Toy Story 4

Cast: (voiced by) Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack

Director: Josh Cooley

Writers: Stephany Folsom, Andrew Stanton


In the three films that made up its near-perfect trilogy, Toy Story told what was more or less a complete story about the life cycle of a sentient toy. What started off as a pretty cute idea (what if your toys came to life whenever you left the room?) grew into something richer and more compelling by virtue of having so many characters just teeming with personality, thoughts and feelings. Over the course of the years-long span of these three movies we’ve seen Woody and the gang confront such weighty themes as growth, identity, parenthood, trauma, abandonment, mortality and transient love. It concluded with a grown-up Andy passing the toys on to another child so that their calling in life, to belong to a child and be played with, may never come to an end. It is as moving and powerful an ending as any Pixar could have dreamed up and to say that it left me satisfied would be an understatement. Thus, when I heard that a fourth movie was on its way, my reaction was apprehension and dread. Why mess with something that already ended perfectly? Why not leave well enough alone? Where else can they even possibly go with the story? Perhaps it’s the desperate move of a once fresh and dynamic company that’s struggling to offer its audience something new (of the ten films Pixar has released since Toy Story 3, six have been sequels and prequels). If there is indeed some anxiety within Pixar about the fear of becoming obsolete, irrelevant and forgotten, they’ve baked it into the very DNA of this film.

After having spent three movies exploring the emotional challenges and harsh realities of life as a toy, an immortal life of child-like dependence and parent-like nurturing that inevitably ends in relinquishment, the fourth instalment takes things a step further by delving into the theme of their very existence. What does it actually mean to be a toy? Enter Forky, a plastic spork with googly eyes, pipe cleaner arms and popsicle stick feet brought to life by Bonnie’s imagination and desire for a friend at her new school. Forky’s defining trait as a character is his existential crisis. He was created for the sole purpose of becoming trash and keeps trying to break away from Bonnie and make for the nearest bin so that his purpose might be fulfilled. Woody however thwarts him at every turn. Forky is a toy now; he has been endowed with a consciousness and a soul by a five-year-old girl’s desperate need for a companion during a scary time in her life and Woody tries his darndest to press onto the panicky spork that it is now his duty to be there for her. Throughout this whole series all the toys we have met, both good and bad, have shared a single motivation compelling their actions at every point, the desire for a child’s love. Through Forky we are given the greatest illustration yet of how that love isn’t just what these toys yearn and strive for, it is essentially what gives them life.

That desire to be loved carries with it a desire to be needed and since being given away by Andy to Bonnie, Woody has found himself relegated to the sidelines. He clearly cares for the kid and is as determined as ever to look out for his friends, but his heroics and leadership aren’t really called for in this safe, cushy gig that they’ve landed and he’s no longer the playtime favourite. Jessie is now Bonnie’s sheriff of choice; the old cowboy tends to be left stranded in the closet most days. When Woody elects himself to join the shy, nervous Bonnie on her first day at kindergarten, it’s like he’s a grandparent intervening in his granddaughter’s life in some minor, nominal way because he misses having a small child depend on him. He means well, but it’s still more about making himself feel useful than it is about helping Bonnie. Woody is essentially a weathered old hand on the verge of retirement and he’s simply not ready to be discarded and forgotten (a fate that befalls every toy sooner or later). For an immortal being, this is as close to death as it gets short of being incinerated (as they all very nearly were in Toy Story 3). Thus, with Forky’s creation, Woody finds some purpose for himself as the self-appointed guardian of Bonnie’s new favourite but even that can only keep him busy for so long. When Woody is later reunited with Bo Peep, whose departure we see in the opening scene, and learns of the life she’s built for herself since, it’s then that he starts to wonder whether there is more to being a toy than having a kid’s name written on the sole of your foot.

It’s a tough question that Woody struggles to answer because he and so many of the other toys he’s encountered over the years have been conditioned to believe that a toy’s existence is meaningless without the love of a child. The dark side of this desire is presented in Gabby Gabby, a 1950s pullstring doll hidden away in an antiques shop. Her voicebox is broken, a manufacturing defect, and so she was rejected and stored away, left to sit and gather dust for all these decades. It’s a cruel lesson that the Toy Story films taught us before back when Woody tore his arm in the second film, that the adolescent love and adoration these toys all crave is conditional. Since no child wants to play with a pullstring doll that cannot speak, Gabby sets her sights on Woody’s voicebox when he Forky happen to wander into the shop in search of a friend. What makes Gabby a great antagonist (apart from being voiced by Christina Hendricks) is that she isn’t an outright villain in the way that Sid and Lotso were. She isn’t in herself a bad person but the years of neglect she’s suffered and the harsh belief that only true perfection will make her worthy of the affection she so despondently pines for compels her to act out in harmful ways. In meeting her Woody is treated to a dark reflection, a warning of who he might become if he allows his desire to be needed to consume him.

