Pixar Animation Studios is pretty widely regarded as the greatest animation studio in the world, having released some of the most beloved animated movie franchises in the world including but not limited to Toy Story, The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo.
While I think that there is a better animation studio out there (hint: it’s Ghibli), I don’t think that it’s a fluke that Pixar has produced more than a handful of movies that were critically and commercially received with excellent praise.
With all that said, and with Pixar’s next feature film, “Elemental,” set to release this summer, I’ve decided to look back into Pixar and rank the five greatest Pixar movies of all time, according to my own subjective opinion of course.
Spoilers for Pixar movies, obviously. Geez this was longer than I thought it’d be…
Number 5: Monsters, Inc. (2001)
I have a special place in my heart for Sulley and Mike. Out of the early Pixar movies, this might be the one I watched the most as a kid.
Monsters, Inc. takes an idea that pretty much everybody was familiar with in childhood (monsters in closets), and puts a goofy spin on it, bringing these monsters to life in the form of the giant furball “Sulley,” and his best friend Mike. Their world gets turned upside down when Sulley accidentally lets a young girl who he nicknames Boo into the monster’s world.
I think that a strong point of Monsters, Inc. is that it didn’t waste time giving us context behind Mike and Sulley’s friendship. They were already established buddies at the start of the movie, and the film didn’t need to waste any time before developing other plotlines.
The movie has such a way of building atmosphere and tension, especially as the Child Detection Agency begins to close in on Mike, Sulley, and Boo (who, sidenote, is possibly Pixar’s most adorable character). Throughout the second half of the movie, you find yourself really invested in the story. It’s certainly an experience to be simultaneously biting your nails for the gang to succeed and dying laughing at some of the visual comedy this movie has to offer.
Pair this with the palpable chemistry that John Goodman and Billy Crystal have as Sulley and Mike, respectively, and you have a movie that critics and young children alike have grown to adore.
Number 4: Inside Out (2015)
Inside Out came at a tricky time and was certainly a bold move for the company. After having sequels to existing movies like Cars 2 (2011) and Monsters University (2013) bomb critically, the studio took their time and waited two whole years to release their next movie. If Inside Out were to bomb as well, it felt like that would’ve been the breaking point for Pixar.
But Inside Out didn’t bomb. It was a brilliant character study.
Inside Out follows Riley Anderson, a preteen who is dealing with moving to a new place that she hates. Not knowing how to handle this, she tries to run away from home. After she sorts through her emotions and allows herself to accept her sadness, Riley decides to return home and discuss her feelings with her parents.
The film could seem like a generic character study except for one thing; we see Riley’s emotions as living beings in her head, discussing the best way to handle her feelings. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust are all visualized as living beings in Riley’s brain that are responsible for her wellbeing. Joy has her own character growth as well, realizing that she can’t keep Riley happy by being in charge 24/7; its important to feel other emotions as well. In the end, Joy lets sadness take control for a time and Riley’s mental state improves.
In doing this, the film teaches children an excellent lesson about coming to terms with your emotions, and that negative emotions are just as important as positive emotions. Moments of the film are straight-up heartbreaking (such as Bing-Bong’s death), but the theme isn’t consistently sad, as the movie is also straight-up hilarious at times.
Inside Out portrays an excellent message, and maybe I just like it so much because I was the same age as Riley when it came out, but I think that it says something that everybody can relate to, all while being hilarious.
Number 3: Up (2009)
Is the first 10 minutes of Up the saddest part of any movie ever? Well, yes, maybe, but bringing it up just seems like beating a dead horse at this point. Oh well, I guess I already just beat that horse. Man, the first ten 10 minutes of Up is so sad, and actually one of only two times I can remember sobbing at a movie since age 13.
But outside of just the first 10 minutes of the movie, Up has such a unique story to tell, and while it doesn’t portray the most complex message like Inside Out, I adore this movie for everything that it is.
The film follows Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), a grumpy old man who has become cynical since the death of his wife, and Russell (Jordan Nagai), a young wilderness explorer who needs to get one more merit badge, which is coincidentally for assisting the elderly. Carl, not realizing that Russell was still on his porch, flies his house with several thousand balloons to Paradise Falls to fulfill the wishes of his deceased wife.
While Carl is at first very grumpy regarding Russell, it becomes apparent that Russell reminds Carl of himself when he was a boy, and grows fond of Russell. The two explore Paradise Falls until they find Carl’s childhood hero, who it turns out is actually evil and deranged. Never meet your heroes!
I love this movie so much for the goofy story that it tells. Carl’s character growth is a joy to watch, as he goes from being annoyed of Russell to realizing that Russell is exactly what he would’ve wanted in a child, which he never got to have. The movie is also absolutely hilarious, much to the credit of Dug (Bob Peterson), a hilariously silly talking dog.
After making you feel the absolute saddest you’ve ever felt within the first 10 minutes of watching, Up will make you laugh the most hysterically you’ve ever laughed for the remainder of the film – all while teaching an important lesson about life regrets and some sprinkled in anti-industrialism messaging.
Number 2: Toy Story 3 (2010)
To be honest, you could make a very strong case for every single Toy Story movie being on this top 5 list, but I believe that Toy Story 3 is the pinnacle of the franchise, and even the pinnacle of Pixar as a whole. I mean, the top movie on my list is a better movie, but this feels like the better Pixar movie.
