My Five Favourite Pixar Movies… That Aren’t Toy Story

(originally posted April 4th 2014)

With ‘Finding Dory,’ ‘The Incredibles 2,’ ‘Cars 3’ and a couple of original films in the works, Pixar has got their work cut out for them for the next several years. Pixar is, in my opinion, one of the best animated film studios out there and though every film hasn’t been a complete hit, they’ve always had consistent quality; you know what you can expect from a Pixar film – it’ll be funny, touching and have superb animation. So, I feel it’s appropriate to list my five favourite Pixar films… with a slight handicap.

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I adore the ‘Toy Story’ movies. They’re probably my favourite trilogy too (suck it ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’). I love them so much though that they’d easily take up most of this list, and I don’t want to neglect the rest of Pixar’s rather fabulous résumé. As such, I’m going to put those three (albeit fantastic) movies to one side and focus on some of Pixar’s other gems and give them their well-deserved recognition.

1. A Bug’s Life

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Aside from ‘Toy Story,’ this was the only other Pixar film I vividly remember re-watching over and over on VHS when I was a kid. Even though some might argue it’s not as good as some of the later entries on this list, I still think this is a great movie.

The film centres on a colony of ants that are forced by a gang of grasshoppers to collect food for them, but one worker ant, Flik, decides that enough is enough and they should fight back, electing to go look for warrior bugs to help them. The rest of the colony is unconvinced until Flik succeeds in finding said warrior bugs… except those bugs are actually out-of-work circus bugs.

It’s a classic tale of the lowly workers rising up against the bullies, which isn’t anything new, but what makes it great is its cast. Nearly every character is memorable and lovable, right from the get go. Not just Flik, whose status as an outcast naturally makes him endearing, but we also have Princess Atta, who is neurotic as hell about becoming future Queen and gradually finds herself drawn to Flik; then there’s Hopper, one of the most menacing villains I’ve seen in an animated movie – he gradually goes from a mob boss demanding the insect equivalent of protection money to a tyrant who only cares about making sure the ants know that he’s boss. Describing him here is doing him a disservice.

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Then there’s the entire circus troupe; though some have less of a role in the film as the others, you’re bound to love at least one of them, whether it be the stuck-up stick insect, Slim, the actually-a-guy ladybird, Francis or the acrobat double-act of Tuck and Roll who were speaking funny gobbledygook before the Minions made it cool.

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Arguably, the film’s greatest strength is its scale. Since we’re watching from the perspective of insects, stuff that we don’t even think of in our everyday lives become grander and, usually, more dangerous. Cracks in the ground become chasms, a sudden rain becomes a flood and presents a risk of drowning and birds are now the most terrifying and demonic-sounding creature you’ll ever lay eyes on. And if a film can turn a common bird into a Godzilla-esque beast, it’s doing something right.

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2. The Incredibles

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Superhero parodies aren’t a new thing; nearly everybody has given them a shot. But this was more than just a parody; this was a film that both played with and paid homage to classic superhero tropes, as well as, once again, having a lot of heart in it.

After superheroes are forced to go into hiding after being hit by constant lawsuits due to all the property damage (which is an interesting topic in and of itself), Bob Parr, or Mr Incredible as he was once known, finds himself desperately missing the glory days, unsatisfied with suburban life and his boring job. Even though his wife, Helen, formerly Elastigirl, seems to be coping well with looking after the family, Bob yearns for something more and, as you’d expect, he gets just that when a mysterious woman gives him a mission to destroy an out-of-control robot.

Things really pick up from there but to explain any more would rob one’s enjoyment of the film. Though Bob is clearly the main character, the whole family receives some level of focus and development. The kids, Dash and Violet, could easily have been one-note characters with a basic personality, but they both have their own issues to tackle, which, despite having superpowers, make them relatable and believable. I’m pretty sure every teenager has at one point felt like they don’t fit in with the rest of the crowd.

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Bob and Helen also function as a married couple. They have real arguments about real things (notice how I’m using ‘real’ a lot). And when it looks like their marriage might be breaking down, the film takes great lengths to assure you that despite all that, these two really do love each other. You really find yourself rooting for them throughout the whole film. I should also note that Helen, despite accepting the role of a typical housewife, does not hesitate to beat the crap out of henchmen; seriously, we need more fictional mums to be as badass as her.

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I haven’t even mentioned all the side-characters either. Syndrome serves as a fantastic villain, both adhering to your usual supervillain traits and subverting them. He’s threatening and devious but pretty entertaining and quite funny at points too. And even though he’s not in the film a lot, Frozone is easily many fans’ favourite character, partly due to being voiced by Samuel L. Jackson. He’s also responsible for my favourite (and probably the most quoted) line in the whole film.

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‘The Incredibles’ has it all really. It’s funny, action-packed, heartwarming, dark; maybe even a tiny bit nostalgic if you grew up watching the likes of the Adam West Batman show. It’s the perfect family film and I’m very much looking forward to the sequel.

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3. Monsters, Inc.

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You know those monsters you thought were hiding in your closet to come out and scare you? Well, in this film, they’re real. Why are they scaring you? Because it’s their job. Plus, they are just as afraid of you as you are of them.

At the time, even as a kid, ‘Monsters, Inc.’ was one of the most original films I had heard of. The idea of monsters using children’s’ screams to power their city, living ordinary lives and believing said children were toxic to them completely won me over. And just like the last two movies, I found myself loving it even more as an adult.

