The Oscar Project
We're on to a smaller batch of films that are coming to Disney+ next month and taking a look at the list of Pixar animated films.
If you haven't already checked out the previous posts in this series, please go back and look at the list of live action films and animated films coming to Disney+ when the service kicks off in a few weeks.
Fortunately for me when putting this list together, the list of Pixar films is significantly shorter than the full history of Disney animated of live action films. That said, there are still a good bunch of films that have been nominated for Oscars and often more than just for the music or the Best Animated Feature category.
Here's the list!
Toy Story (1995) - It all started with a boy and his toys. Well, not quite. Pixar had been experimenting with making computer animated films for some time, dating all the way back to the short films "The Adventures of André & Wally B." in 1984 and "Luxo Jr." in 1986. The latter of those is where Pixar got the lamp that appears in its iconic logo before each film.
I remember when this film came out, being in awe of what was accomplished, even as an early teenager at the time. Keep in mind that we were just coming off a six year span where we saw The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, all expertly crafted animated films in their own right. But this was something completely different.
The voice cast was superb and it's astonishing to realize that most of the original cast is still together for Toy Story 4 earlier this year, with the exception of a few actors that passed away over the course of the series. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen have embodied the characters of Woody and Buzz for so long, it would be a shame to even think of them being voiced by someone else.
Even after nearly 25 years (has it been that long?) I can still sit down and watch this film and enjoy it as much as the first time I saw it. My one other striking memory of this film is from college. I took a history of film class one semester which covered everything from the early Edison, Lumière, and Méliès films of the turn of the 20th century through the silent era, the golden age of Hollywood and eventually to the present. We watched a different film in class every week and up to the last week, they had all been in black and white. The professor didn't tell us what the final film would be, just that it was astonishing that it was in color. I expected something like Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind, but as soon as the Pixar logo showed up, the entire class knew it was Toy Story. Not only was it in color, but we'd jumped from Hitchcock classics of the 60s a full 30 years forward to the age of digital film making.
It will come as no surprise that Toy Story was nominated for several Academy Awards. Unfortunately it was not eligible for Best Animated Feature Film as the category didn't exist yet. At the time, Disney still had the market on animated features cornered and it would have been a very lopsided category most years. The film did however garner nominations for Best Original Screenplay (Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, John Lasseter, Peter Docter, and Joe Ranft), Best Original Musical or Comedy Score (Randy Newman) and Best Original Song ("You've Got a Friend in Me" by Randy Newman) but failed to win in any of those three categories. The Academy did award John Lasseter a Special Achievement Oscar for the film.
A Bug's Life (1998) - How do you come back with a follow-up to one of the most groundbreaking films of all time? You go in a completely different direction.
That's exactly what Pixar did with A Bug's Life. It was three years before the studio was able to put out another feature length film. While the characters are completely new and different from what we saw in Toy Story, the studio went all out in collecting excellent voice talent once again, including Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (fresh of her run as Elaine on Seinfeld), a young Hayden Panettiere, Denis Leary, and Brad Garrett. This was also the beginning of many of the recurring voices found in Pixar films including John Ratzenberger (who also appeared in Toy Story), Bonnie Hunt, Garrett, and Richard Kind.
The film centered around an ant colony and was up against a Dreamworks Animation film titled Antz that opened about six weeks earlier and there was no contest between the two films. Stylistically very different, A Bug's Life dominated Antz at the box office and is arguably better remembered today.
Unlike Toy Story, A Bug's Life did not fair as well at the Oscars. It was only nominated for Best Original Musical of Comedy Score (Randy Newman) and lost out to Shakespeare in Love.
Toy Story 2 (1999) - I was a bit worried when they decided to make the sequel to Toy Story. The first one was so good, that they couldn't hope to come close to it with another one, let alone top what they did the first time around. Don't get me wrong, it's a fun film and fine for what it is, but in my opinion, it doesn't hold a candle to the first film.
As I mentioned above, the one good piece is that the voice cast remained mostly intact for the second iteration. I just recently watched Secret Life of Pets 2 and thought something was off about the lead character, but couldn't put my finger on it until I looked at the cast and found it was a different actor than the first film. It may seem like a small thing, but continuity in a character from film to film can have that effect.
With Randy Newman still in the saddle for writing the music on these films, he landed another Oscar nomination, this time for Best Original Song ("When She Loved Me"). The song lost out to "You'll Be in My Heart" from Tarzan.
Monsters, Inc. (2001) - At the time, I panned this film as just an excuse to show off the technology Pixar had been developing to deal with the movement of hair. Just watch the final chase scene where Sully, Boo, and Mike are riding the doors through the scare factory and you can see this on display in every single frame.
