Before Brad Bird became one of the brain trust deities at Pixar, he made a little movie called The Iron Giant that served as his application for Most Crazy Talented Storywriter in the animated realm.
Hogarth befriends an alien robot during a time when Sputnik sounded the first rounds of the Cold War, and Iron Giant tells their story with that political landscape in mind, padding it with tropes from 1950s Sci-Fi fare.
As the boy teaches his 30-story E.T. to become more human, the government closes in on his new friend, and more than just comedy ensues. The Iron Giant is a walking doomsday machine, who becomes more human than those who would rather shoot him down than try to get to know him. That arc is a familiar one, tried and true long before Bird put his stamp on it. But it is Bird's take on the material, his balance between the scenes animated kids fare needs and what his story demands, that makes the movie stand out. The movie did not ignite the box office during its theatrical release, but it did get its due on DVD. Watch it. Twice.
Woody and Buzz returned four years after the original Toy Story and actually managed to top that masterpiece with their continued adventures. Here the gang has some time to themselves when their owner Andy heads off to summer camp, but they must soon contend with the ultimate fanboy, a man-child voiced by Wayne Knight (Newman from Seinfeld) who wants Woody for his collection of rare toys.
The film amps up the technical magic of the actual computer animation, while also increasing the imagination factor, but it's the Pixar writers who once again prove to be the true heart of these films. Should Woody choose the pampered, petrified life Knight's character offers him? How could Buzz be one of countless Buzzes? What's really important in life anyway? If Toy Story proved that computer animation could be art, Toy Story 2 established that the medium was here to stay.
One of Pixar's very finest efforts to date is The Incredibles. By 2004, superhero movies had become big business, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars at a time.
Unlike most, The Incredibles wasn't based on a preexisting comic book series. Even so, it captured everything that made those classic Silver Age superhero stories great. Like the Fantastic Four, the Incredibles are less a superhero team and more a slightly dysfunctional family of super-powered do-gooders.
Yes, the movie packs in plenty of widescreen superhero action. The tropical island battle with Syndrome's robots plays out like the best Bond movie we've never seen, and the final clash between heroes and villain is an amazing sight to behold. But the movie never loses sight of the character drama and family focus. By the end, The Incredibles took their place alongside great superhero teams like the Avengers and the Justice League. And yet, only one among those three has a theatrical movie to call their own. Score one for the Parr family.
At the heart of most Pixar films is the theme of isolation. WALL-E, the animation studio's crowning achievement, is a breathtaking meditation on loneliness and the re-enforcement that every sentient creature contains an unbeatable desire to connect with someone else.
We were all told, from the teasers, that we were going to absolutely freakin' love this little robot bastard -- and we scoffed! Right. Sure we would. Just because he makes squeaky noises and looks a bit like Johnny 5 doesn't mean he's going to win our hearts, minds and a spot on our lunch pail. But guess who was all sorts of wrong? All of us!
Because Pixar just has a way of creating fantastic creatures and characters who tug violently on all our heartstrings. And all WALL-E wanted to do was hold someone else's hand like he'd seen in the musical Hello, Dolly. Post-trashocalyptic world be damned!
Oh, and the villain of the piece? Our heinously corrupted, yet inevitable, future as gluttonous consumers. Talk about a dark backdrop.
Watch the video below to see what our No. 1 pick is ...