How could anyone not love Pixar? They consistently buck the conventions of mainstream animation in favor of mature storytelling, emotional intelligence, and innovative visions to inspire countless smiles, laughs, gasps, and pensive conversations. And teardrops. There probably is not a dam big enough to contain the amount of tears that Pixar movies have been responsible for.
However, while Pixar has undoubtedly set a gold standard in many respects for animation filmmaking, other contenders exist in the game. Pixar’s track record is stellar but imperfect, and for every movie that was not a Toy Story (1995), Wall-E (2008), or Up (2009), there was another animated work of art that arguably surpassed them that yea and deserved its due credit.
‘The Prince of Egypt’ (1998)
When A Bug’s Life (1998) came out, an earlier movie with a similar premise was released by DreamWorks called Antz (1998), which many since believe to be superior to the former. But DreamWorks also delivered a second film the same year that possibly leaves those other two in the dust, and that was The Prince of Egypt, a largely faithful retelling of the Biblical story of Moses with original music and a strong focus on Moses’ personal connection to the Pharaoh.
The Prince of Egypt has everything you could ask for in a musical film epic: grandeur, scope, and the cinematic know-how to convey it all to you onscreen effectively. At the same time, it generates just as powerful an impact on a deeper emotional level through its compelling narrative, performances, and willingness to not shy away from the original tale’s darker elements. Prepare to be awestruck by this on Peacock Premium.
‘Spirited Away’ (2001)
Monsters Inc. (2001) is hardly one of Pixar’s weakest efforts. In fact, it is much beloved for its touching story and imaginative world. But compared to the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, the movie might as well be another ordinary flick.
Directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away centers on ten-year-old Chihiro Ogino, who enters a mystical realm inhabited by various spirits and works at a bathhouse to try and free her parents from a witch. Practically every frame of this film is bursting with creativity, wonder, and peculiarities that could scarcely ever be replicated. See for yourself on HBO Max.
‘Monster House’ (2006)
The oddity that is Cars (2006) is often considered Pixar’s first major misstep. Though there are sound reasons for why that is, the movie is not all that bad. Plenty of other flicks from 2006 could still conceivably be pointed at as being better than Cars, and an under-appreciated one is Monster House, which concerns a group of kids endeavoring to save a neighborhood from the possessed home of an elderly resident.
For a film about children seemingly for children, Monster House has a very adult edge and horror sensibilities that most scary movies should envy. If you are looking for a fun Halloween tradition that is family-friendly yet can also give you goosebumps, consider screening this movie every October’s end. Currently on Netflix.
So far, Cars 2 (2011) is probably the biggest blemish in Pixar’s illustrious history. In all fairness, the movie is not awful but just plays out like an extended Saturday morning cartoon episode, a long way from the excellence expected of its studio. As such, it is easy to find a better-animated film from 2011, and Rango is a stand-out.
Recounting the tale of a chameleon searching for a sense of identity in the desert, he begins to find after becoming the sheriff of an Old West-style town with a water shortage populated by other sentient animals; Rango is an affectionate and amusingly self-aware tribute to the Western genre. Besides boasting animation that is appropriately gritty and rich in detail, the film has the boldness to embrace weirdness and surrealism. Take a trip into an old-fashioned period with this on HBO Max.
An interesting entry in Pixar’s library is Brave (2012), a decent enough film that frankly offered little to distinguish itself from a typical modern Disney princess movie. ParaNorman, on the other hand, took familiar ideas and turned them into something special.
The plot of ParaNorman follows an 11-year-old boy named Norman who can see ghosts as he tries to lift a 300-year-old curse that threatens to destroy his hometown. Despite the protagonist’s apparent similarities to that of Haley Joel Osment from The Sixth Sense (1999), the overall movie is more of a quirky horror-comedy than a psychological thriller, one that is exceptional in how charming, funny, moving, and thematically complex it is. Now streaming on Tubi.
Though the prequel Monsters University (2013) may not have been the follow-up to Monsters Inc. that many wanted, it was still a solidly enjoyable college movie with nuggets of brilliance. All the same, other films that year definitely outshone it, such as Frozen, from the primary animation studio of Pixar’s parent company Disney.
Yes, the loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen‘s The Snow Queen has become a favored target of mockery due to its over-exposure. However, it did not win the Best Animated Feature Oscar for nothing. Frozen has endearing characters, thoughtful ideas, gorgeous artistry, and, of course, inescapable tunes. Watch it on Disney+.
‘Kubo And The Two Strings’ (2016)
As far as spin-offs go, Pixar’s Finding Dory (2016) is cute and occasionally insightful but not especially remarkable. Kubo and the Two Strings, a film about a boy on a quest to defeat his evil grandfather, the Moon King, armed only with a magical shamisen and the companionship of an anthropomorphic monkey and beetle, is a much greater work of art.
The movie is worth experiencing just for its jaw-dropping imagination and visual splendor, yet it goes the extra mile by providing an exciting and poignant, if somewhat flawed, narrative adventure for viewers to get invested in. Seek out Kubo and the Two Strings on Spectrum On Demand.
‘A Silent Voice’ (2016)
Whether you consider it a 2016 film or a 2017 one after its worldwide release, A Silent Voice can contend with the best of both years’ animated movies, Pixar or otherwise.
Centering on Shoya Ishida, a suicidal high schooler who reconnects with Shoko Nishimiya, a deaf former classmate whom he bullied in elementary school, this movie handles heavy themes with tear-jerking maturity. The bully and the victim are not treated as one-dimensional loudspeakers for some moralistic message: they are people. Grab your Kleenex box and experience A Silent Voice on Netflix.
‘Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse’ (2018)
2018 was a loaded year for superhero movies, and Pixar contributed in the form of a long-awaited sequel to The Incredibles (2004). The film did not necessarily disappoint, yet it was perhaps not the best among 2018’s animated superhero fare. That distinction has to go to the endlessly talked about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which featured a new Spider-Man named Miles Morales being shown the ropes by Spider-Men from other universes and learning what it truly means to be a hero.
Innumerable souls have been captivated by Into the Spider-Verse‘s writing, emotional weight, love for the Spider-Man character, and psychedelic, pop-art style. Count yourself among them by seeing it today on FXNow.
‘Weathering With You’ (2019)
While Toy Story 4 (2019) was pretty strong, Pixar really should have just stuck to a trilogy of Toy Story films and preserved the sparkling integrity of the series. Weathering with You had a relatively different problem in that it kept drawing unfavorable comparisons to director Makoto Shinkai‘s previously acclaimed Your Name (2016). Not only is Weathering with You more than a match for the fourth Toy Story, but it is past time to acknowledge the film’s merits without looking at what came before.
The spiritual sequel to Your Name focuses on a pair of teenagers, one with the power to control the weather, as they use her ability for an enterprise but ultimately incur heavy consequences from supernatural forces. Aside from its impeccable animation, Weathering with You showcases an irresistible cast of characters who take you on a thoroughly engaging and heartfelt journey that you should stream on HBO Max.
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