All of this talk about existential crises, moral dilemmas and empty futures makes Toy Story 4 sound like it could have been directed by David Lynch or Werner Herzog (either of which, incidentally, I would absolutely love to see happen). I should therefore take this chance to stress that the movie is in fact a delight to watch in all the ways Toy Story has always been. The movie is a visual splendour from beginning to end, not only in the wonderful designs it conjures up from the dark, sinister antiques shop that Gabby dominates with her ventriloquist dummy stooges (the scariest things in the film) to the colourfully resplendent fairground just across the road or in the seamless fluidity of the movements and action but also in the character animation. So many of the film’s most touching moments hit all the harder because the animators always know the exact right expression to go for to complement the performance, just as writers Stanton and Folsom and director Cooley know when to stop for a moment so that the audience has some time to take it in. Pixar remains one of the modern masters of visual storytelling and Toy Story 4 is yet another testament to them. The movie is also incredibly funny, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of such new characters as a pair of conjoined plush dolls voiced by Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele and a Canadian Evel Knievel knock-off as voiced by Keanu Reeves.

It shouldn’t be possible for a movie to be this funny and entertaining while still being this loaded with philosophy and metaphor and yet Toy Story makes it look almost childishly simple. Part of the reason it works as well as it does is due to how freely flexible so much of the subtext is. The movie is loaded with images and ideas that can be a hundred different things to a hundred different people, all of whom can impart their own feelings onto the text of the film and read it all of their subtly different ways without the movie ever seeming like it’s at odds with itself. Woody is a character so rich in personality, history and mythology that he can be whichever character the individual viewer needs him to be. When Toy Story 3 came along nine years ago and delivered not only the perfect ending to its own story but also the ending that my seventeen-year-old self needed to see at that age, I was adamant that Pixar had no business revisiting this franchise and tarnishing its legacy. Having now watched Toy Story 4 I still believe that this is a movie that didn’t need to exist, but I’m glad that it does all the same. That the 1995 animated classic grew into such a magnificent blockbuster series and has against all odds proven itself capable of evolving and reinventing itself across generations is a feat worthy of celebration. Now please Pixar, for the love of God and all that is holy, stop making these films!

★★★★★

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Incredibles 2

Cast: (voiced by) Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huckleberry Milner, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Samuel L. Jackson

Director: Brad Bird

Writer: Brad Bird


It amazes me that we had to go through two Cars sequels in order to get here. While Pixar seldom wants for praise anytime they release an original title (Coco just being the most recent example), their non Toy Story sequels tend to receive more lukewarm receptions. Even putting Cars aside (I wasn’t a fan of the original to begin with), Monsters University was weak and unnecessary while Finding Dory, despite being quite good, was not the equal of its predecessor. Even then I think most people would still have agreed that if any Pixar movie demanded a sequel, it was The Incredibles. The smash-hit movie about a family with super powers (not unlike The Fantastic Four except… good), the first film felt very much like an origin story, chapter one in the continued adventures of the Parr family, and it was one of those movies that had a little bit of everything. Action, laughter, drama, suspense, heart; while I wouldn’t rank it among the very best of Pixar, it certainly is one of their most watchable and most likable titles. Fourteen years is a long time to wait for a follow up, but from the very first second it feels like no time at all.

The movie picks up immediately where the last one left off, with the Underminer burrowing through the city and robbing every bank on the way while the Parr family work to try and stop him. Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Violet and Dash manage to stop the massive drill tank before it crashes into the city hall, but the feds could not be more displeased. As far as they’re concerned, it would’ve been better if the Parr’s had simply let the mole-like baddie go about his business. The banks’ insurance would have covered their losses and there wouldn’t have been nearly as much collateral damage to clear up. Part of what makes these movies work is that the setting is so consistent yet indefinite (vaguely 60s, yet futuristic), it allows the story to be updated for our times without feeling dated. The government, who deems it less costly to let the bad guys get away with it than to let the supers use their abilities for good, decides to scrap the Superhero Relocation Programme, leaving Bob, Helen and the kids to fend for themselves without financial aid or the help of Agent Dicker who had been so good at keeping them hidden from the public (right after he visits Tony, the would-be boyfriend who discovers Violet’s secret identity, and erases his entire memory of her).

