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The Ultimate Choice #4: Pixar Films

It’s that time of the month again where I invite several bloggers to join me on the hunt for the best film in a specific filmography. In terms of a collection of films from one company, I would argue that none are as strong as the Pixar collection starting with Toy Story in 1995 all the way up to their most recent release, Coco. They may have one or two misfires, but their good films are not just good, they are beautifully crafted. Picking one is tough from this collection, but what did we all pick? Check out everyone’s choices in the fourth edition of The Ultimate Choice.

Monstar’s Inc (2001) – source: Pixar Animations

Monsters Inc.
Chosen by me (Amy Smith): Twitter

Out of every Pixar film I have seen, and I have seen most of them, I have enjoyed every single one. Pixar seems to have a formula locked in place, in which they can create an entertaining film for all of the family but especially tug at the heartstrings of an adult. That is what makes these films so re-watchable at their core: they may be your childhood favourites, but you discover more about the story in your older years. It is that reason why my childhood favourite from Pixar still remains my favourite to date: Monsters Inc.

What makes Monsters Inc. work in particular for me is the balance of humour and comedy that drive the very clever narrative of the film. It was very smart of Pixar to twist the narrative of monsters, and make the reason why they terrify kids and vanish from adults being for electricity in their own world. As children, we were all afraid of things that go bump in the night, so this almost acted as a way to tell children that there was nothing evil in the dark. I also adore the way they approach the ending of this specific storyline, even if it wasn’t perhaps the main storyline of the film and just a setting for the real story to take place.

It is so easy to fall in love with the characters in this film and the personalities that they have. Sulley is so incredibly loveable and caring to everyone that he knows, Mike is hilarious and the hardest working monster around, and who doesn’t love adorable little Boo? I remember having my little Boo doll from a young age and just being in love with her. It is these personalities that come together and that make you cheer for them throughout the film, especially against the greatest villain in Pixar history in Randall.

People may say that the incinerator scene is the most emotional scene in the Pixar filmography, but nothing makes me cry more than the final moments of Monsters Inc. Are they happy tears? Of course they are, but it is emotional nonetheless. It is thanks to the heartwarming and well-written story, gorgeous animation and a balanced pace and tone of this film that it ties up beautifully and still remains my favourite Pixar film of all time.

Monsters Inc. (2001) – source: Pixar Animations

Monsters Inc.
Also chosen by Meteor Film Reviews: Twitter | Blog

There are those certain films that, when watching, fill you with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia – and there are few films that manage this as strongly as Monsters Inc. This is a movie that continues to be loved by kids, but still has plenty to enjoy for older audiences. It is Pixar at its absolute pinnacle and, 18 years on, continues to attract fans from across the generations.

The world-building is brilliant, with the writing team putting together unique, entertaining and quite frankly genius scenarios and environments. The idea of having a factory where monsters use the screams of children is, admittedly, a little creepy, but it is also highly inventive and amusing for audiences – and leads to a sweet and memorable narrative between Boo (Mary Gibbs), Sulley (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) that has the ability to bring even the toughest, most soulless people to tears.

The characters are truly iconic, leading to what I must assume is a massive income on toys and merchandise – a large proportion of which was probably by myself. In Sulley, you have a cool, fearless protagonist that is a hero for all young kids. In Mike, you have one of the best comedic sidekicks in cinematic history. And in Randall, you have someone who teaches children what it means to hate with a passion, which is something… right? God, I hate Randall. He still makes me mad.

The fantastic voice acting and the equally impressive script help to ensure that these characters are entertaining for adults, too. Amusing dialogue such as when Mike asks Sulley if he has any deodorant, to which he replies: “Yeah, I’ve got ‘Smelly Garbage’ and ‘Old Dumpster'” can be appreciated by audience of all ages, showcasing Pixar’s ability to create a fun and enjoyable adventure for all the family.

Despite the many, many incredible movies that Pixar has produced since 2001, this remains – and will likely always remain – my favourite movie of theirs. The perfect blend of emotional storytelling, fantastic voice acting and remarkable world-building makes this a work of genius. Four year old me certainly knew his films…

