The 10 Best Pixar Movies

Walt Disney Studios
Walt Disney Studios

Nearly 25 years after the release of their first feature film, Pixar is still going strong, creating animated movies that stir critics and audiences alike on a regular basis. Their newest film, Toy Story 4, arrives in theaters this weekend; earlier this week, a “surprise” Pixar film called Soul was given a release date of next summer. If the studio’s past is any indication, it’ll be a good one.

Narrowing their movies down to the 10 best is hard, but hey, shying away from difficult tasks isn’t the Pixar style.

1. Coco (2017)

The story of a music-obsessed young boy who enters the Land of the Dead in order to find his ancestor, a legendary singer, Coco found wide appeal both inside and outside of America. In Mexico, where the film is set, it did particularly well, becoming the highest-grossing film of 2017 by a wide margin. (In the United States, it was the 13th highest-grossing film of the year.) Interestingly, it was also one of the highest-grossing Hollywood films of the year in China. Why is that so interesting? Because China’s government is very strict about what international movies it lets screen in its theaters. One of its rules: No ghosts. Coco? Has a lot of ghosts. Still, censors were reportedly so moved by the film that they let it pass.

2. Finding Nemo (2003)

In 2003, Finding Nemo became the first Pixar film—and only the third film ever, after Shrek and Spirited Away—to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. As is typical with animated films, it has two directors: In this case, Pixar mainstays Lee Unkrich and Andrew Stanton, the latter a relatively new director at the time whose only feature credit was as a co-helmer on Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. It was Stanton who presented an hour-long pitch to Pixar head John Lasseter so that he could make the film. Lasseter, a fan of scuba diving, responded: You had me at 'fish.'"

3. The Incredibles (2004)

The Incredibles was the first outing at Pixar for director Brad Bird, who had previously directed the now-classic animated film The Iron Giant. Subsequently, Bird directed two other films for Pixar: Ratatouille and the long-awaited The Incredibles 2. Fans have always liked reading a lot into Pixar films, a practice the company encourages with its love of Easter eggs. Take Jon Negroni’s famous Pixar Theory, for example. The Incredibles, however, gave rise to a more eclectic form of theorizing that has persisted ever since the film’s release: Whether Brad Bird is a fan of Ayn Rand.

4. Luxo Jr. (1986)

Ok, ok—maybe this cheating. Luxo Jr. is not a feature film, but a short; the first created by Pixar after it became its own company. As a piece of filmmaking, it was highly influential. At the time of its release, Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull noted that, "most traditional artists were afraid of the computer. They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist's kit but instead perceived it as a type of automation that might endanger their jobs. Luckily, this attitude changed dramatically in the early '80s with the use of personal computers in the home. The release of our Luxo Jr., ... reinforced this opinion turnaround within the professional community." Luxo Jr. lives on as part of Pixar’s logo. In 2014, it became one of three Pixar films to be included on the Library of Congress's National Film Registry.

5. Ratatouille (2007)

Ratatouille, Brad Bird's second Pixar film, centered around an unlikely protagonist: a rat who dreams of being a world-class chef. The concept of food prepared by a rodent might (ok, does) seem gross, but Ratatouille’s charm made it work. In fact, according to one British pet supply retailer, demand for pet rats increased by 50 percent following the film's release.

6. Toy Story (1995)

This is the movie that started it all. Released in 1995, Toy Story was Pixar's first-ever full-length animated movie. At that time, the Oscar for Best Animated Feature didn't exist, and a five-picture cap on the Best Picture category contributed to a lack of animated nominees. (Only one, Beauty and the Beast, had been nominated for Best Picture up to that point.) However, the Academy was so impressed by Pixar that they gave its director John Lasseter a Special Achievement Oscar "for the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film."

7. Toy Story 2 (1999)

Toy Story 2 almost didn’t exist. Or, rather, it almost had a much harder road in getting to the big screen. During production, an employee accidentally deleted the film from the internal system. What kept Pixar from having to do everything over is the lucky fact that another employee on maternity leave had saved a backup copy to work on at home. This unlucky—but not nearly as unlucky as it could have been—event is the subject of one of Pixar’s famous Easter eggs in Toy Story 4: one of the cars in the opening sequence has a license plate that reads RM-R-F*—the keyboard command that almost sent Toy Story 2 into oblivion.

