Staff Selects: Pixar Films

Pixar has come a long way in the 25 years since the first Toy Story was released, and with their latest film Onward hitting theaters today, our staff decided to highlight some of our favorite films in their spectacular catalog:

Billy Crystal and John Goodman in Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Monsters, Inc.

In 2001, Pixar made a film that was an attack on big business, calling for clean energy with a hilarious and heartfelt story, featuring what is still some of the best animation from the company, and yet it often remains one of the more underrated Pixar films. From the exhilarating door sequence to the recurring gag with Mike’s face being covered to the bopping score and the perfect final scene, it remains some of the best work out of Pixar and a film that I have loved wholeheartedly for most of my life and still loved when I revisited it last year for the first time in over a decade. Put Monsters, Inc. at the top of your Pixar rankings or so help me. [Henry Baime]

Tom Hanks, Joan Cusack, Michael Keaton, Tim Allen, Ned Beatty, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, Jodi Benson, Blake Clark, Estelle Harris, and Don Rickles in Toy Story 3 (2010)

Toy Story 3

My adoration for Toy Story 3 is well documented by this point, but I would be remiss if I didn’t take this very obvious opportunity to talk about my experience with one of my favorite films of all time. At the time of its release (nearly 10 years ago), I rarely made my way out to the theater, choosing to instead spend the bulk of my free time getting drunk off Four Loko and playing retro video games with my roommates, so I waited until it arrived at Blockbuster – where I worked as a shift lead – to finally dive in. Even though I’d grown up with the first two films (I was 8 when the first one came out), I had no way to prepare for how deeply I would connect to Toy Story 3, which left me a blubbering emotional wreck long after the end credits. Within a week, I rewatched it with my roommates and then-girlfriend and we all shared in the drunken, emotional devastation. Fearing that maybe it was just that specific post-college point in my life which allowed me to be so deeply affected by Woody and his pals, I avoided rewatching it for years after, until last year when I decided to revisit all my favorite films of the 2010s to make sure I had a concrete ranking, and found that its potency had only strengthened in the decade since. Toy Story 3 truly feels like it was tailor-made for me. [Kern Wheeling]

A Bug's Life (1998)

A Bug’s Life

Seven Samurai for children though it may be, Pixar’s second animated feature is a hidden gem in their canon. Released right around the same time as DreamWorks put out Antz (within mere months of each other, actually), A Bug’s Life proved that Pixar was no fluke and that the studio would become a leading force in American animation. Out of all their features, this is the one I have the closest relationship with: I used it to watch it everyday for months on end, and parts of the script are still memorized in my mind. Odd, I know, considering their other prized creations.
Yet this simple tale of a country ant bringing home some city circus bugs packed with an all-star cast (including Dave Foley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Phyllis Diller, Madeline Kahn, David Hyde Pierce, Denis Leary, and Richard Kind among others) is the one Pixar film that feels like home to me. It’s simple, yes, but brilliantly executed and one of the funniest films in the Pixar canon. They haven’t had a scene as quotable as the show the children put on for the circus bugs since this film, nor have they had a more terrifying villain (voiced by real life monster Kevin Spacey). A Bug’s Life is perhaps their most undervalued film, and honestly one of their best. [Cole Duffy]

Inside Out (2015)

Inside Out

Despite it being somewhat forgotten, I think Inside Out is the best Pixar movie since Toy Story 3, and one of their most mature works to date. It presents a pretty simple idea that’s perhaps more suited towards adults, but doesn’t necessarily simplify the message to become easier for children to understand, instead it’s placed in a relatively bright and colorful environment with cute characters. The movie is also flat out hilarious—Bill Hader as Fear is still my favorite part of the entire thing—but the comedy almost never takes away from the seriousness, blending tones perfectly. It’s timeless and has something for everyone to enjoy, and if you somehow haven’t seen it (I know a few people) now’s the time. [Vincent]

Up (2009)


It’s no surprise that Pixar makes films for parents, which happen to conveniently involve entertaining child friendly animation. Odds are you’ll glean a whole lot more from a Pixar film when you return to it at an older age. But I posit that Up has one of, if not the best isolated symbolic sequence to depict that exact sentiment. Everyone who has seen Up knows exactly what I’m about to say⁠—those first 10 minutes: a perfect representative encapsulation of how Pixar crafts lifelong narratives that grow alongside you. An entire lifetime with the love of your life— its highs and lows—portrayed in a devastatingly beautiful 10-minute montage. Love, family, struggle, dreams, financial woes, complacency, and life just getting in the way of plans. 

