© 2022 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Life

"Toy Story" Turns 25: Ranking Pixar's Top 10 Movies

2020 marks the 25th anniversary of Pixar’s first feature film, “Toy Story.” With the release of "Soul," Pixar will have released 23 feature length films.

Children and adults alike have enjoyed the many magical worlds of Pixar for over a quarter-century. From the depths of the ocean in “Finding Nemo” to the outer reaches of the galaxy in “WALL-E,” Pixar has taken audiences of all ages on unforgettable journeys that offer both visual beauty and emotional depth.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Pixar’s first feature film, “Toy Story.” As the first entirely computer-animated feature, it wowed audiences with its technical innovation, mature screenplay and iconic score.

Landing a Special Achievement Oscar at the 68th Academy Awards, “Toy Story” helped usher in a new era of computer-animated filmmaking. In the subsequent two-and-a-half decades, Pixar has pushed the boundaries of animation, telling emotionally complex stories through the eyes of children, creatures and even machines.

With the upcoming release of “Soul,” Pixar’s new movie about a jazz teacher who embarks on an existential odyssey, the studio appears poised to continue its near-flawless run. “Soul” will be available exclusively on Disney+ this Christmas. In anticipation of its release, and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the studio’s first feature film, please enjoy, and debate, my ranking of Pixar’s top 10 movies.

10. “Monsters, Inc.” (2001)

Despite being nearly 20 years old, “Monsters, Inc.” feels as relevant today as when it was released, exploring the intersection of energy and ethics. The film follows two monsters, Sulley, voiced by John Goodman, and Mike, voiced by Billy Crystal, who venture into the human world to extract screams for energy. Sulley and Mike become one of the most lovable screen pairings in the history of the buddy movie, thanks to their hilarious and heartwarming chemistry. And let’s not forget the “cutest killing machine,” Boo!

9. “Ratatouille” (2007)

This sweet story of cooking and courage is the perfect movie for families and foodies. Set in the City of Light, the movie's hero, Remy, dreams of becoming a top chef in the French culinary scene. The problem? Remy is a rat and isn’t exactly welcome in restaurant kitchens — that is, until he partners with a hapless garbage boy in the city’s finest eatery. Voiced by Patton Oswalt, Remy is an inspiring role model for young viewers, toiling away to achieve his dreams against all odds.

8. “The Incredibles” (2004)

Director Brad Bird made a splash at Pixar, turning the classic superhero story on its head. “The Incredibles” centers on the Parrs, a family of five who live in 1960s America and appear to be quite normal. But behind the picket fence of this nuclear family’s suburban life are real-life heroes in hiding. Defying expectations, Bird gives audiences a glimpse into the not-so-super life of superheroes as they battle the mundane, just like the rest of us.

7. “Up” (2009)

One look at the flying balloon-house in “Up” instantly tugs at the heartstrings, bringing to mind the stirring cross-continental journey of a crotchety old man and a young Wilderness Explorer. The studio's 10th feature follows the elderly widower Carl as he sets out to fulfill a promise to his late wife, embarking on a trip to see South America. However, things aren’t exactly smooth sailing once the earnestly optimistic Russell tags along. Propelled by hundreds of balloons and growing compassion, the two forge a beautiful friendship as they share their insecurities, digging into themes of loneliness and love.

6. “Toy Story 3” (2010)

The third installment of the “Toy Story” franchise stands as one of the most satisfying threequels in history. Set roughly a decade after “Toy Story 2,” Andy is preparing to go off to college. While packing, his toys are mistakenly donated to daycare, where they endure, and barely survive, intense playtime. Woody, voiced again by Tom Hanks, sets out to rescue Buzz, also voiced again by Tim Allen, and the other toys from Sunnyside. But, when Lotso, a callous purple teddy bear, stands in the way, the toys are put in terrible danger. Culminating in a fiery finale and a heartrending coda, “Toy Story 3” is an incredibly cathartic experience for anyone who's ever loved a toy.

5. “Inside Out” (2015)

“Do you ever look at someone and wonder, ‘What is going on inside their head?’” This is the question at the heart of “Inside Out,” Pixar’s imaginative story about the emotions living inside all of us. The movie centers on Riley, an 11-year-old girl struggling with life changes after moving to a new town. Meanwhile, Riley’s emotions, brought to life in personified form and voiced by an astounding cast led by Amy Poehler, try to lead Riley through the difficulties of growing up. What ensues is a hilarious and, at times, heartbreaking journey that challenges viewers to rethink, well, how we think.

4. “Coco” (2017)

Boasting inventive visuals and a vibrant soundtrack, Pixar outdid themselves once again with “Coco.” The movie, set in Santa Cecilia, Mexico, focuses on Miguel, a 12-year-old boy in love with music, as his town prepares for Day of the Dead celebrations. By a simple twist of fate, he finds himself in the Land of the Dead with only one way to return home: find his long-lost great-great-grandfather. “Coco” features some of Pixar’s most inventive animation to date, with a warm, otherworldly glow lighting up nearly every frame. Equally impressive is the emotional depth of the story, underscored through song. Miguel’s heartbreaking performance of “Remember Me” is an emotional bulldozer, reminding viewers that nothing is more important than family.

3. “Finding Nemo” (2003)

“Just keep swimming.” One of the most memorable quotes from “Finding Nemo,” this simple phrase also sums up the invaluable life lesson at its heart. The movie thoughtfully explores themes tied to parenting and loss while maintaining forward momentum in its central adventure plot. Beginning with one of the most crushing opening scenes in film, the story follows Marlin, a clownfish voiced by Albert Brooks, in search for his lost son Nemo. Along the way, he befriends an amnesiac blue tang, Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. The film's emotional arc perfectly reflects Marlin’s journey, as he ventures deeper into the sea, and deeper into his role as a father, to find his son.

2. “Toy Story” (1995)

The influence of the original “Toy Story” cannot be overestimated. Revolutionary animation aside, the film redefined the meaning of “children’s movie,” injecting more nuance into the plastic mold of its characters than most live-action dramas. The film focuses on once-favorite toy Woody, an old pull-string cowboy voiced by Tom Hanks. Woody is left vying for the affection of his owner Andy when shiny newcomer Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Tim Allen, arrives on the scene. The film’s plot is familiar to just about everybody at this point, but it still feels as exciting and new as it did 25 years ago. “Toy Story” is truly timeless, an instantly iconic experiment that proved that Pixar could really go “to infinity and beyond.”

1. “WALL-E” (2008)

One of Pixar’s few full-fledged romances, “WALL-E” is also the studio’s crowning achievement. The film is not only Pixar’s most experimental (who can forget that dialogue-free opening sequence?); it’s also supremely thought-provoking, tackling themes related to consumption and conservation. Set in the 29th century, “WALL-E” opens on an unrecognizable Earth, now a wasteland long abandoned by humans. The movie’s titular robot is the last of his kind, a trash compactor collecting garbage day in and day out. WALL-E’s monotonous existence is turned upside down, however, when a robot named EVE arrives to survey the planet for potential life. WALL-E finds himself head over wheels for EVE, prompting him to embark on an intergalactic voyage to save the world and unite with his one true love. Both a sci-fi epic and a tender love story, “WALL-E” is a modern masterpiece that defies genre expectations while redefining what it means to be alive.