Brave (2012) – source: Pixar Animations


Chosen by Han: Twitter | Blog

Brave is not only my favourite Pixar, but it is perhaps the best animated story within Disney’s catalogue. Knocking the well established top-spot holder, The Little Mermaid, to silver on one viewing. For me, it’s a charming story that shows both side of the struggle of a parent/child relationship. Something that struck a chord with me. What really makes this work for me is representation. This is a tale set in a historical Scotland, that showcases the vocal talents of actors from the Highlands. The authenticity of the accents allow for an almost musical quality to the dialogue; something I fear would not have happened had Reece Witherspoon voiced the strong minded Merida. Even Pixar lucky charm John Ratzenberger dons an accent so impressive that many failed to spot his cameo. Without becoming overly political, it’s makes Brave not only a film that embraces culture, but celebrates it. Representation doesn’t stop there. Merida has one of the greatest honours that could be bestowed upon a Disney/Pixar character. She is a Princess. I would argue that Merida is the most important one in a world in which women want more and challenge the social conventions when it comes to relationships. Merida provides an ideal that the previous figures didn’t. For a start, she goes against archetype. Merida is fighting to be seen by her mother, not a man. In fact, there is no romance for our Princess at all. She doesn’t sing, she doesn’t need saving and she isn’t graceful. Most importantly, Merida is finally a Princess I can identify with. Of course if that isn’t enough, my favourite part of the movie will have to do; Merida’s brotherly trio. They’re cute enough with their mops of ginger hair, up the mischief in the castle. But then there’s the added level of their transformation and how everyone deals with them. Baby Dory, The opening of Up and even our favourite soon-to-be butterfly are no match for the brothers three.

WALL-E (2008) – source: Pixar Animations

Chosen by Sam of Movie Reviews in 20 Q’s: Twitter | Podcast

Even for me, who is admittedly not much of an animated film fan, it’s impossible to deny the depth of brilliance that the pixar filmography has. There’s at least five of their other films that I could have picked for this, and on any other day this assortment of adoration would have looked completely different. However, there’s the one I always go back to: WALL-E. While writing this I could help but ask myself, why? Out of all the others, what makes this one so special? And after much soul searching, the sole reason why it stands above the others is that it takes the most risks.

On paper, WALL-E just should not work. Pixar has always deftly woven adult themes as undercurrents into their films, but for this one the themes were front and centre. This isn’t a children’s film with something in there for the parents, it’s an adult film masquerading as a children’s film. It wants to show us a vision of earth that might arise if we don’t adjust our perceptions around unfettered consumerism. It also wants to show a path of evolution for the human race if we decide to trade progression for comfort.

Regardless of all that, it makes us grasp at our own ideological beliefs around mankind’s relationship with the environment through the eyes of what is essentially a sentient Roomba.

And therein lies the biggest risk the film takes: an attempt to illicit a human response in us from an artificial being without a line of dialogue for the first half of the film. It’s a true testament to the film that they can execute such masterful storytelling without a single piece of exposition. We learn so much about a character through their silence which, in other hands, may have easily lost my interest.

Pleasantly, the biggest risk also turns into the biggest reward, as there is not another non-human character in film history that I have felt this much empathy for (sorry Roy Batty). His unwavering optimism, his nostalgia for how good humankind can be, and his unerring determination to make things better again makes WALL-E one of my most underrated heroes of modern cinema. It also makes this film my Ultimate Pixar Choice.

Toy Story 2 (1999) – source: Pixar Animations

Toy Story 2
Chosen by Bohan Reviews: Twitter | Blog

On the last Ultimate Choice no one picked any of the Toy Story films as their favorite Tom Hanks’ movie; I am going to remedy that tragedy.
When I was young, Toy Story 2 was my favorite Pixar film for a number of reasons. It was an adventure, and that final attempt to rescue Jessie is one of the most heart-pounding moments in any animated film. It was funny. It had video games in it. It referenced Star Wars. It was everything a young boy could ever want. As I’ve gotten older, the reasons why it’s my favorite have changed, but it still remains, in my mind, the best Pixar film
. A case could probably made that any of the Toy Story films is the best Pixar film. Toy Story introduced us to Buzz and Woody in a genre-bending instant classic. Toy Story 3 leaned heavily on the nostalgia of the franchise, producing probably the most emotional entry. Toy Story 4 successfully completed Woody’s narrative arc and explored thematic concepts of belonging and purpose more than any preceding entry, but it’s Toy Story 2 that remains the clear favorite, deftly balancing the childlike wonder of the original film with the introduction of the existential element that so dominated the final two films in the franchise.
Toy Story 2 serves as the bridge between the bright, fun, and relatively simple first film and the darker, more philosophical later entries. It takes all of the elements from the original and elevates them, becoming funnier, more exciting, and bigger. Where the first film took place mainly within Andy’s neighborhood, Toy Story 2 introduced us to a larger world. Japan is even used as a plot point. Yet, even more so than simply being physically bigger, the world expanded too. There are more toys, an entire store full of them, and Woody gets a new pseudo-family. The story is expertly paced, and the stakes are immediately evident. The script utilizes subtle humor for adults and more on-the-nose jokes for children. It’s a masterclass in how to make a sequel, but most impressive is that Toy Story 2 also introduced the concept of longevity: kids grow up and eventually they don’t want to play with toys anymore. This simple concept, heartbreakingly captured in a signature Pixar sequence involving one of the saddest songs in a franchise full of them, is the foundation that the next two films depend on.