I have softened a bit on this film over the years and appreciate it now for again being something completely new and different that we'd seen before. The concept was completely unique, and showed kids that they need not be afraid of the things lurking in their closets at night. After all, those monsters are likely more scared of us than we are of them (2319 anyone?)
After disappointing showing for Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. vaulted Pixar solidly back into the Oscar spotlight. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature in the first year of the award along with Best Original Score (Newman yet again) and Best Sound Editing (Gary Rydstrom and Michael Silvers). It also won the award for Best Original Song for "If I Didn't Have You."
Finding Nemo (2003) - Nearly 15 years after The Little Mermaid, Pixar returned us to the world "under the sea" with the arrival of Finding Nemo. Returning to the tried and true method of killing off a parent at the beginning of the film, Nemo's mother is eaten by a barracuda, but his father survives and raises him to be overly cautious in the dangerous ocean.
I have to say, this is an absolutely beautiful film. The way the lighting changes throughout the film as Marlin and Dory travel through various parts of the ocean is absolutely stunning. The color palettes go from muted hues near the water treatment plant at the end of the film to the vibrant pinks of the jellyfish forest and everything in between.
The story of a father doing whatever it takes to find his lost son resonates strongly with me as a father myself. I also love the theme of family being not just those that you were born into, but that you can develop strong relationships into family-like bonds no matter who you interact with.
Nemo continued the trend with multiple nominations including Best Original Screenplay (Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, and David Reynolds), Best Original Score (Thomas Newman), and Best Sound Editing (Gary Rydstrom and Michael Silvers). It also won the award for Best Animated Feature Film, the first Pixar film to do so.
The Incredibles (2004) - The Incredibles are, well, incredible! Here we got a superhero movie (before Marvel made them cool) with a strong focus on family. The film obviously has some roots in the Fantastic Four comics, but this is an entire family of "supers."
The other thing I love about this film is that Pixar was willing to take some risks with the subject matter. We get a scene where Mr. Incredible believes his entire family has just been killed by a missile. We get a maniacal bad guy who is systematically killing off superheroes in an attempt to make a super weapon that no one can defeat. These are big things to tackle in a film that is ostensibly aimed at children.
The film repeated as the winner in the Best Animated Feature Film category and added another win for Best Sound Editing (Michael Silvers and Randy Thom). It was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay (Brad Bird) and Best Sound Mixing (Thom, Gary Rizzo, and Doc Kane.
Cars (2006) - By this time we'd had fish, ants, and monsters come to life in the Pixar films, not to mention the toys that started it all. Pixar was a decade into their history as a feature film studio and they turned the corner yet again with Cars.
Set in a world where the cars are the people, we meet Lightning McQueen (named after Pixar animator Glenn McQueen) who is a rookie race car who gets lost on the road to the final race of the season. When he lands in a backwater town called Radiator Springs, he must set his sizable ego aside and learn that sometimes he needs to slow down in life and recognize the good things going on around him.
The voice cast here is one of my favorites from Pixar and includes Own Wilson, Paul Newman, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, George Carlin along with celebrity cameos from Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Bob Costas, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, just to name a few.
While it didn't win any Oscars, the film was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Original Song ("Our Town" by Randy Newman).
Ratatouille (2007) - Perhaps one of the most underrated Pixar films, Ratatouille is still a favorite around our house, and one that we often stick with on television whenever we come across it.
We return to the world of animals, this time focusing in on a young rat name Remy who has an affinity for fine cuisine to the point of not wanting to walk on all fours because he doesn't want to get his front paws dirty. After a crazy escape from the relative tranquility of the countryside at the hands of an angry old lady with a shotgun, Remy finds himself in Paris at the restaurant of Auguste Gusteau, whose motto that "Anyone can cook" eventually applies even to rats.
I was actually surprised to see how many Oscar nominations this film received. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay (Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava, and Jim Capobianco), Best Original Score (Michael Giacchino), Best Sound Editing (Randy Thom and Michael Silvers), and Best Sound Mixing (Thom, Michael Semanick, and Doc Kane). It also won the award for Best Animated Feature Film.
WALL-E (2008) - With one of my favorite characters in a Pixar film, WALL-E quickly captured the hearts of many audiences. If you watch this film and can't immediately fall in love with the title character, there is something seriously wrong with you. Yes, he's just a robot, but he has such a personality throughout the film and he just wants a friend, other than his pet cockroach.
He things he's found that friend when EVE arrives looking for signs of life on a long dead Earth. When she is called back to the Axiom after WALL-E shows her a plant, the garbage robot tags along for an adventure into outer space he was never designed for.
