To mark Pixar’s triumphant return this year with Inside Out now in theatres and The Good Dinosaur coming out later, I thought I’d put together a list of my top 10 favourite Pixar films. However, upon realising that Inside Out is only the 15th film they’ve ever made, I thought that putting together a top 10 seemed almost redundant which is why I’ve decided to do Disney animations (including Pixar) instead. That’s when I realised that I haven’t watched most of these films since I was a kid. One Disney marathon later I’ve finally finished putting together a list. Disney has made some truly wonderful films over the years rich in heart, creativity and imagination and so narrowing them down to 10 choices was no easy task. While watching these films I found that one unfortunate downside of growing up is that I can’t really enjoy these films in the same way that I did as a kid. The great thing about Disney though is that there’s just as much for adults to enjoy as there are for kids and so I was able to rediscover and enjoy many of these films in ways I hadn’t expected. What follows is a list of the 10 films that I enjoyed the most and that I felt had the most profound effects on me.
10. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
I debated with myself for ages over whether I should include this film on the list due to how uneven it is. There are parts of this film that I really, really love but there are other parts that I really, really hate. The romance between Esmeralda and Phoebus is quite generic, the story can be a bit clunky whenever it diverges from Hugo’s original novel and I absolutely despise the gargoyles. However the good things about it were simply too good to ignore. Quasimodo and Frollo are both fantastic characters and their stories are so brilliantly done. Quasimodo’s quest to find love and acceptance amongst others is truly touching whereas Frollo is utterly compelling as the merciless and corrupt judge attempting to convince himself that what he does is God’s will. It is a dark and daring story, especially for Disney, that the music and the animation turns into an incredible viewing experience.
9. Frozen (2013)
Two years after its release this film is still everywhere and many people are just about sick and tired of it. However I simply enjoyed it too much not to include it on the list. Disney is of course famous for its many different fairy tales and Frozen is one of the best. I really like how it took the fairy tale format but was able to update it in certain ways that set it apart from its predecessors. One way it did this was by placing the story’s focus on the relationship between the sisters rather than on a romance. Elsa and Anna are both great characters in their own rights and the film did a fantastic job of showcasing the bond between them whilst also allowing them their own individual moments to shine. The film also boasts of stupendous animation and one of Disney’s best (if overplayed) soundtracks.
8. Up (2009)
This film deserves its place for the opening 10 minutes alone which, for me, is the single greatest sequence that Pixar has ever done in any of their films. It speaks volumes for Pixar’s ability to move an entire audience in such a simple yet effective way and its readiness to challenge its audience, particularly the children, with mature and complex ideas. The opening sequence aside, Up stands as one of Pixar’s most enjoyable films. There is a real sense of adventure to the quest that Carl and Russell embark upon as the film marvellously delivers on the thrills and excitement. The film also provides some of Pixar’s best comedy with Dug standing out as a personal highlight for me. Pixar’s uncanny ability to make its audience laugh just as soon as it makes them cry never fails to astonish me and Up succeeds at both with flying colours.
7. Alice in Wonderland (1951)
How do I even begin to describe this film? The universe this film takes place in does not make any sense whatsoever and that is why I love it. There is no rhyme or reason to Wonderland; it is all sheer and utter madness. Many have tried to adapt Lewis Carroll’s novels to the big screen, but this film is one of the only ones to ever capture the spirit of them. Disney understood that the insanity is what makes Wonderland and so, whatever divergences they may have taken from the original novels, they remained steadfast and true to the story’s essence. Watching the level-headed Alice as she attempts to apply reason and logic to the sheer lunacy of the characters she encounters only to get helplessly lost is both riveting and hilarious. Even as an adult I still cannot get over how bonkers this film is which is why, of all the films on this list, this is easily the one that makes me laugh the most.
6. Inside Out (2015)
The inclusion of this film might seem a bit premature considering that it’s still in theatres but I was so blown away by this film that I didn’t feel like I could leave it out. For me there is no other film by Pixar that better illustrates why they are so good at what they do. With Inside Out Pixar found a way to explore the depths of the human mind and emotions in a way that is both accessible and entertaining for children and adults alike. The themes and ideas of this film are simplified yet intelligent. The mechanics of the universe are complex yet comprehensible. The message is challenging yet poignant. Pixar found a way to explore a large and stimulating idea while still allowing room for hysterical comedy, unforgettable characters and emotionally profound moments. It takes an extraordinary amount of intelligence, heart and skill to create a film of this calibre and Pixar has shown once again that they’ve still got plenty of each.