Up (2009) – source: Pixar Animations

Chosen by Brian Skulte: Twitter | Blog

Pete Doctor’s Up is a film near and dear to my heart. Pixar has made movies that entertain me more, but no film had a more profound impact on me. I was test screening the film for the theatre I worked at, and was physically the only person in the auditorium, but I did not feel alone. As the story of Carl Fredrickson unfolded, I thought of my grandfather. He had passed away in 2000, but the last decade of his life reminded me of Carl’s. Like after Ellie dies for Carl, my grandfather started to travel the world. He had retired, and was not content to just sit around. He didn’t tie balloons to his house, but the stories he brought back were as inspiring and life- affirming as Carl’s is.
The addition of Russell, the young Wilderness Explorer, is what really made this personal to me. I was in Boy Scouts, and had my own adventures, though none of them were shared with the grandfather whom I would come to look at as a third parent in the last years of his life. With “UP,” I felt as though we finally shared an adventure of our own through the story Pete Doctor brought to life. This film is part of a run where the artistry of Pixar’s films just jumped to another level. Yes, the emotional component of the story, especially in that opening montage, has Doctor digging deep into the feels, but the animation is just stunning. The haze around those opening memories, leading up to the present day Carl; the wonder of the balloons carrying Carl’s house up in the sun-drenched sky; the meticulous detail and color in both the house, as well as the jungle Carl and Russell end up in; and the imagination of the film’s big set piece where Carl finally realizes Ellie’s dream for himself. All this is set to a score by Michael Giacchino that is filled with emotion, humour and delight, and is still one of my very favorite scores of the composer’s. Up being my favorite Pixar film has more to do with the emotions it brought out in my own journey, but the one it brings to the screen is pretty great in its own right.

Up (2009) – source: Pixar Animations

Also chosen by Online Warriors: Twitter | Podcast

Lots of great choices here – after all, Pixar has enough gold in its trophy case to rival Fort Knox at this point – but I’m going with Up as my personal favorite. From the astonishingly wide range of emotions we’re made to feel during the now-famous opening “Married Life” sequence to the powerfully poignant denouement, Up is driven primarily by feeling rather than plotting and prose, with a storyline that’s in many ways pedestrian but still manages to produce a memorable film via the attachment it achieves between audiences of all ages and its small but expressly manageable cast of likeable characters. Employing a whimsical and evocative dramatic question (how great would it be to tie a bunch of balloons to your house and escape all of your problems?), its potential is borne out in Best-Picture-nominee fashion thanks in large part to the work of director Pete Docter and Michael Giacchino, whose score for Up is probably his best and most appropriately lauded work. Up’s villain traces an arc very similar to that of other Pixar films in his initially-friendly approach to achieving his ends while eventually being determined by the protagonist to be a great big fraud, but Charles Muntz is especially menacing in his take-no-prisoners methods of returning respect to his own name, be it via killing, kidnapping, or just generally having little respect for nature. Providing an excellent foil for this fallen hero is Russell, a bright-eyed “Wilderness Explorer” who bumbles like no other but who also wants nothing more than to help people, and occasionally be helped in return. He, in his exuberance, positivity, and of course his moral fiber, is arguably solely responsible for ferrying Carl – the film’s recently widowed main character – through the troubling times of doubt that the old man experiences within the events of Up, even if it’s at the cost of worldly possessions every now and again. If misty-eyed moments are the primary metric for success in filmmaking, there’s no doubt that Pixar has essentially perfected a profitable formula to that end, but Up separates itself from its contemporaries in its superb canine humor, its vocal performances (especially that of Ed Asner), and its stunning Venezuelan visuals, reminding us all that adventure is indeed out there, but also reminding us that all adventures must end in order for a new one, and perhaps a better one, to begin.

Inside Out (2015) – source: Pixar Animations

Inside Out
Chosen by Jason Sellers of The Outer Frame Podcast: Twitter | Podcast

There are very few films that truly make me cry and Inside Out makes me bawl for every reason imaginable. When Bing Bong, an imaginary character even within the world of the film, dies I cried harder than I think I’ve cried over a fictional character maybe ever. When Riley finally accepts that she has moved and that she needs to start making new memories in San Francisco, I cried.

