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LeftLion's Top 10 Pixar Films

17 July 18 words: Ashley Carter

As The Incredibles II prepares to hit cinema screens, we take a look back at ten of the best films from Pixar...

Since their creation of the first ever computer animated feature film with Toy Story in 1995, Pixar's movies have earned approximately $12 billion at the box office, scooping nineteen Academy Awards, eight golden Globes and eleven Grammys along the way. Completely revolutionising the animation game, they created a benchmark which few can even come close to matching, with none of their twenty released feature films achieving less than an A- score on CinemaScore.  Here's a countdown of ten of Pixar's best films to date...

10. The Incredibles (2004)

“It tore me apart. But I learned an important lesson. You can't count on anyone, especially your heroes.”

Director: Brad Bird

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter

Traditionally, superhero movies have always focussed on the idea of a lone-ranger figure: one solitary person - usually male - who has assigned themselves the responsibility of saving the world. But The Incredibles reinvented the idea of superheroes by placing them within a family setting and exploring all of the problems that dynamic would entail. Brad Bird expanded on the best and lampooned the worst tropes superhero (as well as James Bond) films had give us over the years, whilst examining the love-hate relationship that exists between the public and its celebrity idols. Ostensibly, The Incredibles might be about a family of superheroes trying to rid the world of an evil villain but, as with most Pixar films, there's much, much more going on beneath the surface.  

Did you know? Lily Tomlin was considered for the part of Edna Mode, but turned it down when she heard Brad Bird’s vocal performance, saying, "What do you need me for? You got it already."

9. Cars (2006)

Speed. Faster than fast, quicker than quick. I am Lightning.

Director: John Lasseter and Joe Ranft

Starring: Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Paul Newman

Amongst the least popular of Pixar's output to date, and arguably the most blatant (but successful) attempt to create a franchise more focused on shifting merchandise than creating great films, Cars nonetheless holds up as a solid addition to the studio's body of work. Owing much to a beautiful vocal performance from Paul Newman (in what was to be his last feature film performance), Cars succeeded where its unnecessary sequel failed, staying just the right side of routine and cliche, whilst creating a well-rounded, fully immersive world of anthropomorphic vehicles. It might be lacking in the emotional range we've come to expect from Pixar, but it's awfully good fun.  

Did you know? Cars was the final Pixar film to be released on VHS, and the first to be released on Blu-ray.

8. The Good Dinosaur (2015)

Sometimes you got to get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side.

Director: Peter Sohn

Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Maleah Nipay-Padilla

Much like Cars, The Good Dinosaur received criticism for a storyline that some considered too generic. It's hard to argue against that, especially considering that the film doesn't really have a clearly defined villain, precious little ambiguity and nothing ever really feels at stake. But The Good Dinosaur is full of the type of poignancy we've become accustomed to from Pixar, and presents a protagonist in Arlo that deftly explores the issue of insecurity with aplomb. Yes it's formulaic, but it's also deeply touching.  

Did you know? The Good Dinosaur marked the first time Pixar had released two films in one year, following the release of Inside Out (2015) in June.

7. Finding Nemo (2003)

Just keep swimming.

Director: Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich

Starring: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould

Never is Pixar's unrivalled ability to create a beautiful, fully immersive and complete world more readily apparent than in 2003's Finding Nemo.  As well as a seemingly endless cast of memorable characters, including Ellen DeGeneres' forgetful regal blue tang Dory, Geoffrey Rush's benevolent pelican Nigel and Barry Humphries' (more commonly known as his comedy alter ego Dame Edna Everage) malevolent great white shark Bruce, Finding Nemo packs an emotional punch in its exploration of the themes of love, loss and the damaging impact of constraint.  It might start as a film about a father fish trying to find his son, but it soon transcends into a meditation on bravery, the power of friendship and the importance of facing your fears.  

Did you know? Finding Nemo was the first Pixar film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

6. A Bug's Life (1998)

I only got twenty-four hours to live, and I ain't gonna waste it here.

Director: John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Dave Foley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus

One of the prime examples of the twin films phenomenon, in which two studios develop similar movies simultaneously - such as Deep Impact and Armageddon (both 1998), Flight 93 and United 93 (both 2006) - A Bug's Life was released in the same year as Dreamwork Animation's Antz, and whilst the latter is largely forgotten, A Bug's Life remains one of the finest films Pixar has produced to date. The creation of an unlikely, relatively unheroic protagonist in Flik, as well as the examination of the power of art and self-expression as methods to combat fear, violence and oppression, sets A Bug's Life apart from anything else targeted at a young audience at that time. Making best use of the template created with Kurosawa's Seven Sumarai, A Bug's Life remains essential viewing, perhaps now more than ever.   

Did you know? A Bug's Life was the first Pixar film to have outtakes.

Kids these days. They just don't get scared like they used to.

