Disney studios made a rare error in judgement when they utterly rejected a proposal for an entirely computer generated animation film, even going so far as to fire the proposer, John Lasseter. Lasseter had been introduced to the concept of computer generated imagery when he saw one of the computer generated sequences from the movie Tron. Unbowed, Lasseter moved to Lucasfilm and then later to became a founder member of Pixar, who exploded into the film industry with their first full length feature film. So successful was that first film that Disney came back to Lasseter, cap in hand, inviting him to return. Lasseter declined the offer, preferring to stay with Pixar and ‘make history’ which encouraged Disney to contract with Pixar instead.
10. Cars 2
Cars 2 is the second film about Lightning McQueen, a bright red race car who loves speeding around race-tracks, bantering with his friends, especially the rusty and battered but sturdy Mater, and having adventures. The sequel is arguably better than the original movie, Cars, in that it is set all around the world, taking in Tokyo, Paris and London and has a wonderful spy movie vibe, with all manner of spy tech and gadgetry included. The voice talents of Owen Wilson as Lightning and Larry the Cable Guy are joined by mega-star Michael Caine as Finn McMissile a British secret agent and Eddie Izzard as villain Sir Miles Axelrod. Despite the mixed reviews and ‘rotten’ rating on review website Rotten Tomatoes, Cars 2 performed well at the box office, raking in a highly satisfactory US$559 million at the box office and ranking at number one in its first week of opening.
9. The Incredibles
Released in 2004, The Incredibles proved popular with critics and the public alike, making a massive US$631 million at the box office, having been created with a budget of just under U$100 million. The story brought back the golden age of super heroes, but added a modern-day litigious feel, with those with supernatural powers, known as ‘Supers’ in the film, being forced to go ‘underground’ hiding their powers and living ‘normal’, somewhat dull lives. Needless to say, a few of the Supers find this a stifling lifestyle and begin to fight crime and save lives wherever they can, taking care not to be spotted by law enforcement. The Incredibles are a family comprising Mr Incredible, a super strong hero and his wife, the one-time Elastigirl, and their three children, Dash who can run incredibly fast, Violet who has defensive powers and the baby Jack-Jack who seems to have no super powers at all. Mr Incredible is drawn into a trap by the villain and the whole family heads off to save him, leaving Jack-Jack with a baby-sitter. Along the way, the family is aided by Edna Mode, a clear and delightful homage to the great late Edith Head, dress designer to many of Hollywood’s greatest stars.
8. A Bug’s Life
A retelling of the Aesop’s fable ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’ with a thoroughly modern twist (the grasshoppers have the air and sound effects of a brutal, bullying motorcycle gang) A Bug’s Life tells the tale of Flik, an ant with a mind of his own and the determination to be different and creative. The story shows how the bullying tactics of the grasshoppers is based on a fear that the much smaller ants would realise that they actually have a huge advantage over the grasshoppers, that of quantity: there are many more ants than there are grasshoppers. Thanks to Flik’s ingenuity the ants eventually realise this advantage and defeat the grasshoppers; which enables them all to relax a bit more and invest in creativity and imagination. The film did very well, despite coming under severe competition from a very similar title from rival film company Dreamworks, called Antz, also about the antics of one free-spirit in an ant colony. A Bug’s Life followed the end credits with a ‘gag reel’ in which the characters fluff their lines, misquote other movies and generally show life ‘behind the scenes’. This followed a growing trend, adored by the public, for showing such behind the scenes antics, as evidence by shows such as ‘Pardon my Blooper’ and ‘TV’s Naughtiest Blunders’ and was seen as something of a bonus after the main feature.
7. Monster’s Inc.
Monster’s Inc. tells of how the secretive world of monsters is powered by the screams of children. The story plays on the childhood fear of monsters in the closet and uses children’s wardrobes as an entry point into the world of humans. To prevent any monsters becoming attached to their ‘prey’ they are all told that children are toxic to monsters and that any interaction with them should be avoided, apart from the necessary contact to create and capture the screams. The main characters of James P Sullivan, better known as Sulley, and Mike Wazowski are a team that aims to top the leader-board for most scares, hotly pursued by the sinister Randall, who is not above cheating in order to beat Sulley’s great record. Along the way a little girl finds her way into the world of the monsters and Mike and Sulley come to realise that she, and presumably other children too, poses no threat to them or their way of life. The movie draws to a happy conclusion when Randall and the factory manager’s evil plot to extract screams by means of a torture device are found to be unnecessary when it is realised that while a child’s fear is powerful, their laughter is even more so! The movie performed well at the box office, making over US$500 million after a budget of US$115 million, and scored well with parents and older viewers as well as children.