I was skeptical about liking Inside Out. After all, Pixar’s track record had just put out Cars 2, Brave, and Monster’s University, which together represent something of a low point for the studio, especially considering they were coming off films like Toy Story 3 and Up. Inside Out absolutely blew my mind. It made me laugh so hard I had tears rolling down my cheeks.
Another thing that sets Inside Out apart from many films like it is that the real-world drama is just as moving as what’s going on with the goofy animated emotions. In fact there is a super cut of just the real world segments that makes a just as emotional story as a short film. Everything about this movie works and elicits a strong emotional reaction from the viewer. The film is creative in it’s portrayal of memory and it’s use of imagination in how the story is told. This film could have used a lot of cheap humor revolving around sexist stereotypes and mental illness to fill it’s time but it doesn’t do that. It spends it’s time meditating on complex ideas like abstraction, what role our different emotions play and why they’re all important. Contrary to what the Disney channel might have you believe, we can’t be happy all the time, and that’s ok. This is an incredibly valuable lesson that it is important and difficult for both children and adults alike to learn.

Toy Story 3 (2010) – source: Pixar Animations

Toy Story 3
Chosen by Mike of Mike, Mike, and Oscar

As an Oscars and film appreciation brand which puts out 4 podcast episodes per week, my co- host and I are always trying to over exert ourselves to make sure we’re covering the biggest movies and moments of any given film year. 2019 has been no different in that regard. Early on we looked at the upcoming film year with an eye towards the Academy Awards as always, and knew the options were ripe to do any of a litany of re-watches and “deep dives” in order to build up towards reviewing a potential Oscars-contending or box-office-breaking film upon its debut.
We could re-watch and breakdown all the MCU movies in the lead-up to Avengers: Endgame, but we had just undertaken that task a year prior in anticipation of Infinity War. We could go deep into every picture helmed by Martin Scorsese with The Irishman finally due, or maybe take an unconventional awards-seeker and position its upcoming sequel/remake as the one which finally lands its franchise gold. But none of the Men In Black: Internationals or live-action Lion Kings felt fulfilling enough. And besides, if we were being honest with ourselves, we already knew which series we wanted to cover most, and why.
The “what” was re-watching every Pixar movie. The “why” we told ourselves and our audience would be in order to intensify anticipation for reviewing Toy Story 4. But the REAL reason for the massive undertaking was in order to have an excuse to re-watch, re-enjoy, and re-analyze the glorious animated perfection that was, is, and always will be Toy Story 3.
Toy Story 3 is more cultural touchstone than it is run-of-the-mill Pixar film; a phrase which in and of itself is oxymoronic in that even the most generic of Pixar films (if such a thing even exists) is a movie which is head and shoulders above its peers. But no film is the crescendo of a perfect storm in both long-term and self-contained storytelling quite like Toy Story 3. The movie is the culmination of a trilogy which began fifteen years prior and had dazzled our imaginations as children just as much as they would now with their sequels in adulthood. We had spent a decade and a half forming a bond with Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and co. through a variety of media and mediums (a nod to Disney’s licensing and marketing brand building); and they had become as much a part of our family as any treasured heirloom or souvenir had. Which is why it’s difficult to even classify the movie as an animated film at all.
Animated films are not supposed to make you feel concern for the well-being of the characters, unless the stakes are at their peak and your emotional investment in them is at an all-time high. You’re not supposed to actually worry about the life and death stakes of characters that are not only drawn by hand, and certainly not if said characters are encapsulated within the bodies of plastic and cloth such as these children’s toys come to life were. And yet, all that and more is certainly what you feel any time you sit and watch this movie.
Pixar is incredibly adept at making you care about their characters. And over the years they have flexed their creative muscles and manipulated our emotions to make us feel empathy for a futuristic trash robot, wish a widower would open his heart to a young boy scout and a rare bird, and even make us root for a rodent with a cuisine dream while completely overlooking the fact that there were hordes of rats infesting an upscale French restaurant’s kitchen. But in terms of perfect storytelling, rounded characters, increasing of conflict and stakes, giving us an infuriatingly story-appropriate heel turn by the antagonist, and preying on our established bonds with the characters build up through their longevity; there is no finer piece of work the company has put out than that of Toy Story 3.


What did you make of everyone’s choices? Would you have picked something different, like Coco or Toy Story? Let me know in the comments below and let’s have a discussion.

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