Toy Story 3 certainly marks the end of an era for Pixar, coming directly after classics like WALL-E, Ratatouille, and Up, while being succeeded by the aforementioned weak movies such as Cars 2. As a result, Toy Story 3 feels like the most emotionally significant movie in the franchise, albeit feeling slightly less impactful after Toy Story 4.
Toy Story 3, while no longer the conclusion to the franchise, is the conclusion to Andy’s story specifically. The movie sees the toys dumped into a daycare where they realize that the leader of the daycare, Lotso (Ned Beatty), a hilariously cartoonishly villainous teddy bear is acting in ill intent.
After the greatest climax in Pixar history which sees the toys almost burnt to death in an incinerator, Andy finally really comes to terms with the departure of his toys, giving them to Bonnie and really accepting adulthood. And scene!
This movie is seriously a masterpiece. From the ever-growing chemistry between Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen), to the hysterical voice performance of Beatty as Lotso, the cast is part of what makes the movie feel so special. That isn’t even mentioning all the suprise guest characters. Kristen Schaal? Whoopi Goldberg?! Michael Freaking Keaton?? Man, this movie is a treat.
The film just seems like flawlessly executed fan service to Toy Story’s original fans. The timeline matches perfectly, and all of the movie’s original fans aged with Andy, being young adults at the time of Toy Story 3.
Buzz being set to Spanish is hilarious, the Sunnyside daycare setting is beautifully nostalgic, and the tension of the incinerator scene feels so real that it almost seems like that you’re about to perish with the toys. The cherry on top is the final scene. Andy hesitantly passing Woody on to Bonnie is such a strong scene, especially factoring in the franchise’s 15 year history. How could any movie get better than this?! Well…
Number 1: Coco (2017)
Oh. My. Goodness.
Remember earlier when I was discussing Up? When I said that I have only cried at two movies in the past like, 5 years? Well, the other movie was Coco. And I cried at two separate occasions.
Coco follows young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a musician in a family that hates musicians on his journey to become a great musician, but to also be accepted by his family. Miguel needs a guitar and attempts to steal the guitar of the late music legend Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) after coming to the conclusion that de la Cruz was his great-great grandfather.
When Miguel interacts with the trail left for the dead on Dia de los Muertos, he is transported to the realm of the dead, where he has until sunrise to return to the land of the living.
Along the way, Miguel befriends Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a dead man who never gets to visit the land of the living on Dia de los Muertos because nobody remembers him. Hector agrees to help Miguel get to de la Cruz, who he knows, if Miguel puts Hector’s picture up so that he can visit the land of the living. The two embark on a journey to find de la Cruz so that he can give Miguel a blessing to return to life.
In the end, it turns out that de la Cruz stole his songs from Hector, and that Hector is Miguel’s real great-great grandpa. After a long battle, de la Cruz loses the admiration of everyone, and Miguel gets to return to the real world. But in the midst of all this, Hector is beginning to be forgotten, and will disappear if Miguel can’t get his great grandma to remember her father, Hector.
Coco, unlike so many animated depictions of certain cultures, is such a brilliant movie because it incorporates Mexican culture into its plotline in meaningful ways. A youtuber named Schaffrillas Productions made a video discussing this, but the gist of it is that, while Moana, for example, didn’t need to be set in Polynesia to work, Coco needed to be set in Mexico on Dia de los Muertos (day of the dead) to work as a concept.
The culture in Coco doesn’t seem like an afterthought. It seems like the basis of the movie; everything afterwards was built on the fact that the movie takes place in Mexico. They incorporate the Spanish language in a way that respects Mexican culture but doesn’t alienate English viewers, and do a spectacular job with everything else culture-based. The music, imagery, and depiction of the holiday are all flawless interpretations.
This isn’t even to mention anything about Coco’s worldbuilding, music, emotional highs and lows, and character relationships. The land of the dead seems so magical and so beautiful. Hats off to the animation crew, and the music is so captivating and true to its Latin roots. “Remember Me” specifically is such a somber song that I listen to outside of the film.
I suppose I should talk about the two scenes that made me cry. After Hector plays his friend a song on the guitar, his friend, no longer remembered by anybody in the land of the living, disappears. This scene was so emotionally resonant. Everybody fears being forgotten; this scene visualizes it in such a beautiful way.
But that idea of being forgotten is why the final scene of the movie is so sad. Miguel, after returning to the land of the living plays “remember me” to his great grandma, the song that her father, Hector, used to always play her when she was a child. He cares so deeply for Hector, and is crying while playing the song. In the end, she remembers her dad, and reveals that she has a picture of him, allowing him to come to the land of the living on Dia de los Muertos.
Wow. What a great movie. It appeals to children with loveable characters like Dante, Miguel’s goofy street dog, and it appeals to adults with serious philosophical topics like life after death, legacy, and being forgotten. Even to the non-religious, it can portray a message of “when you are finally forgotten, you are really gone forever.” Dark, I know, but it’s brilliant as well.
I will die on this hill. Coco is truly one of the greatest films ever conceived, and one of the strongest examples of how to incorporate culture into media. Take notes, Disney Animation Studios!
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