5. Monster’s Inc. (2001)

Director: Pete Docter and David Silverman

Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Mary Gibbs

Deftly combining the exploration of childhood fears with adulthood insecurities and pressures, Monsters Inc. perfectly achieved what Pixar does best: creating cross-generational viewing that appeals to adults as much as it does children. Highly stylised, packed full of deft film references and featuring a perfectly chosen cast of voice actors, it's incredibly dexterous in switching gears once our protagonists, Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan (Sully), fully realise the impact their industry has on creating fear amongst children. As heartbreaking as it is hilarious, Monster's Inc. at once perfectly captures the fragility of childhood innocence, whilst reminding us adults how difficult it was to replace that innocence with experience. 

Did you know? Randy Newman's song If I Didn't Have You finally netted the composer an Academy Award after 16 nominations.

4. Ratatouille (2007)

If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff.

Director: Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava

Starring: Brad Garrett, Lou Romano, Patton Oswalt

Even by Pixar's standards, pitching a film about a rat that tries to make it as a chef in the heart of Paris' food district must have been a hard sell. Whilst some of the higher-ups at Disney might have been left scratching their heads at the initial concept, one Oscar, another four nominations, $620 million at the box office and its own ride/restaurant at Disneyland Paris is a legacy that few other animated films can match. As one of the most positively reviewed films in Pixar's back catalogue, it's plain to see that the inclusion of a critic character, whose own disenfranchisement is overcome with a return to his childhood favourite dish, clearly hit home with more than one film reviewer. Coming at the very crest of Pixar's wave of power and popularity, the studio is unlikely to make a film as brilliantly brave as this again. 

Did you know? Pet rats were kept at the Pixar studio for more than a year so that the animators could study the movement of their fur, noses, ears, paws and tails.

3. Toy Story (1995)

To infinity and beyond!

Director: John Lasseter

Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles

Truncating the trilogy into a single entry to avoid this list being dominated by one franchise does a great disservice to the individual brilliance of all three Toy Story films. The premise is beguilingly simple: inviting the audience to see what happens to toys once all humans are out of sight. But that uncomplicated idea captured the imaginations of an entire generation of film watchers, effectively launching Pixar as the dominant force in studio animation. Whilst covering the Pixar favourite subjects of lost innocence, the end of childhood, the damaging nature of constraint and the power of individuality, John Lasseter invited us into a world of his creation so rich and complete, packed with distinctly loveable characters that left audiences welcoming two more films with open arms, with a fourth set to follow in 2019. Doubtlessly the flagship film of Pixar's empire, Toy Story is as enjoyable and rewarding today as it was in 1995. 

Did you know? Toy Story was the first animated film in Oscar history to be nominated for a Best Screenplay Academy Award.

2. Up (2009)

Adventure is out there!

Director: Pete Docter and Bob Peterson

Starring: Edward Asner, Jordan Nagai, Christopher Plummer

Up was the film that displayed Pixar's ability to not only conquer all animated competition, but to match the very best of all genres of cinema beat for beat. A breathtaking sense of scale, the ethereal interplay of shape and colour coupled with a heart wrenching Citizen Kane-inspired opening flashback raised the bar of what Pixar could achieve to previously unimaginable heights. Themes of love, loss, adventure and friendship are deftly executed as unlikely sidekick Russell accompanies the loveable curmudgeon Carl on a trip both literal, as he transforms his house into an aircraft with the help of thousands of balloons, and emotional as he combats the loss of his wife and succumbing to the banality of elderly life. Almost perfect from beginning to end, Up has a heartbreaking sense of maturity and scale that few Hollywood films dare to attempt. 

Did you know? When Carl and Ellie go picnicking, their destination is a spot under the same tree from A Bug's Life (1998).

1. WALL-E (2008)

Eeeee... va?

Director: Andrew Stanton

Starring: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin

Is WALL-E the greatest animated film ever made? Probably. Did I cry six times the first time I saw it? Definitely. Andrew Stanton's soul-searching portrayal of the last surviving robot of a failed mission to clean up Planet Earth is a breathtakingly ambitious exploration of loneliness and legacy, and the creation of a lead character so utterly wrought with sorrowful innocence hasn't been achieved with such perfection since Chaplin's Little Tramp. The ability to create such deep emotion pull, and such a sense of abject loneliness from a creature that we know is made of metal and wires is achieved with a return to the basics of cinema: eyes and action. Those enormous, soulful peepers carry more emotion than the majority of Hollywood's leading men could achieve in a dozen films, and WALL-E's steadfast dedication to a task we know is fruitless mirrors the melancholic crisis we all face at one time or another: What is our purpose? And will anyone ever know we existed? As well as a timely lesson on sustainable living and a healthy lifestyle, WALL-E is both a cinematic masterpiece, and the zenith of Pixar's impressive canon. 

Did you know? The last piece of debris that clears away from WALL-E as he leaves Earth's atmosphere is the Russian satellite Sputnik I, which in 1957 was the first man-made object to be placed in Earth orbit.

The Incredibles II is screening at Broadway Cinema from Friday 20 July 

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