs, an annoyingly unoriginal villain, and some of the weirdest sequences of action in any Disney film ever. What happened to the story and the characters they started off with? Is it a bad film? Not really, but it's a film that completely lost sight of its original intents and falls apart after the first act.
The worst Pixar film in my opinion is Cars. From the beginning, the story was too immature and lacked the adult edge and the sophistication that other Pixar films had. Not only this, but the animation was done in a very predictable way that was too reminiscent of storybook illustrations from the '60s and '70s. The very idea of rehashing the concept of non-living objects coming to life and having personalities was done so well in Toy Story, that to attempt to recreate it with motor vehicles seems like such an obvious gimmick. The animation itself isn't bad, but it's brought down by the poor design of the film, which is too flashy and superficial. The characters are all quite two-dimensional and the voice cast doesn't allow them any depth or complexity. The only Pixar film that I actually disliked.