Here are links to my previous lists:
The Final Countdown: 14 to 10
Working from 9 to 5
4. Finding Nemo
Directed by Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
The Story's Theme: Director Stanton wanted to create a story about a father that is hampered from being a good father because of his fear. And I think that's a hard message for most of us in our relationships. We want so much to protect those we love, but we also have to learn to let go of them in order for growth -- for them and for us.
Why it's Top 4 Material: Pixar is known for bringing wonderful characters to life, and Finding Nemo is no exception. There are a whole host of characters that should be annoying, but somehow they aren't. Marlin is a neurotic, clingy father -- but the reason is made clear from the very beginning. Dory is the typical dull-witted Gilligan/Pinky sidekick that unknowingly ruins everything, except she isn't. She's the heart of this movie -- her non-ending witty banter keeps the ball moving. Despite her memory handicap (which is probably what all fish are like anyway), she speaks whale, reads letters (although not always accurately) and provides some of the best tearjerker scenes in this movie ("I look at you and I'm home").
These characters are so great because of their voice actors. Albert Brooks (Marlin) reportedly hated the recording process since it isolated him from fellow actors, but that didn't stop him from providing hours of extra voice track where Pixar directors would just let the tape roll while he improvised. Ellen DeGeneres is genius as Dory (who doesn't love Ellen)? And you can't deny the appeal of other actors that fit their role like a glove, such as Willem Dafoe as the mysterious Gill.
3. The Incredibles
Directed by Brad Bird
The Story's Theme: The Incredibles is more than a story of an extraordinary family -- it's the story of a very ordinary family struggling with their lives. Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) is stuck in a job he hates -- he's wrestling with what his life has become and how far it is from what he wanted it to be. His head is stuck in the glory days and he rails against what he thinks is a mundane existence. Wrapped up in this is his dynamic with his wife and how they raise a pair of inordinately gifted children.
Why it's Top 4 Material: As a superhero movie, The Incredibles is one of the few that is self-aware enough to make fun of itself, creating a viable world that shows how superheroes thrive (or hide) within ours. Edna Mode's "NO CAPES" montage, the opening interviews, along with the address of evil villains and their love for monologuing (and how that's often their downfall) is a great example of this. Pixar uses its animation prowess and superhero themes to inject humor at every turn -- from (again) Edna Mode's demonstration of her new superhero costume designs, to Elastigirl inflating into a rubber boat and human parachute. Because The Incredibles was animated, it was able to do what no live-action film can -- you've got dazzling feats and stunning tour de forces that wouldn't be possible (at least by today's standards). Even scenes as simple as the volcano curtain and Dash running across the water are marvels. Accompanied by the utterly delightful and daring soundtrack by Michael Giacchino, you can't lose.
Directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava
The Story's Theme: Chef Gustau says it himself in the movie, "Everyone can cook", and Pixar means it. Director Bird selects the most unlikely of creatures, taking pains not to make Remy the Rat cute. From the beginning, we see how vile a rat really is...and every time you see a hulking, writhing pack of rats swarming in the movie, you can't help but throw up a little in your mouth. But that's what makes this movie great. The fact that even a "disease-infested" rat can be a cook because he has a true passion for it. Pixar's passion for Paris and food transfers itself into Remy, who feels flavors in swirls of colors and flies in the face of all opposition to do what he loves.
Why it's Top 4 Material: Since writing this section, I've decided to rewatch Ratatouille right now. I've seen it the most out of all the Pixars (with Finding Nemo coming in second, I think). You could drown in all the little details that make this movie what it is -- the crunch of the bread, the texture of it when it's in Remy's hands, the Incredibles boxers that Linguine wears, the zoom-out of Anton Ego's face when he eats the Ratatouille (as well as Chef Skinner's reaction) and the Rocky homage when the rat punches the meat (to tenderize it). You can watch this movie a dozen times and still find something new in it. There are so many fast transport scenes that make this movie what it is -- when Remy climbs up the sewer pipe and when he's trying to escape the kitchen for the first time. And again Peter O'Toole as the critic Anton Ego is so on the money, it's a match made in heaven. This movie defied all expectations by making a rat its hero, and doing it so spectacularly.
1. Toy Story 3
Directed by Lee Unkrich
This movie encompasses some of my favorite genres -- you've got prison (John Lasseter said that he and the Toy Story crew watched just about every prison movie there is in preparation for this movie), noir (the high-stakes game in a dimly-lit vending machine around a See-and-Say Animal Sounds toy along with the Chatter Telephone that plays the part of the wise old-timer), and a heist to end all heists in order to escape the daycare center that perfectly encompasses a prison by moonlight.
The Story's Theme: Toy Story 3 focuses on the inevitability of change, growing up, and eventually letting go of people we may want to hold on to. We see it from the very beginning as Andy grows up with his toys and then when Andy's mom steps into his empty room and gives a little gasp because it's a realization that he's leaving her to go to college. We even see it in the weary, old-geezer movements of Buddy, the young puppy from Toy Story 2. Andy loves his toys so much...so much that he decides to take Woody along...and what college kid would ever have a toy like that with him in the dorm rooms?. But in the end he knows, and we know as an audience, that he's grown up and he needs to leave them behind. That little involuntary movement when he wants to take Woody back from Bonnie at the end, and the little hitch in his voice at the end when he waves goodbye...oh man, it kills me every time.
Why it's Top 4 Material: Toy Story 3 is number one for me because first off, it recalls the sheer joy and wonder we had as kids. The opening was so perfect in transporting us into Andy's mind and what he sees when he plays with his toys -- it's even better because it uses some of the exact same lines as Toy Story when we see Andy playing with his toys for the very first time. Not to mention it's one of the few trilogies in history to be damn good. And near the end, it makes us think (even if only for a few moments) that an animation will dare something that is so daunting and terrifying, it shocked us -- even though the toys were saved from death by incinerator. I could go on and on about the funny bits in here, but that's not what makes this movie in the end. Toy Story 3 also recalls the nostalgia laced with some regret and the bittersweet maturity we all have to face, at the cost of letting things go. It's like Peter Pan in that way. But through Woody's friendship with Andy and even what Lotso should have learned, is the truth that there is never anything to regret in the time and value we place in the now.
Thanks for tuning in. I'd love to hear any differing (or assenting) opinions too!