Do you remember a time before 3D computer animation? It’s such an integral part of the medium that 2D animation probably feels like the distant past to many viewers. The studio that started it all was Pixar. And they remain at the forefront of this type of animation. The technology may have spread, but it truly is the essence of the Pixar brand. Beyond that, many companies would love the track record for critical and commercial success that Pixar has built for itself.
1. Toy Story (1995)
Toy Story is the groundbreaking first release from Pixar. And an excellent film, period. This clever, imaginative, and creative story plugs into children’s imaginations by showing that toys have their own inner life when people aren’t around. Cowboy Woody (superbly voiced by Tom Hanks) is used to being Andy’s favorite toy, but the arrival of space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) shakes things up. This is a thrilling adventure and hilarious buddy comedy all in one. Well, maybe enemies-to-buddies comedy is more accurate! All the supporting toy characters are wonderfully memorable, too. Besides being a pioneering example of animation, this movie spawned three sequels, which are all nearly as perfect as this film. Truly a work of art.
2. The Incredibles (2004)
Pixar delivers its version of superheroes here, and it is exciting, funny, and again, clever. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), aka Bob Parr, is late for his wedding to Elastigirl, aka Helen (Holly Hunter), because he was trying to stop a bank robbery. But he also accidentally saved someone who didn’t want to be saved. This results in a lawsuit, which eventually means all superheroes have to go into hiding. Many years and three kids later, a new threat forces Bob and Helen to be super once again. The animators created some outstanding action moments for this one, and writer-director Brad Bird crafts some unforgettable laughs too. I just love how quick-witted this script is. And the family feels are great as well. As is Michael Giacchino‘s jazzy score!
3. WALL-E (2008)
The future looks bleak in this Pixar entry. At some point, Earth became covered with so much trash that humans left the planet, living on a huge space station. Robots like WALL-E were left to clean up the mess. He is now the only one left, however. That is, until advanced robot EVE is dropped on the planet to look for signs of life. She is the beginning of the first adventure in WALL-E’s lonely existence. This story is such an affecting combination of adorable and profound. The environmental message just becomes more relevant with each day that passes. And though it presents a scary scenario, it ends with hope. The audience feels like things in the world of the film will get better, and that’s beautiful to me.
4. Inside Out (2015)
We all remember the tumultuous emotions of growing up, right? Well, Pixar brilliantly represents that time of life in this film. When 11-year-old Riley moves to a new city, her emotional center goes through a lot. Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) especially. They get stranded away from the forefront of Riley’s mind and must make their way back by figuring out how to work together. There are intelligent details here about how memories are made and how maturity means recognizing that more than one emotion can be a part of what we experience. The writers truly executed this story in the most effective way. It’s hard to overstate how impactful it is. And best of all, a sequel is supposed to be coming our way next year!
5. Coco (2017)
Pixar has always been good at tugging on the heartstrings, and this film is a prime example. Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is a boy who wants more than anything to be a musician, but long-ago events prejudiced his family against music. A fantastic twist of magic takes Miguel to the Land of the Dead, where he will learn many things about his family history. Obviously, music plays a delightful role in this story, but I adore the vibrant and colorful design, too. However, the most memorable part of this film is the touching ending. I swear, if you don’t at least get tears in your eyes watching it, you have ice water in your veins and I don’t want to know you. That’s how emotional it is. And that’s saying something because Pixar has so many excellent films to choose from.
Toy Story, The Incredibles, WALL-E, Inside Out, and Coco are now streaming on Disney Plus.