With Pixar’s latest film Coco out this Friday, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to do what we love the most: argue about film. Our writers Rhys Handley and Jack Blackwell, and Features Editor Cathy Brennan, fight the corner for each of their favourite Pixar films, with Senior Features Editor Tom Bond moderating.
Rhys: Toy Story is a fundamentally personal choice for me. The sounds, the colour, the humour, and the emotion – it’s all pretty much baked into my DNA after years of obsessive rewatches. In the same sense, every Pixar film owes a massive debt to the imagination and bravery of Toy Story, and even though their track record is mind-blowing I still think they haven’t topped this one. Its effectiveness as a complete story is spellbinding, when really all this first go had to be was a feat of technology. We’re so lucky we got both.
Jack: The Incredibles is simply one of the most fun movies ever made. As well as being a high point in the Pixar canon, it’s also probably still the greatest ever superhero movie and one of the very few films where I feel I could watch it twice in the same day and not get bored or listless for a single second. And, for the record, I’ve tested that theory.
Cathy: Wall-E is one of my all-time favourites because it values simplicity and kindness, while also being a call for non-conformity. It wraps up these messages with some beautiful animation and poetic sequences.
Tom: We’ve got some strong opening arguments for all three films there, but let’s go back to the start and chat Toy Story for a sec. A lot of its appeal is because it was the first of its kind – the first feature-length CGI animation – and an incredible film to boot. Is there more to it than the shock of the new?
Jack: Toy Story is definitely more than the novelty. It’s a fabulous central conceit, obviously, with a properly scary villain whose defeat is a boldly nightmarish sequence. The voice cast are absolutely perfect as well.
Cathy: Tom Hanks as Woody gives such a layered performance. And I’m actually quite nostalgic for early computer animation. I love the way it all looks so plasticky.
Tom: Do you reckon we love it so much because we were the perfect age when it came out?
Cathy: My mum used to work for Hasbro when Toy Story came out and I got a lot of free toys because of it. The connection between the premise and my own childhood playthings made it very intimate. That said, the strength of the writing alone means it will continue to draw an audience in the future, much like Wizard of Oz, for example.
Tom: Rhys, is there anything that lets Toy Story down?
Rhys: Oooh, what a heartbreaking question. As much as Cathy refers to the appeal of the “plasticky” animation, which can work well with the toy characters here, there are a lot of advances Pixar have made in tech now to leave it in the dust – like inventing entire computer programs to simulate Sully’s fur or Merida’s hair.
Tom: Let’s jump forward to the next pick with another heartbreaking question. Jack, why is The Incredibles better than Toy Story, one of the greatest animations of all time?
Jack: Pixar’s run of form from 1995 to 2004 was flabbergastingly good, and The Incredibles was a perfect mix of everything they’d learned up to that point. It’s hugely fun, just on a visual level; emotionally fulfilling with a script that rewards both casual and careful viewing; and on top of all that it might be their funniest film.
Tom: The Incredibles always stands out for me if only because nearly every other Pixar film would first and foremost be described as a family film. But I’d say The Incredibles is an action/superhero film first and a family film second. It adds a certain flavour and tone that sets it apart a little from most Pixar efforts.
Rhys: The Incredibles is probably my favourite superhero film alongside Spider-Man 2, for sure, and a better Fantastic Four film than Marvel and Fox will ever manage.
Jack: Also a better Watchmen film than we’re going to officially get.
Cathy: This was the part of the debate I was sort of dreading because I do not like The Incredibles.
Rhys: Ooh, why not?
Cathy: The film’s been dogged by comparison to Ayn Rand since it was released but yeah… the whole message of “move over normies and let the special people do their thing” really bugs me. Then there’s also the way Helen says to Violet “It’s in your blood” that’s really gross. My main beef though is that it’s about the innate goodness of the heteronormative nuclear family structure, simply because they’re a family, whereas Syndrome works for everything he has but is a villain because of it.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s well-made and entertaining, but when I think about what it’s saying to me as a viewer I get uncomfortable.
Tom: Good point, the politics of it are a little bit basic when you get down to it.
Jack: Then again, I would argue that Syndrome is a fantastic villain. He’s absurd, and funny for it, but then properly unhinged and scary when his plan goes awry.
Tom: I like The Incredibles but I don’t love it, partly because of what I flagged earlier re: its genre. At the end of the day it’s just a superhero film, whereas Toy Story, Wall-E, Inside Out…what box do those masterpieces sit in other than the one marked Pixar?
Cathy: Speaking of Wall-E, the main reason I love it so much is the unique kindness of Wall-E as a character. Films often struggle to convey that genuinely (Happy-Go-Lucky is another that succeeds) and it’s something that I appreciate greatly.
Rhys: Its pure sweetness and kindness is such an important a lesson to convey to kids in film. And even to adults really.
Tom: Particularly to adults! Have you met them?
Cathy: Also the ‘Define Dancing’ sequence between Wall-E and Eve is just so pure. It’s my favourite sequence in all of Pixar.
Jack: The first half is unbelievable. It’s genuinely shocking how unique it is for a family blockbuster.
Rhys: I wish the whole film was like that. Its meeting of sci-fi and Old Hollywood silent cinema is sublime.
Jack: The second half is still good, but loses a lot of the magic when it becomes the Fat People in Space movie.
Cathy: See, I find the first half is charming on its own, but it’s the second half that gives the film meat when Wall-E leads a revolt with all the misfit robots, and brings about societal change.
Rhys: I guess it could be the green, leftist alternative to The Incredibles‘ heteronormative libertarianism in that sense of revolution?
Cathy: One last point I’d like to make about Wall-E is that you could make a case for the robot couple being gender neutral.
Tom: 100%. Very rare (actually, scrolling down a list of their films… unheard of?) to find a homosexual couple in a Pixar film. Even if it’s not necessarily canon.
Cathy: Yeah I don’t think the writers thought about it like that but dammit I’m queering this film.
Rhys: It definitely makes it easy for audiences of any background or identity to transpose themselves onto the characters; I like that about it.
Tom: It’s telling of Pixar’s quality that we’ve missed out the likes of Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., Ratatouille, Up and Inside Out from this discussion so far. We don’t have time for much detail… but anyone have quick comments on if they were close to picking any of these others?
Jack: Inside Out was this close to being my pick. So imaginative with such a strong, unique message. Not simply ”be yourself” like so many kids’ films, but “embrace sadness to experience life at its fullest.” That’s an amazing thing to say in such a fun way to children, and shows that Pixar never underestimate their audience’s intelligence
Cathy: Oh yeah, Inside Out was incredible, particularly Amy Poehler’s performance. While I didn’t like The Incredibles, I did enjoy Brad Bird’s other Pixar film Ratatouille.
Rhys: I deliberated on Monsters, Inc. because I’ve never wept more openly than at the moment Sully looks through the door at the end. Finding Nemo and Inside Out also hit me right at my core, plus the Toy Story sequels are masterful ways to continue a film franchise.
Tom: Quick-fire penultimate rogue question: who has the best slate of films as lead director? Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up, Inside Out), Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Finding Dory), or Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille). No explanations, just one name each please.
Rhys: I’d go Pete Docter.
Jack: Gotta go for Docter.
Tom: Docter takes Pixar bragging rights. And now we’ve settled that internal dispute, let’s return to your final arguments for your favourite Pixar films.
Jack: I think The Incredibles came out when I was at a perfect age to see it for the first time, fall in love with it, and stay adoring it subsequently. I wouldn’t change a second of it.
Cathy: The characters of Wall-E and Eve embody what I love about other people and gives me hope. That’s why it’s my favourite.
Rhys: I can’t think of many films that informed my early development in the same way Toy Story did. It’s part of me, and I think there’s a whole generation of ‘90s kids who feel the same, whether they’ve moved on now or not. Kids generations from now should be sat down in front of it at the earliest age possible. But I guess that goes for nearly every Pixar film.