8. Toy Story 3 (2010)

For almost a decade, it looked like Toy Story 3 was to going to bring an end to the story of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the toys that helped usher Pixar into prominence. If it had been the end, it wouldn’t have been a bad one; the third film in the series was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars and became the highest-grossing film of 2010. And who can forget the scene of Woody and the rest, plastic hands clasped, sliding into the landfill incinerator? Kleenex, please.

9. Up (2009)

Ah, Up: The film that caused both children and adults the world over (but let’s be real, mostly adults on this one) to break out into heaving sobs. This, of course, was because of the montage depicting the romance of Carl, the curmudgeonly old man at the movie’s center, and his late wife Ellie. Originally, the scene was a lot less sad and a lot more ... well, violent. That’s because running through the montage was a sort of “punching contest,” established when Ellie and Carl first met as children. “So instead of seeing them sweetly become old, they basically punched themselves old,” co-director Bob Peterson said. “We thought it was the funniest thing.” Test audiences, however, did not, and the scene was changed.

10. Wall·E (2008)

Pixar ventured into sci-fi—or I guess we should say “went to infinity and beyond”—with 2008’s WALL·E, about a trash compactor robot who finds love. At one point during the screenwriting process, the film was going to have even more of a sci-fi feel. In WALL·E , the eponymous robot ends up on a spaceship inhabited by humans that have grown unable to move under their own power or do much of anything without the assistance of machines. In an earlier version of the story, according to director Andrew Stanton, “I actually went so weird I made them like big blobs of Jell-O, because I thought Jell-O was funny and they would just sort of wiggle and stuff. There was sort of a Planet of the Apes conceit where they didn't even know they were humans anymore and they found that out, but it was so bizarre I had to pull back. I needed some more grounding."

Can You Guess J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beast From Its Magical Power?

The Many Lives of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

In the late 1970s, Leonard Cohen sat down to write a song about god, sex, love, and other mysteries of human existence that bring us to our knees for one reason or another. The legendary singer-songwriter, who was in his early forties at the time, knew how to write a hit: He had penned "Suzanne," "Bird on the Wire," "Lover, Lover, Lover," and dozens of other songs for both himself and other popular artists of the time. But from the very beginning, there was something different about what would become "Hallelujah"—a song that took five years and an estimated 80 drafts for Cohen to complete.

In the 35 years since it was originally released, "Hallelujah" has been covered by more than 300 other artists in virtually every genre. Willie Nelson, k.d. lang, Justin Timberlake, Bono, Brandi Carlile, Bon Jovi, Susan Boyle, Pentatonix, and Alexandra Burke—the 2008 winner of the UK version of The X Factor—are just a few of the individuals who have attempted to put their own stamp on the song. After Burke’s soulful version was downloaded 105,000 times in its first day, setting a new European record, “Hallelujah” soon became a staple of TV singing shows.

It's an impressive feat by any standard, but even more so when you consider that "Hallelujah"—one of the most critically acclaimed and frequently covered songs of the modern era—was originally stuck on side two of 1984’s Various Positions, an album that Cohen’s American record label deemed unfit for release.

“Leonard, we know you’re great,” Cohen recalled CBS Records boss Walter Yetnikoff telling him, “but we don’t know if you’re any good.”

 

Yetnikoff wasn’t totally off-base. With its synth-heavy ’80s production, Cohen’s version of “Hallelujah” doesn’t announce itself as the chill-inducing secular hymn it’s now understood to be. (Various Positions was finally released in America on the indie label Passport in 1985.) Part of why it took Cohen five years to write the song was that he couldn’t decide how much of the Old Testament stuff to include.

“It had references to the Bible in it, although these references became more and more remote as the song went from the beginning to the end,” Cohen said. “Finally I understood that it was not necessary to refer to the Bible anymore. And I rewrote this song; this is the ‘secular’ ‘Hallelujah.’”