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Sully, the best scarer in the business, accidentally lets a little girl into the monster world and he and his best friend, Mike, try to put her back. Hi-jinks naturally ensue as they are forced to constantly hide her from the authorities but then Sully begins to bond with the girl, nicknaming her Boo. And then they stumble across a conspiracy that I won’t go into because, again, you really should have watched this film by now.

When I was younger, I only really loved how funny I found it (don’t get me wrong, it’s a very funny movie) but as an adult, I find myself loving all the other things I never noticed.

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I love the almost father/daughter bond Sully and Boo get, I love how Sully’s friendship with Mike is pushed to its limits, with them both proving how much they care for each other and I love how it’s… scary.

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Yeah, I never really found this film scary as a child and while it’s not, say, ‘Silent Hill’ or ‘Dawn of the Dead’ levels of scary, there are plenty of moments where if you stop and think, it takes on a whole more creepy feeling. And although the film doesn’t have as great or as memorable side characters as the last two films, I feel like Sully and Mike’s dynamic more than makes up for it (helped by the fact that their voice actors, John Goodman and Billy Crystal, recorded their lines together).

It also has one of the most imaginative and exciting climaxes I’ve seen in a film. It involves a lot of doors.

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4. Up

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Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Yes, the first ten minutes of this movie are amazing and could probably serve as its own short film. Everybody, even those who aren’t fond of the whole movie, find that opening to be one of the most soul wrenching things ever. But what about the rest of the film?

Well, ‘Up’ is about elderly widower Carl Fredricksen being forced to move out of the house he and his late wife have lived in since they were married. Carl proceeds to tell the world to go stuff itself by tying God knows how many balloons to his house and floating away to South America, specifically a place called Paradise Falls, where he and his wife always planned to visit. Physically impossible? Who cares?

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But Carl’s journey is hardly smooth as he accidentally finds himself playing caretaker to a boy scout called Russell, who got stuck on the house when it floated away, and when he arrives in South America, he has to deal with a talking dog called Dug and an exotic bird that Russell adopts.

Many argue that the film goes downhill after that opening but I disagree. I love the whole thing. Carl is a great protagonist; you really feel for him and want things to work out for him. Russell is quite likable, managing to avoid becoming the annoying tag-along kid with genuinely funny lines and a rather sad backstory that is never stated, only implied through some of his conversations with Carl. Can I also add that the bond between them is just sweet as all hell? Because it is. Seeing Carl go from being increasingly annoyed with Russell’s behaviour to acting almost as a surrogate father, particularly at the very end, is just heart-warming, especially when you take into account certain events early on in the film.

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Also, that talking dog I mentioned? Probably one of the best comedy sidekicks of all time. A combination of excellent writing and voice acting makes Dug impossible to dislike. He’s not an animal with human-like intelligence; he’s a dog that’s been allowed to express his thoughts and feelings through human speech so he does sound like what dogs would probably sound like, which makes him funny, adorable and, at times, a tad tragic.

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I could go into the villain of the movie, the excellent climax and how I love the fact that our main protagonist is a grumpy old man, but I feel like I’ve dragged on long enough. ‘Up’ is pure bliss from beginning to end and never fails to tug at my heartstrings.

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5. WALL-E

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When movies come out that everybody loves and raves about, I tend to find myself deliberately hating them. I go into them with low expectations because I know that they won’t live up to all the hype. It happened with James Cameron’s ‘Avatar,’ and I thought it’d be the same with ‘WALL-E.’ The film proceeded to prove me wrong; very, very wrong. If ‘WALL-E’ isn’t a masterpiece, then it at least comes pretty damn close.

Set in the distant future where the planet has become so badly polluted that the human race got on a spaceship and pissed off, it revolves around a robot called WALL-E, whose job it is to gather rubbish and compact them into tiny cubes, until one day he stumbles across a tiny plant, which leads to him meeting a more advanced robot named EVE and the two try to lead humanity back to Earth. Well, EVE tries.

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Though the plot is all about trying to bring the humans back home since it means that they can live there again and rebuild civilisation, that’s not really the focus. The humans don’t actually appear until at least halfway into the film. So for the longest time, we’re stuck on a desolate Earth with WALL-E. On paper, that sounds boring, especially since WALL-E doesn’t speak. But the animators and writers went out of their way to make WALL-E so damn lovable. We see him keep and interact with random objects that he finds, like a curious child, and he watches ‘Hello Dolly’ on repeat with a look of longing in his eyes.

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And when the sleek and modern EVE arrives, the interactions between them are just engrossing despite barely any dialogue shared, with the occasional word thrown in. Not only that, but throughout the whole film, we actually see a relationship develop between them. It’s obvious from the start that WALL-E is smitten with EVE but EVE doesn’t reciprocate until she sees the lengths WALL-E will go for her.

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That’s another thing that makes WALL-E likable; he kind of represents an everyman. He’s just a tiny, trash compactor robot and it’s clear that he’s not the bravest of bots, yet he risks his life numerous times for EVE. For the longest time, he isn’t even aware of why the plant is important; his only concern is finding EVE, and when he arrives on the spaceship, he inadvertently starts helping people by just being there. And when he does learn the significance of the plant, he immediately steps in to help, even… I can’t say because it’s so heart wrenching. I know I’ve said it so many times already but if you haven’t seen it, watch the film. There’s a point where I actually let out a high-pitched scream of horror and anxiety, and you’ll know it when you get to it.

I’ve probably done this film a disservice trying to describe how amazing it is so trust me when I say that it lives up to all the hype you may have heard. I’d even call it beautiful. It ticks all the boxes for not just a family film or an animated film but a film in general. Even though you should really watch all of the films on this list, if you can only watch one, make it ‘WALL-E.’ You won’t regret it.

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