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A world of pure imagination

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Ok, don’t laugh. I’m going to see Toy Story 3 on Friday night. In fact, we purchased tickets more than a week in advance to make sure that we’d be guaranteed a seat– and of course we plan to arrive early enough to ensure that we get the best seats in the house. We’re not above elbowing a child or two out of the way in the process. Given that the original Toy Story came out when I was eleven or twelve years old, it is a little crazy that now, fifteen years later, the third film is being released. Looking back on things, too, it seems that I love just about everything that Pixar puts out; they have a way of telling stories that appeals to a wide audience, in a way that is touching but manages to avoid sappiness. (Seriously, too, one of my Top Five Library Dream Jobs would be at Pixar. John Lasseter, call me!) Since I am clearly such a Pixar nerd, I thought it would be fun to do a little top-ten style rundown of all the Pixar films (yes, handily enough, there are ten). Ok, here we go!

10. Cars

It’s not that I didn’t like Cars. It’s just that I’m not that interested in cars in general, and I feel like this is the highest degree to which Pixar has attempted to anthropomorphize non-human characters, and it felt like it ran a little too close to cliche at times. I’ve only watched this one all the way through a couple times, and feel like the runtime is a little long, especially when compared to their other films (this is borne out by the fact that it is the longest of all the Pixar stuff, even if it’s only by a minute). I also appreciate that, in general, Pixar can stand on the strength of non-celebrity voices, and– with the exception of Toy Story– this cast is a pretty star-studded one. (Also, Larry the Cable Guy? Not a fan.) Now, it’s not that I hated, or even disliked, Cars, and I’m fully prepared to love Cars Land when they open it at California Adventure, where a lot of Pixar-themed attractions have been really successfully established.

9. Finding Nemo


I can already see how this list is problematic: I freaking love Finding Nemo. It had me crying within the first five minutes (not unique to this movie, especially among the Pixars), I thought that it was beautifully done, and it was the reason that Disneyland brought back the subs! But, given the strength of the field, I have to give Nemo the number nine spot, even though it made me at least eight times more excited to visit the Great Barrier Reef when we were on our honeymoon.

8. The Incredibles

Ah, the first Brad Bird entry to this list! While I also really liked The Incredibles (actually, from here on out, assume that I love all these movies, because you’re going to get tired of reading it and I’m going to get tired of writing it), and thought that it told a fun story in a really visually appealing way– hello, awesome mid-century modern touches!– it just wasn’t the imaginative fantasy that some others presented. Honorable mention, though, for bringing up the idea of “If everyone’s special, then no one is,” which I fully support because, dude, does anyone else feel like there’s a surplus of self-esteem in the world? Or is it just in reality television? Don’t answer that.

7. A Bug’s Life

Originally, I thought that this one would fall lower in the list, simply because it’s not one that I warmed up to instantly. Really, this is one that reveals new things to me upon repeat viewings: look, it’s The Ant and the Grasshopper! Look, it’s The Three Amigos! Is that a Kurosawa reference? A Bug’s Life, to me, really encapsulates what I think Pixar, and most other amazing storytellers, do best: bring together themes, plot lines, and character archetypes to tell a story that feels both familiar and new at the same time.

6. Monsters Inc.

A really fun movie that I have only grown to love more as I rewatch it and ride (and re-ride) the Monsters Inc. ride at California Adventure, Monsters is such a simple premise that I’m sure there were more than a few animators slapping their foreheads and going, “Of course!” And it’s so well-executed! I love the details of Monstropolis, I love Mike Wazowski, and I love that I am nerdy enough to get the joke of Harryhausen’s. Monsters hits all the right notes for me, but not as hard as the top 5 do.

5. Up

“Adventure is out there!” I knew I was in trouble the second this movie started, with the Carl and Ellie love story that would eventually make my 3D glasses fill up with tears (shut up, yours did, too). From the sappiest moments to the most hilarious (“Kevin is a GIRL?!”), I loved, loved, loved the message here: live your life with the people you love, right fricking now.

4. Toy Story 2

Yes, both of the previous Toy Story outings made the top five, and here’s why this one rocked my face right off: whereas the original Toy Story led us back to our childhoods in which we had that favorite plaything that was the world to us, the sequel brings out some of the darker aspects and consequences of growing up. The addition of Stinky Pete, Jessie, and Bullseye to the cast allow us to see the more vulnerable side of the toys, and introduces the idea that favorite toys don’t always stay that way forever.

3. WALL-E

Who knew that a movie about robots could have so much heart? My devotion to WALL-E is such that I may have purchased a little Christmas-light-holding WALL-E for our Christmas tree (or totally did, whatever) and paid a visit to the little WALL-E robo-toy in the gift shop of our Disney World hotel when we visited in 2009. I love that WALL-E collects Earth junk, that he likes Hello, Dolly, and that he has a little cockroach friend.  I love that, in the dystopic future presented, humans are ridiculously fat and live on what is essentially a space cruise ship (because, for real…not that far off). I love the nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I love the way WALL-E says, “Eeeeevaaaa!” in his little robot voice. Good god. I think I’ll go watch it right now.

2. Ratatouille

This should not come as a surprise to anyone: I love Paris, I love cooking, and…I love that the “overcoming adversity” in this film is played out by a rat voiced by Patton Oswalt. Some of Pixar’s most gorgeous visuals show up here, but I think Paris gives them a pretty good start. This is a movie and a story that will, I think, stand up pretty well over time, as it presents classic ideas in an inventive way. Oh, and semi-tangentially, I think that one of my favorite episodes of Fresh Air is with Brad Bird and Patton Oswalt. Well worth your twenty minutes, I promise.

1. Toy Story

Surprise, surprise! From the very beginnings of the story that the animators saw in Tin Toy, Toy Story is what brought us to this place. It’s not just reverence for this film as The Very First One that makes me put it in the number one spot, either– Toy Story hits all the right notes (even if some of them are from Randy Newman), and presents toys that are both self-aware and in their own world. The thing that, in my mind, makes Pixar superior to its contemporaries, is that it lets its characters be what they are, then tells a story around that; you’re not going to see these toys arguing about a neighbor’s tree growing over a lot line, you’re not going to hear a joke from any of them about airplane food…because they’re toys! I truly appreciate the imagination that’s at work when these writers, directors, and animators give themselves over to the worlds that they’ve created.

All right, I’m sure there are some disagreements over the order (heaven knows there have been here in the living room as I’ve written this!), so let’s hear ’em. What are your favorite Pixar films?

This is what I get for reading…

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I totally just spoiled the end of Into the Wild. Sorry! Seriously, though. Did we not think the hugely self-righteous, poor-little-white-guy prick main character was going to go…into the wild…and just emerged all enlightened and shit, fine and healthy? No, we did not. Eddie Vedder does not participate in soundtracks for films in which this is the ending.

I am hoping that GP doesn’t punch me in my sleep.

P.S. Emile Hirsch looks a bit like Wolverine with that hair and beard, no?