5. The Lion King (1994)
I absolutely love this film to bits. The Hamlet-inspired story of Simba’s quest for redemption and then vengeance (or justice if you prefer) is a thoroughly captivating one that never fails to grab my attention. Some of Disney’s best characters, from the wise and benevolent Mufasa to the deliciously evil Scar to the loveable duo that is Timon and Pumba, come from this film and provide some outstanding character moments. Even now watching Simba approach his father’s lifeless body is harrowing for me to watch. The soundtrack is also my absolute favourite from any Disney film with the fantastic Elton John/Tim Rice songs and Hans Zimmer’s incredible orchestration providing the film with some of its best highlights. The film does have a few imperfections (for example they do kind of botch the film’s message towards the end), but none of them have ever been able to diminish this film in my eyes. I think that The Lion King is a superb film and love it just as much as I did when I was a kid.
4. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
I mentioned earlier how Disney is famous for making films based on fairy tales and, for me, Beauty and the Beast is their crowning achievement. Everything about this film is done perfectly. The romance between Belle and the Beast unfolds and develops at just the right pace and the bond they form with one another is such an endearing one. The side characters, from the smugly dense Gaston to the elegantly charming Lumiere to the maternally gracious Mrs. Potts, are all great and all provide the film with a wealth of enjoyable highlights. The songs are all as memorable as they are excellent and complement the overall story perfectly. The animation makes gorgeous use of colour and flows seamlessly. The story progresses naturally and never drags or rushes. There is simply nothing wrong with this film. It has all of the charm, the enticement and the magic needed for a magnificent fairy tale and delivers it flawlessly.
3. Toy Story 3 (2010)
There was never a question about a Toy Story film making this list; the only question was which one. The question of which Toy Story film is the best could probably go on forever but my personal favourite is the third. Of all the films in the trilogy, this was the one that had the most profound effect on me. I saw it an age when I wasn’t quite an adult yet but my childhood was long behind me. The film’s theme about growing up yet always keeping a part of your childhood within your heart really struck a chord with me and so this film always provokes me with a strong sense of bittersweet nostalgia. As far as story and character goes there is plenty to praise but, more than anything else, it’s the nostalgia that does it for me. The brilliant characters, the moving story and the hilarious comedy are added bonuses.
2. WALL-E (2008)
For me this has to be the most beautiful and most enchanting film that Pixar has ever made. That the film was able to turn a machine into a loveable protagonist with a fully-rounded personality, form a romantic bond between him and another machine and then send him on a galactic journey, all without any substantial use of dialogue, is a testament to Pixar’s incredible storytelling abilities. One of the fundamental rules of storytelling in films is ‘show, don’t tell’, and few films do that better than WALL-E. The breathtaking visuals in this film convey a moving tale of love, discovery and wonder in such a spectacular way that this film never fails to astound me. There is a certain gracefulness and delicacy to this film that I have yet to see in Disney’s other offerings save the top entry. Watching WALL-E and EVE fly through space with one another was like watching a cosmic ballet. The sense of wonder and majesty this film provides is almost unparalleled.
1. Fantasia (1940)
Fantasia is more than a great Disney film, it is a cinematic masterpiece. This film transcended what was considered the traditional narrative structure for films at the time and played a significant part in redefining what storytelling meant in films. By providing animated sequences to match famous works of classical music, Fantasia provides stories both abstract and narrative, all expressed purely through visual and musical means. One sequence provides a story simply told through colours and shapes while another is a fully-formed short-story complete with characters and a plot. The film shifts in tone from being childish and funny to being serious and profound. My personal favourite sequence is the last one with the Night on Bald Mountain followed by the Ave Maria. The dark intensity of the former becoming overpowered by the divine beauty of the latter provides a poignantly powerful moment with the staggering animation matching perfectly with the music. This film pushed the boundaries of what art and film were capable of and did it in such an unbelievable and affecting way that it remains today one of Disney’s finest achievements and without question my favourite of all their films.