Friday, July 11, 2008

The Top 5 Pixar Films

After the resounding success that was the first Mr. and Mrs. Moviesetal collaboration, the top 5 Miyazaki films, we're returning with another Top 5 list: The Top 5 Pixar Movies. Like Miyazaki movies, Pixar movies aren't kids movies (with the exception of maybe the first few) but are animated, G-rated films aimed at every conceivable audience. In other words, you can bring both Maggie and Grandpa to the movies, although Grandpa will demand that the volume be turned up.

Moviesetal #5: A Bug's Life
I don't know what it is that makes me love A Bug's Life so much, when it's usually not among people's Pixar favorites. Maybe it's because it's such a classic Hollywood conceit: a ragtag group of circus performers are mistaken for warriors, and enlisted to aid an ant colony in their war against their oppressors: grasshoppers. Maybe it's because the lead ant Flip is voiced by Dave Foley, a talented comedic actor who, in an alternate Hollywood, would have been an intelligent leading man. Or maybe it's the simple charm of observing such a beautifully rendered miniature world. Or maybe, just maybe, it's because Denis Leary plays a tough-talking male ladybug who constantly has to remind suitors that just because he's a ladybug doesn't mean he's a lady. Yeah, I think that might be it.

Mrs. #5: Finding Nemo
Finding Nemo is one of Pixar's recent hits (2003, but more overwhelmingly popular than some of its successors, like Cars). I love it because as much as it's about a plucky little fish named Nemo, it's also about his neurotic, worried, overthinking, overprotective dad, Marlin. After Nemo is captured by a scuba diver while rebelling against his dad's tight hold, Marlin must journey across the ocean to save him - encountering adventures along the way such as sharks, a swarm of jellyfish, whales, sea turtles, and more. Anyone who's a bit too afraid of life can learn a thing or two from Marlin's growth process as he has to face all his fears to save his son. Add a lovable fish with short-term memory problems voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, and you've got yourself quite a movie!

Moviesetal #4: Monster's Inc
It is a tribute to Pixar's excellence that a movie I love this much is only the fourth best made by the studio. It's protagonists are a classic big guy-little guy combo: Sully, voiced by John Goodman, and Mike Wazowski, voiced by Billy Chrystal. The movie is premised on the idea monsters do exist, they do come out of little kid's closets, and they do so in order to scare kids to harvest "scare power." Sully's a scarer; Mike's his handler, and all's well until a little girl, who Sully calls "Boo," comes through the door. It turns out monsters are as scared of kids as kids are of monsters. Sully, Mike, and Boo get caught up in an epic conspiracy in the monster world that has its share of surprises, genuine scares, and plot twists. But it's the relationship between the little girl and Sully, her beloved monster, which really makes this movie. The scenes in which Sully realizes that Boo must some day go home, never to return to the monster world, are as touching as Pixar gets - outside of Wall-E, that is.

Mrs. #4: Toy Story
Toy Story was the movie that began it all (in 1995 - I feel so old!). Revolutionary animation technology, a plot that tugs at the heartstrings, the perfect comic pairing of Tom Hanks as the average Joe Cowboy (Woody) and Tim Allen as the swaggering newcomer action hero (Buzz Lightyear). I think most people out there know that Toy Story is about the battle between a young boy's old favorite toy, Woody, and his new favorite birthday present, Buzz. When Woody's jealousy gets the better of him, Buzz becomes endangered - and Woody realizes that to be the toy he wants to and must be, he has to rescue the naive and delusional Buzz. Along the way they have all sorts of adventures, and are accompanied by hilarious comrades such as a plastic t-rex, a piggy bank, and SlinkyDog voiced by fun guest comics. If you're a kid looking for adventure, a parent looking for a moral lesson, or anyone else just looking for a great movie that combines hilarious antics with poignant emotion, Toy Story is the classic for you.

Moviesetal #3: Finding Nemo
Albert Brooks, like Jeff Garlin, Rob Reiner, Larry David, and a number of others, has frequently mined the territory first opened up by Woody Allen. Their films follow sad-sack, lovelorn, neurotic, broken people who have managed to ruin their love and family lives, indulge in deep cynicism, and still manage to crack a joke here and there. So when Pixar cast Albert Brooks to star in Finding Nemo, it seemed like an odd decision. But then they made - against all odds - an undersea adventure movie starring a talking clownfish and his sidekick that's in the Woody Allen tradition. Marling (Brooks) loses his soon to fishermen and must go on a quest to get him back. And yeah, that quest is action-packed and a wonder to look at - the only Pixar movie that might look better than Finding Nemo is Wall-E, and they were both directed by Andrew Stanton. But at its heart, Nemo is the story of a neurotic father and his attempt to bond with his son, and as such is in the best Woody Allen tradition. Plus, it's better than Antz.

