8. Monster’s Inc.
Pete Docter’s first feature solidified several crucial characteristics that would come to define Pixar’s output: First, Monster’s Inc. establishes its complex, creative world better than any CGI feature up to that point, drawing us in with inventive ideas and visuals unlike anything we had ever seen. Second, the film is unafraid to tug hard at the heartstrings, and though one could argue that ‘Jesse’s song’ in Toy Story 2 was Pixar’s first real tearjerker moment, I find Sully’s final interactions with Boo to be far more emotionally powerful.
In any case, bringing us to places we could scarcely imagine and making us cry in the process may be Pixar’s greatest defining qualities, and Monster’s Inc. does both in spades. Mike and Sully are two of the studio’s best characters, voiced flawlessly by Billy Crystal and John Goodman, and if the story is a bit slight, it’s also incredibly heartfelt. The film’s imaginative universe also allowed for Pixar’s greatest visuals to date, especially in the inspired climactic chase sequence. Monster’s Inc. is an amazing movie, one of my personal Pixar favorites. I am definitely excited to see it re-released in 3D at the end of this year.
7. Toy Story 2
One of the very best examples of a sequel improving upon its already excellent predecessor, Toy Story 2 builds on the original’s foundation in every conceivable way. The story is larger and more involving. The characters are funnier, sharper, and better defined. The relationships are more intensely felt, and develop leaps and bounds over the course of the narrative. The new cast members integrate themselves flawlessly with the old. The animation is a major step-up. The list simply goes on and on.
But most importantly, Toy Story 2 was the first Pixar feature that signaled the company’s willingness to explore darker, more mature territory. This is, first and foremost, a film about death. The word may never be uttered, but by meeting Jesse and the round-up gang, Woody is reminded that his time on this earth – or, at least, in the arms of his beloved Andy – is limited, and he must enjoy it while he can. Toy Story 3 would explore these themes in even greater detail, but Toy Story 2 was a massive step forward for the company, one that gave future filmmakers license to examine increasingly dark and complex thematic territory.
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