The first two verses introduce King David—the skilled harp player and great uniter of Israel—and the Nazarite strongman Samson. In the scriptures, both David and Samson are adulterous poets whose ill-advised romances (with Bathsheba and Delilah, respectively) lead to some big problems.

In the third verse of his 1984 studio version, Cohen grapples with the question of spirituality. When he’s accused of taking the Lord’s name in vain, Cohen responds, hilariously, “What’s it to ya?” He insists there’s “a blaze of light in every word”—every perception of the divine, perhaps—and declares there to be no difference between “the holy or the broken Hallelujah.” Both have value.

“I wanted to push the Hallelujah deep into the secular world, into the ordinary world,” Cohen once said. “The Hallelujah, the David’s Hallelujah, was still a religious song. So I wanted to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion.”

 

Amazingly, Cohen's original "Hallelujah" pales in comparison to Velvet Underground founder John Cale’s five-verse rendition for the 1991 Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan. Cale had seen Cohen perform the song live, and when he asked the Canadian singer-songwriter to fax over the lyrics, he received 15 pages. “I went through and just picked out the cheeky verses,” Cale said.

Cale’s pared down piano-and-vocals arrangement inspired Jeff Buckley to record what is arguably the definitive “Hallelujah,” a haunting, seductive performance found on the late singer-songwriter’s one and only studio album, 1994’s Grace. Buckley’s death in 1997 only heightened the power of his recording, and within a few years, “Hallelujah” was everywhere. Cale’s version turned up in the 2001 animated film Shrek, and the soundtrack features an equally gorgeous version by Rufus Wainwright.

In 2009, after the song appeared in Zack Snyder's Watchmen, Cohen agreed with a critic who called for a moratorium on covers. “I think it’s a good song,” Cohen told The Guardian. “But too many people sing it.”

Except “Hallelujah” is a song that urges everyone to sing. That’s kind of the point. The title is from a compound Hebrew word comprising hallelu, to praise joyously, and yah, the name of god. As writer Alan Light explains in his 2013 book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah,” the word hallelujah was originally an imperative—a command to praise the Lord. In the Christian tradition, it’s less an imperative than an expression of joy: “Hallelujah!” Cohen seemingly plays on both meanings.

 

Cohen’s 1984 recording ends with a verse that begins, “I did my best / It wasn’t much.” It’s the humble shrug of a mortal man and the sly admission of an ambitious songwriter trying to capture the essence of humanity in a pop song. By the final lines, Cohen concedes “it all went wrong,” but promises to have nothing but gratitude and joy for everything he has experienced.

Putting aside all the biblical allusions and poetic language, “Hallelujah” is a pretty simple song about loving life despite—or because of—its harshness and disappointments. That message is even clearer in Cale’s five-verse rendition, the guidepost for all subsequent covers, which features the line, “Love is not a victory march.” Cale also adds in Cohen’s verse about sex, and how every breath can be a Hallelujah. Buckley, in particular, realized the carnal aspect of the song, calling his version “a Hallelujah to the orgasm.”

“Hallelujah” can be applied to virtually any situation. It’s great for weddings, funerals, TV talent shows, and cartoons about ogres. Although Cohen’s lyrics don’t exactly profess religious devotion, “Hallelujah” has become a popular Christmas song that’s sometimes rewritten with more pious lyrics. Agnostics and atheists can also find plenty to love about “Hallelujah.” It’s been covered more than 300 times because it’s a song for everyone.

When Cohen died on November 7, 2016, at the age of 82, renewed interest in “Hallelujah” vaulted Cohen's version of the song onto the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time. Despite its decades of pop culture ubiquity, it took more than 30 years and Cohen's passing for “Hallelujah”—the very essence of which is about finding beauty amid immense sadness and resolving to move forward—to officially become a hit song.

“There’s no solution to this mess,” Cohen once said, describing the human comedy at the heart of “Hallelujah. “The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say 'Look, I don't understand a f***ing thing at all—Hallelujah! That's the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER