8. Toy Story 3
Rounding out the best animated trilogy in memory, Toy Story 3 didn’t even need the effortless tear-jerking of its final moments to make it a great film.
This film appeared an unnecessary gamble from the offset since Toy Story 2 was released over a decade beforehand. As the swan song to Pixar’s reign of artistic authority (Cars 2 would make Cars look like a classic), Toy Story 3 serves as a poignant, heart-wrenching capper to a wonderful triptych as well as an unprecedented collection of animated masterworks for any age.
But sticking the landing with a third Toy Story left us with only a temporary sigh of relief, as the worry of besmirching the series is exponentially greater with the unstoppable imminence of a fourth entry in 2019.
The first winner of the Best Animated Feature category is obviously one for the books. Shrek and its equally amusing sequel rightfully achieved their spot in pop culture before wearing it out with too many sequels and a forgettable spinoff (remember they made a Puss in Boots movie?).
The film’s juvenile, almost angsty 180 flip of fairy tale conventions is still a fresh, forward-thinking premise. For as many fart jokes as there are in Shrek, there are more worthwhile sentiments and lessons to ascertain from its story’s contents than nearly all of Disney’s princess fables.
The voice cast also cannot be underpraised. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz were perfectly selected for their vocal talents, and their efforts were the only thing that made Shrek the Third and Forever After remotely watchable. The series also never had a better villain than John Lithgow’s Lord Farquaad.
6. Inside Out
After sullying their reputation in the early years of this decade, many wondered if Pixar still retained any of its singular magic intact. Though it was only momentary, Inside Out was a true return to glory for the studio, and it stands among the best work they’ve ever produced.
Needless to say personifying emotions resulted in much hilarity and heart-warming – the film’s revelatory climax on the symbiosis of happiness and sadness is extremely effective at radiating simple paradoxical truth and also squeezing out a few tears from the audience too.
Unlike Zootopia, the simplification of something complexly human was translated correctly. The psychological aspects of 12-year-old girl’s mind is well imagined, almost to the point of explaining the inner workings too far. Inside Out’s ingenuity is only clearer as the studio’s barrage of sequels and safe original films continues to unfold.
Bracingly original, Rango saw Gore Verbinski churning out his best and only animated film of his career after coming off a multibillion dollar Disney franchise and a decent and depressing Nicolas Cage film. Within the limitlessness that 3-D animation offers as opposed to live action (even with a 300 million budget), Verbinski thrived like never before.
The vivid character design, offbeat humor and western homage made this film stand out against mainstream Disney and DreamWorks fare. Rango is the most worthwhile use of Johnny Depp’s talent in recent years, and proof of Verbinski’s talent, which ranges from Rango to horror films.
Pirates of the Caribbean felt like a living cartoon to begin with, but Rango’s more focused and less serious lens gave Verbinski the ability to bask in adventure, spectacle and quirkiness to no end.
Up remains one the Pixar brand’s most powerful creations just for the film’s ability to conjure the waterworks with universally moving emotion.
Edging out a strong batch of nominees including Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Secret of Kells, Up remains unquestionably the best animated film of 2009, and – as the Academy had just expanded its Best Picture nominees to 10 for a brief two years – was rightfully considered one of the best films of the year in general.
Up neatly balances providing innocent escapism and adorable characters for the youngsters and mature thematic material that can be grasped by all but only appreciated by those of increasing age. Though people lump all their praise of the film on the breathtaking opening montage, that profound sequence is just the crux of Up’s expressive dexterity and wondrous pleasures.
If this isn’t Pixar’s finest to date, then it must be Brad Bird’s other film with the brand. An ingenious deconstruction of the relationship between artist and critic, Ratatouille is Pixar’s most fervently themed film as well as their most conceptually daring.
The dynamic between curmudgeon food critic Anton Ego (imposingly voiced by Peter O’Toole) and rat of patrician taste Remy (a chummy Patton Oswalt) feels both fundamental to depicting the purposes of art and engaging in the discussion of it.
On top of its impactful, self-reflexive topics, the film is delightfully funny, sincere and nuanced. Ratatouille is plainly prime, classic indispensible Pixar.
2. The Incredibles
Both a shrewd suburban satire and the most uncompromisingly entertaining spy/superhero film to grace the big screen, to this day The Incredibles is as good as its title suggests.
The Incredibles was Pixar at the height of its powers, the studio in the process of cementing its brand in immortality. Sure this film was followed by Pixar’s first real hiccup, but The Incredibles is good enough to forgive another Cars sequel or two.
The film handles its violence and postmodernist view of superheroes gracefully amongst the cartoon logic and cute parodies. Even though its not even considered in the debate sometimes, The Incredibles is easily one of the greatest superhero flicks ever made, up there with The Dark Knight and the original two Spider-Man’s.
A flawless voice cast of Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter, Bill Paxton and director Brad Bird made the most of the original and will all be returning in just a few months for Pixar’s most promising sequel.
1. Spirited Away
Hayao Miyazaki had already been at the top of his game for twenty years before he made the most popular film of his career. Surreal and subconsciously stimulating, Spirited Away is a most unique fairy tale, the Alice in Wonderland of our time. The fantasy story has an abundance of mysteries, contemplations and thrills to offer all ages, further bolstered by strong characters and a sense of inspiration mature enough for the most discerning of viewers.
As the standout, crossover feature of one of the most masterful directors of animated films, Spirited Away cannot be underappreciated. Its wonders, whether you’re watching the original Japanese version or the American dub, are as vibrant and breathtaking as they were upon release.
Whether we’re talking about animated films – let alone one that tops a director’s own previous masterpieces like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke – or just films in general, Spirited Away is one of the most sublime cinematic creations of the new millennium.