The film is somewhat of a cautionary tale about the direction our planet seems to be heading where WALL-E spends his days building skyscrapers out of blocks of garbage among the ruins of real skyscrapers in an unnamed east coast city. Will we someday need to evacuate Earth in giant spaceliners simply because we have made our planet uninhabitable? With constant warnings about greenhouse gases and over forestation, it's not that far fetched.
Again, I was surprised by the number of Academy Award nominations WALL-E received. It was nominated for Best Original Score (Thomas Newman), Best Original Song ("Down to Earth" by Newman and Peter Gabriel), Best Sound Editing (Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood), Best Sound Mixing (Tom Myers, Michael Semanick, and Burtt), and Best Original Screenplay (Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, and Pete Docter). The film also won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.
Toy Story 3 (2010) - While Toy Story 2 was a little disappointing after the original, Toy Story 3 was a work of art. Just when you thought Woody's gang of toys from Andy's room couldn't get into any more precarious situations, they land in daycare and discover the harsh realities of toys that have been donated when their kids grow up.
For anyone who was an adolescent/teen when the first film came out (like me) this entry into the franchise brought about a wonderful sense of closure. We had grown up with Andy and moved from creating adventures with our toys just like he does in the first film, to realizing that while we still love our toys, it may be time for us to pass them on to someone else. Our only hope (like Andy's) is that whoever gets them next loves them the same way we did.
It's clear based on the number of screenplay nominations the Pixar crew has received over the years that they know how to put together a tremendous story, regardless of the fact that these are animated stories. This one has elements of a prison break story, a brutal mob boss, and the "incredible journey" home as well. It could literally be three or four different movies if it wanted to focus on a single plot line, but weaves them all together in a way that works.
The final sequence alone is worth the price of admission. As with WALL-E, there is something wrong with you if you watch the incinerator scene without getting a tear in your eye. In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, "love is love is love" no matter if it is between humans, animals, or in this case toys. The toys face their fate together and the important part is that they face certain death together, as they always have been.
This film did something only two other films have accomplished, getting an animated film into the Best Picture category. Even though it didn't win, being honored with that nomination among films like The King's Speech, Black Swan, Inception, and True Grit speaks volumes for the quality of film it was. It was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich) and Best Sound Editing (Tom Myers and Michael Silvers) with wins for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song ("We Belong Together" by Randy Newman).
Brave (2012) - I think the last time an animated film went to the British Isles was with The Sword in the Stone and Robin Hood back in the Disney Animation days. And we certainly had never really been in Scotland where Brave takes place.
Merida continues the tradition of strong young female characters who aren't afraid to go out and try new things and fend for themselves. The film plays with the idea of her being married off to one of many suitors, but she is having none of that and rigs the contest for her hand in marriage, managing to win herself and humiliate her suitors in the process.
After her mother and three younger brothers turn into bears, she must save them from her father who had an earlier run in with a bear that cost him a leg.
Brave took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature over films including Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots.
Inside Out (2015) - At the end of our list is another one that tugs on your heartstrings and may force you to weep openly at least once or twice.
My memory of this film was taking my family to see it at the drive-in a few years back. It was the first time our kids had been to the drive-in and this was the second film on a double feature. My wife and I sat with kids in our laps and marveled at the detail the filmmakers were able to include in this world they created, entirely inside our own heads!
The funniest thing about this is that for months afterward, anytime someone in our family would get mad, we would all recall Lewis Black's Anger, or if someone was sad for seemingly no reason, we would remember Phyllis Smith's Sadness. The characters were so spot on and so memorable that they could be called upon in almost any situation to help youngsters deal with their emotions. The fact that Riley in the film goes through a huge range of emotions in the 94 minute running time speaks volumes to what kids go through as they grow up from young kids to adolescents and eventually into teenagers.
This film also came at a crazy time in my own life and started to teach me the importance of slowing down and just enjoying the moments sometimes. Our technology often gets in the way, and it's still something I'm working on, but being able to sit and explore a world like this with my kids or even just get out for a walk with them is hugely important.
I mentioned the times when you will probably cry during this film and the disappearance of Bing Bong still gets me every time. Back in that drive-in parking lot, I remember the lead up to that sequence when Joy and Bing Bong try several times to make it out of the Memory Dump with no success. As soon as Bing Bong tells Joy "I have a feeling about this one," my wife and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes and knew the imaginary friend was lost forever just to save the childhood happiness represented by Joy.
Humans deal with many complex emotions in life and this film displays them in both good times and bad. It's important to let people be angry at times, sad at times, and even fearful, as long as there is a healthy balance between the various emotions.
Like several others, this film was nominated for Best Original Screenplay (Ronnie del Carmen, Josh Cooley, Peter Docter, and Meg LeFauve) with a win for Best Animated Feature Film.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?