There is however at least one person who believes that superheroes should be allowed to serve for the public good and that is business mogul Winston Deavor. A superhero superfan since he was a kid, he wants to work with Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and Frozone to improve the public’s perception of superheroes and launch a campaign to overturn their criminalisation. Using body cameras and gadgets designed by his tech-savvy sister Evelyn, Winston wants to project their heroic deeds to the world and show them why the world needs superheroes. Mr. Incredible is only too keen to volunteer but Winston and Evelyn feel that his style of super justice is too cost-effective for their purposes and that the safer bet is for Elastigirl to be the face of their movement. Thus, with a brand new outfit and a space-age motorbike, Helen gets to work while Bob is left home to care for the kids. While she works to foil the plan of Screenslaver, a new supervillain who projects hypnotic images on television screens to control people (again, a new story for modern times), Bob finds being a parent to be just as tasking as any threat he’s faced as he tries to help Violet with boy troubles, Dash with his school work, and Jack-Jack with his new emerging powers (plural; Bob learns that his infant son has at least 17 abilities including spontaneous combustion, laser eyes, super strength, telekinesis and the ability to phase through walls).

Throughout his career Brad Bird has always been interested in following the stories of characters who defy social expectations and who manage to overcome their own limitations. A giant robot capable of immeasurable destruction instead turns out to be a compassionate being. A rat from the sewers of Paris dreams of nothing more than cooking gourmet dishes in a Michelin restaurant. Here he plays around with the conventions that the two main characters would (and in the first film, did) traditionally fill by having Elastigirl be the breadwinner who goes out to save the day with Mr. Incredible as the stay-at-home dad. There’s also a message here about how sometimes the most heroic thing a person can do is stay behind and look after what’s important while somebody else rushes into danger, a lesson that the kids find they have to learn as well. The theme of daring to be more than what others say you can be is given greater resonance by the introduction of other superheroes (Voyd, Reflux, et al), a collection of outcasts who were inspired by Elastigirl and company and learned that their abilities don’t only make them special, they make them who they are. It’s not the most profound Pixar movie ever made, but not every animated kids film has to be a tearjerker like Inside Out. Sometimes being inspiring is enough.

What makes Incredibles 2 great is not just how touching or rousing it is, but also what an absolute joy it is to watch. The action, from Elastigirl chasing a runaway train to the whole climax with its expert command over simultaneous activities and creative use of a wide array of variable superpowers, is superbly executed and exquisitely animated. The comedy, including but not limited to Jack-Jack trying out his new powers and Edna Mode’s return, is hilarious. The jazzy, titillating, John-Barry-esque score continues to enliven what is already a thrilling, vibrant film. So many children’s movies content themselves with throwing together a string of interchangeable comedy scenes and hammering their morals in between the spaces that flow and pacing have practically become a lost art. This is a movie that flows. It moves so seamlessly from drama to comedy to action and back again and does it with such panache that the two hours completely breeze by. It takes a director of enormous skill and talent to make a movie that is constantly on the move, that includes so much action, story, and character, and to make it all seem effortless. Bird is such a director and Incredibles 2 was worth the fourteen years it took him to make it happen. Whether the next movie comes out tomorrow, in another fourteen years, or when I’m 150, I’ll be waiting.

★★★★★

Coco

Cast: (voiced by) Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Edward James Olmos

Director: Lee Unkrich

Writers: Adrian Molina, Matthew Aldrich


Coco marks a bigger departure for Pixar than usual by virtue of telling a story that is decidedly not American (or, rather, not of the USA). While some of their films have depicted foreign settings before (Ratatouille is set in Paris and Brave is set in medieval Scotland), their films have nevertheless always been Western in their morals, attitudes, and personalities. Coco, far from coming across like an Americanised take on Latin American culture, feels genuinely non-American in its values and viewpoint. It tells a tale of family and spirituality that draws heavily from Mexican folklore and mythology, the music is fully imbued with flavours of Mexican genres such as mariachi and bolero, and the cast is almost entirely made up of Latin American talent, most of whom were unfamiliar to me (the only caucasian name I noticed in the end-credits was Pixar’s trademark John Ratzenberger). It is also one of Pixar’s finest films; a wonderful, moving ode to the power of stories and memories, the importance of family and legacy, and the ability of music to bring people together.