To a child, the bittersweet blossoming romance that Carl has, and his inevitable resentment of life afterwards may not mean much, but with age, it begins to unravel and punch away at your tear ducts with gradual acknowledgement. Paired with Michael Giacchino’s Oscar winning score, Up is a film I think upon and whistle almost weekly. Like growing out of your toys, going through puberty, remembering your mother’s cooking, or accepting your family for who they are, Pixar quite literally has a relatable film for every occasion. Up sets up its entire theme and protagonist within the opening sequence, establishing the immensely relatable elements that will ripple throughout the entire adventure. Don’t get stuck in the past. Time is finite: enjoy every moment while you can. [Lee]

Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell, and Spencer Fox in The Incredibles (2004)

The Incredibles

I just can’t get away from superheroes. This has been my favorite Pixar film since I can remember, and not even the one I’ve watched the most (that honor goes to Finding Nemo). It’s essentially a different take on the Fantastic Four, with two of the four Parr family members being carbon copies from two members of Marvel’s first family. As I get older, the action doesn’t interest me as much as the family dynamic and the worldbuilding. Somewhere between Watchmen and Overwatch, we have a society of heroes who have been forced to cease their previous do-gooding as controversy rises over their collateral damage. The Parrs all struggle to fit in as normal people with Bob going through a midlife crisis, Helen unhappy with a role as a stay at home mom, and both of their children fail to reach their full potential in school.

I get so much more now out of Helen’s character than I ever did before. Between her suspicion that Bob is cheating on her (when he’s really doing vigilante hero work) to her enduring her own bit of a mid-life disaster, she becomes more compelling to watch upon each viewing. Surprisingly it’s at its strongest in the second act when the characters are separated and forced to fend for themselves, learning more about themselves and each other in the process. Couple that with a supremely entertaining final act and you have a superhero film that delivers for all demographics. [Jen]

Toy Story 4

Out of all Pixar movies, the Toy Story franchise is the one that has touched me the most. Not only did I basically grow up watching Andy, Buzz, and Woody’s little misadventures, but I also learned a lot from the wonderful story of friendship that they tell. The third installment is about the difficulties of saying goodbye and the fear of changes, and it closes the saga in a very bittersweet note. Though those themes remain palpable in Toy Story 4, the movie delves even deeper into a philosophical question about our existence as human beings in this world. Why are we here? Do we have a purpose other than just living our life until our time comes? Those are some of the questions that the movie inscribes. Throughout the past few years, I’ve been grappling with the same questions, constantly asking myself whether I have a purpose in this life or not. So seeing a movie that I have a great attachment to explores the same things that I’m struggling to make sense of in my life definitely hits me hard. In the end, no one, including the movie, knows the exact answer of why are we here, but it doesn’t mean that we have to stop living our life to the fullest. Toy Story 4 basically tells us that it’s our duty to make our fleeting existence here more purposeful. [Reyzando Nawara]

WALL·E (2008)


Not just the best Pixar film, 2008’s WALL-E might be the best American animated film I’ve ever seen. The movie most representative of Pixar’s 2000s streak where they could sell literally anything and get away with it, WALL-E’s science-fiction love story gets as much mileage from its somber, wordless first half as it does from its more bombastic and traditional second. Yes, the first half is what everyone remembers, and it is as good as we all remembered, but seeing the history of cinema itself unfold throughout the film, starting in the silent era and ending in a blockbuster all while maintaining a sense of whimsy and charm, is what makes the movie so special.

WALL-E is dazzling and expertly designed, like all Pixar efforts, but more so than any of their other efforts, it pinpoints these instinctive responses in its audience and plays them beautifully. Of course it’s emotionally manipulative, it’s Pixar, but when you’re in the hands of masters, close your eyes, and try to forget that you’re just watching a show. [Davey Peppers]

Staff Selects

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