Pixar is quite possibly the most consistent studio around, constantly developing exceptional family fare that entertains people of all ages without dumbing down the intelligence for the masses. Their films are always on the short list of best films of the year, and have only lost the best animated oscar twice. Once from Monster's Inc and once from the first installment of Cars.
All of us here at PORTEmaus love the Pixar films and often debate back and forth about the best one....with Hawk in particular having some repressed childhood problems with the amazing amount of pathos infused into Up. One thing is consistent across the board and that is that Cars represents the low point for Pixar. I am definitely in that same boat, but being the on the low end from the geniuses at Pixar does not mean the film is bad. Once you start developing a library there is bound to be something at the bottom and something at the top, for instance here at PORTEmaus I have the honor of receiving the least amount of page views, with Hawk and Gonzi constantly busting out the gate with tons of traffic for each new post.
So before we go back to the original question I want to take a short trip through Pixar history. I am going to talk briefly about each film, quite briefly in particular about the Toy Story series as I have an article in the works dedicated to RC about his favorite series of films.
Here we go
Toy Story - it gave us Woody and Buzz. Beyond any other film on here this film gave us characters that will go down in history as classics right alongside Mickey and Donald. That kind of accomplishment doesn't happen to often at the house of Mouse anymore, you think Princess Tiana will be remembered in decade? Or even Rapunzel....maybe but Woody and Buzz are here to stay for good.
A Bug's Life - Pixar's second film was my favorite for a long time. This loose adaptation of Seven Samurai mixed with a comedy of errors never got the respect it deserved. From Kevin Spacey's awesomely evil Hopper to the "warriors" who in fact are simply actors the film really showed that Pixar was going to be a studio that developed complex stories that could still appeal on a wide range of demographics. Highlight for me is still Dennis Leary's ladybug with insecurities and frustrations about his race of insect.
Toy Story 2 - Still considered by some to be the best film Pixar has produced. This takes the toys on a rescue mission while beginning to lay the foundation of Andy outgrowing his toys. The themes get pretty deep as you have the Prospector fighting for them to live forever, while Buzz argues back what good is living if you can't enjoy it with those you love. Again could go on forever with this one but later.
Monsters Inc. - I still can't believe this lost to Shrek. Looking back Shrek is almost pandering in its over abundance of now dated pop culture references. Monsters Inc throws us into the fully realized world of monsters and gives us reasons for their terrifying nature. Its subtle themes of alternative energy sources still resonate just as strongly today as they did at the beginning of the millennium. Steve Buscemi definitely rocks as the bad guy here, but my favorite part is seeing each monster prep before going into their teleporting doors. Whether its growing claws, or scaring bunk beds or changing your color with backgrounds. Also the wink to Harryhausen is pretty awesome as well.
Finding Nemo - So anyone whos's been reading, or those who know me know I have some deep rooted parent issues. So this story of a father overcoming all of his own insecurities in order to save his only surviving son resonates pretty strongly with me. Plus the adventures he goes on underneath the sea are so amazing from hanging out with sea turtles to meeting some sharks who have given up eating fish, to having Ellen Degeneres as a forgetful partner on his journey. Then we have Nemo hanging out with a ragtag group of sealife led by an awesome scarred Willem Dafoe all trapped in an aquarium. This was the first time that Pixar really surprised me. I was unsure going in how much I would enjoy this fish tale, but being the behemoth that they are Pixar made another brilliant film with a universal story.
The Incredibles - My favorite Pixar film. How could it not be? One of the best super hero movies ever made, and its an original story by Simpsons alum Brad Bird. This story of superheros forced into domestication after Mr. Incredible saved the wrong guy is so layered with commentary on the American nuclear family it really is no surprise that Bird used to be on the Simpsons staff. Whereas most these days strive to make EVERY kid feel special, and that everyone is unique, Bird skewers that idea by asking why? Why does Dash have to hide his abilities, why can't he better at sports than everyone else? It never goes as far as saying "the truth is...not everyone is special" but it gets close and it definitely pursues this idea throughout the film. Even the main villain wants to be special so bad he fabricates abilities. In an argument with his mom where she says "everyone is special" Dash responds"that's just another way of saying no one is." Mr. Incredible then gets frustrated and begins yelling about celebrating mediocrity. Ultimately Bird's message becomes, its ok to actually be different and unique, because that is what truly makes you special. Oh yah and family that works together can achieve anything but that's a whole other article.
Cars - This tale of a hot shot city boy learning humility and respect by being stranded in a country town is just ok by Pixar standards. Maybe its the whole "country" vibe to everything but I've never spun this disc repeatedly like I have the others. The animation on the other hand is just as gorgeous as anything they've done. The opening scene looks fantastic and really shows off the quality of Blu Rays that Disney puts out. Like I said before its the low point for Pixar, but that doesn't make it a bad film. I'd put it alongside Kung Fu Panda and Monsters Vs Aliens. This also has the distinction of losing to Happy Feet.
Ratatouille - this story of finding your passion even if its not in your nature is another homerun by Bird. Here he tells the story of a rat named Remy who finds success by puppeting a young chef into greatness. Again dealing with family expectations and being forced to choose what's more important your passion or your family Bird brings weighty themes to another Pixar classic. On a sidenote the culinary aspects of the film were supposed somewhat overseen by Thomas Keller which for those in the know is awesome and lends some respectability to the "cooking" that's done in the film.
Wall-E - wow this and the next one really push the boundaries of the definition of family film. An apocalyptic tale of the wastefulness of American consumers and how our desire for laziness will ultimately lead to our downfall as a society is quite dark for children. The shining beacon of hope in this trash filled world is small optimistic robot named Wall-e who never stops working and finds treasures in the midst of everything we saw as trash. His love story with Eve probably ranks as the best romance that year. The opening 45 minutes are nearly free of dialogue and rank as some of the most brilliant animation put to film in recent years. Not my favorite, but close and quite possibly the "best" film Pixar has done.
Up - When a film can capture whimsy while still telling a complicated and endearing story I am always ready to pay attention. Up has the distinction of being the most unlikely of films. First off Pixar opens up the film with an amazing sequence chronicling the relationship of our hero and his wife, which is at once beautiful and quite possibly the most depressing and heartbreaking sequence I've seen. Never reaching the heights of Wall-e, this sequence takes a similar dialogue free approach and still lets the images tell you a story. Upon finishing we are presented with the unique hero of an old man using balloons to take him on the adventure him and his wife had always wanted. The film just sets off from their taking the plot in so many directions and giving us an adventure story of the highest caliber. I love this film with its optimistic message that its never too late to follow your dreams and that you are only capable of what you believe. Oh yah while the rest of my crew here enjoy the cynicism I happen to ride the glass half full train more often than not.
Toy Story 3 -sooo I mentioned in my first post here that this was a perfect film in an already perfect series of films. That definitely hasn't changed. Easily my favorite installment in the adventures of Woody and Buzz. Still perfect...still amazes me.
So back to our original question. Can Pixar lose with cars again? One of my main problems with the first one was Mater, mostly because I really can't stand Larry the Cable Guy and it's hard to distance that voice from him. This new film takes his character and Lightning on an international spy adventure. Sounds awesome but the idea that Mater is going to be even more prevalent worries me. Just looking back at the films of Pixar, they have done enough that they have earned my trust. The fact that there is a Toy Story short in front of the movie alone is enough for me to give it a try. Not since Nemo have I been as hesitant about one of their new films. I'll let you all know what happens in a few weeks, as I'm sure RC will be dying to see some cars go vroom vroom.
One last thought - Buzz doing the Flamenco is pretty amazing, also Wall-E's spork bit kills me everytime.