Our hero is twelve-year-old Miguel who lives in the small town of Santa Cecilia with his shoe-making family. His greatest dream in life is to become a musician just like his hero Ernesto de la Cruz, a long-dead but still popular and beloved singer. Music however has been an unspoken word in Miguel’s household ever since his great-great-grandfather abandoned his family to become a musician, never to return, an experience that had a profound effect on his daughter Coco, Miguel’s 99-year-old great-grandmother. On the night of Día de Muertos, the annual Day of the Dead where the residents of the town gather together to remember their ancestors and help them on their spiritual journeys to the Land of the Living, Miguel winds up in the Land of the Dead and there meets his actual ancestors including Mamá Imelda, Coco’s mother. Miguel needs his family’s blessing to return to the Land of the Living but discovers that they will not give it unless he agrees to renounce music. Rejecting their demand, Miguel runs off in search of de la Cruz, whom he suspects is his forgotten great-great-grandfather, with the help of Héctor, a vagrant spirit who needs Miguel’s help to reach the Land of the Living.

What looks like a complicated premise full of complex mechanisms on paper is actually comprehensively simple on screen because that’s how good Pixar is at visual storytelling. When we are taken to the Land of the Dead, we understand perfectly the laws of this universe (the relationship between the living and spiritual world, the system by which the spirits can travel from their plane to the other (and Miguel vice-versa), what happens to Miguel and the spirits during their time in Land of the Dead, etc.) because they are communicated to us in visual terms and tie directly into the emotions and motivations of a given scene. For example, Héctor is desperate to get to the Land of the Living so he can see his one living descendant before he is forgotten. What happens when a spirit is completely forgotten by the living? We find out when we meet a character voiced by Edward James Olmos. The visuals tie strongly to the plot as well with simple images like that of a torn photograph or a glowing petal conveying what would take mountains of dialogue to get across. While the central mystery of the story isn’t difficult to predict, the reveals are satisfying none the less because the film has done such a great job of engaging the viewer with the picture.

What makes Coco a particularly enjoyable watch though is that it’s a story told through song as well as images. This movie isn’t a musical in the same way that Frozen is, but it fully understands the ability music has to set a tone, define a character, and underscore the emotion of a moment and employs it to wonderful effect. When Héctor sings ‘Everyone Knows Juanita’, it marks a moment of unexpected compassion from a character we took to be a low-life hustler. When he and Miguel sing ‘Un Poco Loco’ together, it allows us to appreciate the bond that the pair have formed in their journey. In a climatic scene where the folk song ‘La Llorona’ is performed, the music is used to create both comedy and tension. The original songs are all absolutely delightful and best of all is the Oscar nominated ‘Remember Me’, a song that we hear thrice in three different contexts and that gets more poignant with each rendition. The music’s effectiveness is naturally aided in no small part by the wonderful voice cast, from experienced pros like Gael García Bernal and Alanna Ubach, to astonishing discovery Anthony Gonzalez, who is as much of a revelation in this role as Auli’i Cravalho was in Moana.

It wouldn’t be a Pixar masterpiece of course without some tearjerking moments and Coco doesn’t disappoint. The emotional crux of the story is built around family and the way in which we choose to honour and remember our ancestors. Although the film takes place in a culture that places more spiritual significance into ancestry than Euro-American Western culture, the themes are nevertheless resonant and universal. Any adult or child (of a certain age at least) from any part of the world watching this film can understand the tragedy of an ancestor being forgotten by his or her descendants and can relate to Miguel’s conflict between following his loving family’s wishes and pursuing his greatest passion. Even for those children who are too young to grasp those nuances, there is so much to this film for the whole family to enjoy. The character and set designs are breathtaking and the colours are sublime (I cannot imagine any child beholding the rainbow-coloured albrije and being struck with anything but awe). Coco is thrilling, funny, moving, and positively enchanting on every level and ranks amongst Disney and Pixar’s best.

