9. Monsters University
Directed by: Dan Scanlon
Reason for placement: It's not an airtight exemplary model of a prequel -- this is Scanlon's first time at the helm for a full-length Pixar animation and often derivative of the typical college story. It's a shame because the college cannon has so much to draw from, and knowing Pixar's history in ingeniously incorporating familiar tropes while unveiling new shades, it was a bit of a letdown. The story followed a rather mundane story of underdogs participating in a Greek/class-fueled competition while infused with another oft-seen story of jock and brain combining forces.
If you can overlook this though, you can appreciate Monsters University for what it is -- an amazing character study and a great hallmark of what college really is about -- figuring out who you are and coming into your own.
The movie wisely doesn't try to milk much of what was novel in Monsters Inc. But it does explore Mike and Sully in ways that round out their characters even more. The supporting cast of characters is just as full and endearing. The headmaster is fierce and witty in a Professor McGonagall kind of way. Best of all to me, was Pixar's return to form in capturing our sense of wonder in the world. It's all in Mike's one-eyed wide gaze. Furthermore, it's the fact that Pixar doesn't shy away from the hard facts. Mike has had a dream to be one thing in his whole life...but he has to come to the hard realization that it's not for him. It also emphasizes the fact that to get to the top, you sometimes have to go through the long, unconventional way -- and sometimes it's from the bottom.
Wow Scene: A friend of mine said it best -- this world thrives when you add in the human factor. The Wow Scene in this movie is when Mike and Sully have to combine forces to scare adult humans. Not only because this incorporates all of the horror movie cliches and was highly enjoyable, but also in the heart-to-heart talk that Mike and Sully have next to the lake.
8. Toy Story 2
Directed by: John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, and Ash Brannon
Reason for placement: Pixar amazingly delivered what is probably one of the few sequels to work. It took the Toy Story world and expanded it and also brought new characters into an already beloved cast. The reason why it's so great...well, where do I start? It took the toys out into the world and also into the toy store -- thereby introducing Barbie as well (funny story: Toy Story writers wanted to include Barbie in the first movie, but were turned down by Mattel due to the fact that Mattel wanted to retain Barbie's clean-slate personality so that consumers could create their own for the products they bought. However, with the success of Toy Story, they were more than happy to let Barbie come to life for the sequel). But more than that, it explored the somber side to the life of toys. We see what happens when owners grow up and have no use for toys through Jessie the cowgirl. And the antagonist, Stinky Pete, was amazingly authentic because as kids, we have all seen the toys that get snapped up right away and then seen the toys that are left to rot on the shelves. Poor guy.
And PS, who didn't love the Star Wars reference between Buzz and Zurg, and also the hilarious hijinks that ensued from the two Buzz Lightyears getting mixed up?
Wow Scene: There's no question really. This has to be the montage of Jessie the cowgirl and her owner. It starts in utter bliss as they love each other, then Jessie is left collecting dust as the girl grows, before she is eventually abandoned. It's heartbreaking and probably gave everyone a bit of a guilty start at the thought of toys that they outgrew and left behind. Both Tom Hanks and Tim Allen reportedly cried at seeing it -- and for good reason. As a kicker, Sarah McLachlan sings an aching "When Somebody Loved Me" refrain over it. It's not just sad for toys and those that grew up with toys -- it speaks of unrequited love and seeing Jessie's hopeful face when she thinks that the girl has finally remembered her and that things will go back to the way they used is so tragic.
7. Monsters Inc.
Directed by: Pete Doctor
Reason for placement: This movie is so genius. It explores the popular "monster in the closet" story and creates a brilliant universe where we find out that not only do monsters harvest kid screams as a power source, but also that they're terrified of us in return.
The movie teeters close to cutesy at times (Director Pete Doctor flirted with it here and then went a bit too far in his next Pixar flick Up), but for the most part it is a perfect balance of humor with an abounding love between Sully and Mike -- they counter each other so well in this movie. You've got pitch-perfect characterizations with Roz's rasp as she sports glasses with a bejeweled string and a beehive hairdo. Her unveiling (and Waternoose's) came as delightful surprises. And you can't forget Boo, the catalyst for the whole movie.
Wow Scene: There are two for me. The first is during the chase scene between Mike and Sulley with Boo vs. Randall and they clamp onto a door. Then the scene opens up into the door factory and just...wow.
The second wow scene is amazing for a different reason. It's at the very end when Sulley opens the door to Boo's room. There's no involved scene of their return. It's simply Boo's delighted explanation and a reaction shot of Sulley. Simple and beautiful.
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Reason for placement: This is what I love about the best Pixar movies. They don't underestimate their audience. The first half of this movie is almost completely without script...only a few electronic syllables and words from our protagonist, but they made it work. Furthermore, the movie references Hello, Dolly, not the most common of American musicals.
This movie transports from the very first moment, where we hear the isolated haunted refrain of Hello Dolly as we zoom into an isolated, haunted planet Earth that is extremely littered and has been left to one robot and apparently cockroaches as well. WALL-E is part social commentary on the earth's pollution and increasing laziness and obesity, part love song to Hello, Dolly, but mainly an improbable love story between two robots.
Wow Scene: It has to be the love dance between Wall-e and Eve in space. Michael Giacchino's score in this scene really clinches it for me. This scene is a masterpiece in animation, seeing how Wall-e maneuvers using a fire extinguisher -- but also serves to show the connections that the humans in the ship are missing out on.
5. Toy Story
Directed by: John Lasseter
Reason for placement: This movie answered the question: "What do toys do when we're not around?" by breathing life into toys. Not only did they have lives, but they had personalities. This movie is really perfection from start to finish. From Woody directing the army men to reconnoiter Andy's birthday party so they can see what gifts he's getting (and whether these toys will render the current ones to irrelevancy), to Buzz Lightyear -- the new toy that challenges Woody's authority and sincerely believes he is genuine, to Sid -- the example of what all toys dread. This movie and its characters are so alive it's impossible to not wonder at your own treatment of toys.
Pixar's great feat in this movie though is not just the clever plot and the manipulations the toys engineer to survive in this world, but also the sense of wonder. This is the movie that established Pixar's role in the world and underscored their mantra that "story is king." And nothing exemplifies this more than when Buzz Lightyear defies expectation, soaring in the air with Woody exclaiming "To infinity and beyond." Indeed, Pixar.
Wow Scene: How can you not love the scene where Woody and the other toys turn the tables on their tormentor, Sid? The way Woody comes to life, the toys coming out of the sand, the doll intoning "mama" all to fight back. And it served as a warning to any future Sids that wantonly attach rockets to toys for fun.
next week: top of the list for Pixar