Mrs. #3: The Incredibles
Everyone loves superheroes. And if you're really cool, you love midcentury modern. So what could be better than a Pixar movie of an endearing superhero family set in a stylized 60s world? When superheroes start getting sued for trying to rescue people in an age before Good Samaritan laws, Mr. Incredible and his wife, Elasti-girl, are forced to hide out among the normal folk. Mr. Incredible gains approximately 100 pounds and spends 9-5 at an insurance claims desk, while Elasti-girl tries the domestic arts of cooking, looking after superkids Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack, and unpacking the boxes from their several moves (caused by Mr. Incredible blowing their cover trying to relive the glory days). Just when Mr. Incredible blows it again, he receives a summons from a mysterious client - an anonymous organization that wants to retrain him as a superhero and use his old skills. He hides it from his family until he goes missing - and then the whole gang must pitch in to save Mr. Incredible - and the world - from an archvillain. Again, half the pleasure here are the bit parts and sidekicks, like Samuel L. Jackson as a scrawny Fro-Zone. And with Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, Ratatouille) writing and directing, the movie is a true pleasure.

Moviesetal #2: The Incredibles
John Lasseter, the driving force behind Pixar and director of Toy Story, was worried that his team was getting complacent. So he called up an old friend, Brad Bird, and asked him to head up a Pixar production - the first outsider to do so. And the results are spectacular. In The Iron Giant, Bird showed an affinity for midcentury modern culture, superheroes, sci fi action, and disturbingly accurate family dynamics. The Incredibles, his story of two superheroes who get married, have a family, retire, and then are called back into action displays every one of those characteristics as well, rendered in Pixar's glorious palette. It's essentially the Fantastic Four in a Bond movie, with a message of individual achievement that, with its tones of Ayn Rand, rubbed some people the wrong way. No matter. As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the four or five best superhero movies ever made. (We'll see if it can keep that lofty company after Hellboy II and Batman Begins Again...)

Mrs. #2: Monsters Inc.
Mike and Sully aren't just monsters. They're monsters that work at Monsters Inc - as a team, they scare children and harvest the energy from their screams to power all of Monstropolis. Of course, the twist is that these monsters are actually terrified of humans, which are poisonous. So imagine Mike and Sully's surprise when Boo, a tiny human toddler, follows them back into the monster world and doesn't poison them! When Sully takes a shine to her (possibly because she lovably calls him "Kitty"), they decide to help Boo get home. I think what gives this movie most of its charm is Boo's character, but what gives it most of its laughs is the dynamic duo of John Goodman and Billy Crystal. The characters are cute, but you'll love this movie because it will leave you rolling on the floor with laughter, again and again.

Moviesetal #1: Wall-E
All you have to do is look at any AFI list and know what this listmaking thing is all about. It's about nostalgia. It's about the past. It's about remembering great movies and where they fit into your life. No matter how good a sequel is, no matter how good the new movie by your favorite director is, no matter how great this year's Oscar winner is, you can usually count on one thing: people will generally prefer the movies from the past, and the great movies will increase in stature as the years go by.

I don't have much to say about Wall-E in addition to my review. But I think it is the best Pixar movie yet, even though I only saw it a few weeks ago. It's a masterpiece of animation that rivals Spirited Away or Beauty and the Beast; it's a masterpiece of science fiction that rivals Alien and Blade Runner. But above all, it may be the most beautiful love story ever made. Watch it, cry, and then watch it again. And look forward to the next Andrew Stanton movie - even though there's no way it will be better.

Mrs. #1: Wall-E
Wall-E isn't a "kid's movie." In fact, I found it to be one of the most desolate, depressing movies I've ever seen, for the first half. I tell people I cried four times, but in reality I just stopped crying once in a while, but not for very long.

That said, Wall-E was also the most hopeful, the most romantic, the funniest movie I've seen in a long time. There isn't even much I can say to describe it, which is perhaps appropriate since most of the movie is silent or has minimal dialogue mostly consisting of the names "Wall-E" and "Eve." All I can say is I didn't see it as a cartoon, or a family comedy like all the movies listed above. I saw it as something more - something about love, about hope, about the human spirit.


Cinexcellence said...

What? No love for the Rat? Rat over bug any day. :)

Luke Harrington said...

Amen to that, Cinex. Rat was the best. :)

(Not that picking a "best" is easy, by any means.)

Graham said...

Yeah, neither my wife nor I thought Ratatouille was that special. It might have been that the Brad Bird pedigree just led us to expect too much.

But it just seemed like there were too many unnecessary things - silly chase scene, silly hair pulling, silly love story, silly slapstick, silly frozen dinner subplot that was never very well developed. And none of the human characters were particularly interesting, outside, of course, of Anton Ego.

Rebuttal? I'd love to be convinced Ratatouille is worthy of The Incredibles and The Iron Giant.

Luke Harrington said...

I think I prefer Ratatouille over either Iron Giant or The Incredibles...not that any of them was bad, of course.

I'll tell you why: it felt like the first time Bird's hands really were completely untied, and he could take the story wherever he wanted to. It just developed as a free-form epic of character-driven drama and comedy, whereas Giant and Incredibles both felt fundamentally formulaic (they were certainly among the best examples of their respective formulas, but they were formulaic nonetheless).

Richard said...

The Rat for sure. It's a warm fuzzy feeling