★★★★★

The Good Dinosaur

Cast: (voiced by) Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliot, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn

Director: Peter Sohn

Writer: Meg LeFauve


This has been a landmark year for Pixar who have released two films in 2015 instead of just one. Originally scheduled for release in 2013, The Good Dinosaur ended up being pushed back by Pixar due to a problematic production which is why I thought there would be a bit more anticipation on the audience’s part. In the weeks since it came out the reception has been rather mild, considering the kind of attention Pixar’s films usually get, and it looks like The Good Dinosaur is set to be their first box-office failure. I cannot help but be surprised by this. Do people not like this film? I can certainly understand not liking it as much as some of Pixar’s other offerings but it is by no means the worst film they’ve ever made (hello Cars 2). Before this I always thought that the Pixar name was bulletproof and that even their worst films would always find an audience. By delving into this film I hope I can figure out what it is that has turned audiences off.

The film presents an alternative timeline where the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago misses the Earth. This allows the dinosaurs to evolve over millions of years into intelligent beings living lives that are more recognisably human. Arlo is an Apatosaurus whose family run a farm. Arlo is a scaredy-cat whose crippling fear of everything prevents him from getting any work done. His father Henry tries to help him overcome his fears, believing that deep within him he has the potential to do something extraordinary and to leave his mark. After an accident that causes him to be swept away from his family home, Arlo finds himself lost in an unfamiliar place where he must survive and attempt to find his way back to the farm. He runs into the company of Spot, a human caveboy whom he eventually befriends. With Spot’s help Arlo must learn to overcome his fears so that he might find his way home.

In my review of Inside Out I praised it as a shining example of Pixar’s incredible capacity for storytelling. The Good Dinosaur alternatively is a shining example of their extraordinary capacity for creating visuals. The look of this film is stunning. The landscapes are utterly breathtaking, the character designs are superb and there are certain moments in the film that can only be described as visual wonderments (like those moments with the fireflies). The visual quality of this film also extends to the storytelling as it features two characters, a dinosaur and a human being, who share absolutely no overlap in terms of language, culture or intelligence. All of their communication therefore has to be done visually through their gestures and actions. One of the strongest scenes in this film for me was when Arlo and Spot set up camp for the night and are able to talk about their families through entirely visual means in a way that they can both understand. It is such a touching and clever scene that is so effective in its simplicity and poignancy that only Pixar could have accomplished it.

The story itself is a simple one and certainly isn’t as intricate or creative as Inside Out, but I thought the simplicity was a crucial part of what made it affective. The story is simply a young boy’s quest to overcome his fear. It isn’t the most original moral to be taught in a children’s film but it is still a crucial one that I thought the film managed to teach in a clever way. Over the course of his journey Arlo meets some colourful characters and from them learns about finding inner strength and about being brave in the face of adversity. During one encounter he even learns about the value of fear, about how it is only possible to be brave when one is afraid. Admittedly the story and the morals it teaches are hardly new. Anyone who has seen or read this type of story before can guess the basic beats it’ll hit quite easily. However just because a story is predictable doesn’t mean it cannot be affective so long as it is told well. For the most part I think The Good Dinosaur is a well-told story and I enjoyed watching it unfold.

So, as someone who enjoyed this film and found it to be effective both creatively and emotionally, I’m still kind of stumped over why the film has been received the way it has. Do people not like this film or has it simply not found an audience? Pixar has never shied away from doing original stories with original characters but it has never hurt them in the past. The Good Dinosaur may not be Pixar’s most original story but, based on what they’ve done in the past, it still feels very new for them. There are also certainly issues that prevent this film from being the masterpiece that I found Inside Out to be. The characters for the most part are pretty basic, there are a few dark moments that pretty much come out of nowhere and I can understand how the familiar beats of the story could be tiresome for those who weren’t as invested as I was. While it is nowhere close to being one of Pixar’s best films I still cannot see a problem with this film that I feel justifies the poor reception it has received.

Maybe because Pixar has released such amazing films in the past with their most recent one only coming out last summer a certain infallibility has become expected of them that this film fell short of. Maybe the story was simply too familiar for viewers who expect more originality and innovation on Pixar’s part. Maybe people simply didn’t like the film because the story and the characters did not register with them. All I can write about with any real certainty is how I felt about this film and I liked it. I found the film to be visually breathtaking, emotionally satisfying and overall entertaining. Whatever issue people seem to have with this film, I’m just not seeing it. All I can see is an enjoyable film with a simple story, relatable characters and some of the most incredible visuals that Pixar has ever put on screen.

★★★★

Top 10 Disney Animations

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)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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)

Frozen

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)

Up

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)

Alice in Wonderland

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)

Inside Out

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)

The Lion King

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)

Beauty and the Beast

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)

Toy Story 3

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)

WALL-E

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

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.

