A-List: Top Five Pixar Movies

By J. Don Birnam

June 25, 2015

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For its 20th anniversary in film, Pixar just gave itself a big gift: the brilliant Inside Out, which last weekend wowed critics and audiences alike, turning it into a serious contender for a Best Picture nomination at the end of the year. Indeed, the Best Animated Feature Oscar seems locked like Disney’s Frozen’s was two years back. More impressively, Inside Out had the largest opening weekend in history for a movie that comes from a non-sourced material, solidly defeating Avatar’s $70+ million opening a few years back.

Inside Out has many of the same elements we have come to expect from the creative geniuses at Pixar - stunning animation, inventive storylines, thematic anxiety about growing old, and humor for adults and children alike. It also tugs at the heartstrings in the usual, not contrived ways, by reminding us of many of the beauties of life while addressing interesting social topics in a heartfelt manner. By subtly criticizing approaches to childrearing that focus obsessively on a child’s constant and faked happiness, through the analysis of the subtly posed question near the beginning - “what is Sadness for?” - Inside Out tells us a lot about ourselves, our own memories, and our emotional relationship to them. It tells us that it’s okay to be melancholy, it’s okay to be sad at times, and it’s okay to associate some of our most loving memories with that longing of sadness. Sadness can be redemptive and, in the end, nearly as important as Joy to the achievement of a life full of opportunities and great memories. Along the way, the movie explores imaginatively areas that have never been examined in film: what does the inside of our brain and memory look like? Inside Out translates those concepts into visual form effectively and directly, with just the right blend of humor and artistic license mixed along the way. The movie is, in a word, brilliant.


It is, then, in a way a shame that Inside Out has prompted me to write this list. Today I will focus on the five best Pixar movies of the 15 that Pixar has made, despite the fact that, even without the benefit of hindsight, I’d probably declare this latest entry the unarguable best. Nevertheless, in the interest of excitement, I shall for now exclude that movie from contention and focus on the other batch.

I have seen all of the other 14 Pixar films (again, not counting Inside Out) and only found myself turned off by the two Cars movies. Wake up to the industrial decline of America, Pixar smartly points out in those films. But, for whatever reason, I never felt that those two movies had the emotional depth or intelligence of the others. Some, of course, disagree with me and swear by the exciting adventures therein depicted and, in any case, a perfect 14 for 14 would be almost unbelievable.

The other 12 are all fantastic movies, but these are my unarguable favorite five.

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