Inside Out

Cast: (voiced by) Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan

Director: Pete Docter

Writers: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley


Pixar has a black belt in emotional storytelling and has an uncanny ability to make films that appeal to every generation in the audience. At its best Pixar can weave a captivating and moving narrative with just the right balance of humour, drama, action and heart in a way that both children and adults can enjoy. Although their films are mainly targeted at children, Pixar is never afraid to challenge them with complex themes and mature ideas. Pixar never talks down to its audience and their films are never patronising or condescending. Their stories are refreshingly original, their characters are wonderfully enjoyable and their films are thoroughly exciting, funny and profound. Pixar’s ability to move its audience is impeccable; from the bittersweet nostalgia of Toy Story to the heartbreaking opening of Up to the wondrous charm of WALL-E, it is clear that Pixar is in touch with its emotional core. It is little wonder then that their newest film, which delves into the themes of emotion and human nature, should prove to be one of their most emotional films. I cannot think of any other film that better demonstrates why Pixar is so good at what it does than Inside Out.

Inside Out takes place in the mind of Riley, an 11-year-old girl going through a big change in her life. Her actions and decisions are determined by her emotions, here personified by Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. The five of them together guide Riley from the control centre inside her mind through her everyday life. When Riley’s life is uprooted from her familiar and comforting home in Minnesota to the strange and unsettling city of San Francisco, her emotions struggle to cope with the change. The conflict and chaos that ensues has a distressing effect on Riley as her new life proves difficult and upsetting for her. Joy, Riley’s chief emotion, tries to keep her mind as happy and as optimistic as possible while keeping her negative emotions at bay. Through this story the film demonstrates how complex and interchangeable human emotions can be. As Riley’s emotions learn more about how her mind works and develop a greater understanding of themselves and the ways in which their actions can affect her, Riley grows more as a human being.

Not unlike how The Beatles had a singular ability for writing incredible yet astonishingly simple songs, Pixar has a knack for tackling complex and challenging themes and presenting them in an easy and accessible way that looks almost effortless on their part. Nevertheless it is plainly clear that a lot of thought and work goes into these films and Inside Out is no exception. This film explores the substantial subject of human emotion in a way that is both easy to understand and enjoyable to watch. The film is able to simplify what it needs to and to provide as much explanation and exposition as it needs to without disrupting or slowing down the narrative in any way. Half of the time the visuals do such a strong job of speaking for themselves that no explanations are even necessary. The mechanics of Riley’s mind are more than I can possibly explain in a brief summary and no descriptions I can provide could possibly do justice to the skilful way in which the film presents its world. It really is better to let the film speak for itself in this case.

What I can talk about is the characters. The five emotions who inhabit Riley’s mind are all brilliant and enjoyable in their own ways and complement each other perfectly. Joy stands as their leader and so it is her job to guide the other emotions whilst also keeping them in check so as to allow Riley the happiest life possible. This becomes more difficult as Riley grows older and her other emotions, particularly Sadness, become more powerful and potent. Watching the emotions interact with each other and then witnessing the effects their actions have on Riley is both fascinating and entertaining. Their reactions to the happenings of Riley’s life are often hilarious and yet they also provide stark reflections of how our own emotions work, especially at that age. The purity of the emotions makes them very identifiable which is why I think many in the audience will find Riley’s emotions entirely relatable if not the character herself. The emotions can be absolute, irrational, unstable and inexorable, much like our own emotions. Another character worth highlighting is the endearingly delightful Bing Bong who provides the film with some of its funniest and most moving moments.

I could praise Pixar and this film until the end of days. Inside Out is everything a Pixar film should be. The story is both clever and accessible, the characters are memorable and identifiable and the universe that this film creates is creative and absorbing. The film delivers on the humour, the adventure and, above all, the emotion. It also delivers a profoundly mature message about human emotions and how truly essential they are. As much as we might like to be happy all of the time, the film shows that sometimes we need to allow ourselves to be angry, to be afraid, to be disgusted, and even to be sad. The film shows us how difficult and how unbearable life can sometimes get but maintains that the only thing worse than allowing ourselves to feel bad is not allowing ourselves to feel anything at all. It is a powerful message and it takes a powerful film to deliver it. The emotional maturity of this film might be a bit much for younger children in the audience more interested in laughs and thrills, but I don’t think that line of criticism should diminish what Pixar has done with this film. Inside Out is a wonderfully entertaining, smart and insightful film that I think ranks amongst Pixar’s finest.

★★★★★