6. Finding Nemo
After a sad beginning, the death of Nemo’s mother and all of his siblings while still at the egg stage, Finding Nemo soon warms up into a charming tale of a father’s love warring with Nemo’s desire for independence. Nemo’s capture and his father, Marlin’s quest to recover him, teaches them both valuable lessons, while both father and son make friends along the way. The greedy and not terribly bright seagulls and the possessive and territorial crabs add comedic notes to lighten what could be an emotionally charged journey. The underwater adventure was very well received by critics and the public alike and the movie made a very impressive US$936 million at the box office, going on to win many awards. After the release of the movie as a DVD it became the best-selling DVD of all time, with 40 million copies sold.
Brave is set in Scotland in medieval times and highlights the expectation of the times; that daughters must be ‘good’ and obedient, neat and ladylike, with little in the way of free will, common sense or intelligence expected or needed. The fiery Merida refuses to submit to her parent’s wishes by choosing one of the neighbouring clans’ sons as her suitor and flees into the forest. Meeting a witch deep in the forest, Merida turns her proud and lady-like mother into a bear: the symbol for brutish and ugly violence. The outcome shows Merida reconciled with her mother, with both now prepared to work towards compromise in their lives. In order to accurately captive the soft mists and mysticism of ancient Scotland Pixar was forced to completely rewrite their animation system for the first time in their twenty-five years of existence. Brave introduces Merida as the hero of the piece, neither needing nor relying on any ‘Prince Charming’ to save her, and retains the feminine theme by focusing on the relationship between mother and daughter while the menfolk are portrayed as fairly superficial creatures, who live in the moment and enjoy hunting, eating and showing off more than anything else in the world.
WALL-E is a charming space adventure, love story and warning about the growing tendency of us humans to destroy our world and neglect our bodily health all in one. Humans have fled the planet and exist aboard an immense space ship, slowly becoming fatter and more helpless as robots and automated machines do all the work. WALL-E is the last of his kind, sturdy and battered old tech robots designed to clean up the dreadful mess left behind by the humans. As he cleans up the planet he studies the objects he finds and wonders about what the world was like. An old video showing dancing and singing appeals to him, and he longs to hold hands with someone one day. A periodic survey from the space ship sees EVE, a high tech robot, come to the planet to look for any signs that the planet is healing itself. The burgeoning friendship between the battered WALL-E and cutting edge EVE is cut short when he shows her a small plant that he has found and transplanted into an old boot. When EVE takes the plant back to the spaceship, the love-struck WALL-E follows, helping her and the hapless captain battle the evil Auto who has been programmed that the planet is beyond saving and must never be revisited. Despite the main characters of the movie being robots, the animators managed to bring a great humanity and wealth of expression to the characters, which helped to make the movie one of Pixar’s all time most popular movies with children and adults alike.
3. Toy Story 3
The third in the series that started Pixar’s tremendous successes, Toy Story 3 shows Woody, Buzz and the gang accidentally thrown into the garbage, despite the now nearly grown-up Andy’s intention to give the toys away. The realistic emotions felt by the toys, the grim cruelty of Lotso, the villain of the story and the slightly creepy but tragic story of the baby doll, Big Baby, combine to allow us a glimpse into the world of toys, passionately loved for a short time, then abandoned or neglected as their owners grow up and replace their love of toys with more adult gadgets and pastimes. Andy is delighted to find Woody and the other toys at the end of the movie and plays with them all one last time, before regretfully, but trustingly, passing them onto Bonnie, promises to love them all for ever. The accidental resetting of Buzz Lightyear to his Spanish mode gives Jessie a glimpse into his passionate and romantic side, to Buzz’ great disconcert when he realises what has happened, as well as providing some great comedy fun. Toy Story 3 was the first film produced by Pixar after its acquisition by Disney Studios and made a massive US$1,053 million at the box office, making it the highest-grossing film of2010 and the eleventh highest-grossing film of all time.
2. Toy Story
The very first entirely computer generated movie and the one that established Pixar as a serious player in the world of animation movies, Toy Story was hotly debated from the moment it was announced. May people, not understanding exactly how rapidly the world of computer graphics had advanced imagined the movie would look something like the clunky movements and pixelated images of older computer games. The reality, smooth graphics and carefully rendered backgrounds, was a huge delight to audiences of all ages, who loved the premise behind the story: that toys just want to be owned, loved and played with. The technical superiority of the film was highlighted, with Woody alone having 723 motion controls, many in his face to accurately express emotions. The director wanted to show Disney that not only could computer generated animation match the golden days of hand-drawn characters, but better it, with accurate shadows falling, and every detail minutely rendered for a realistic look.
Up is something a little different from the usual children’s movie, in that the hero of the piece is a somewhat crusty old man who does not particularly like children. Carl Frederickson’s back story is a tear-jerking one and we follow his life from when he met his sweetheart when they were both children, their happy wedding and blithe plans for children: plans which came to nought as we discover that she could not have a child. Philosophically, they begin to save to go and visit Paradise Falls, a place they have both wanted to see since watching a television programme about an explorer, but tragedy intervenes before they can go. The heart-warming tale shows how Carl, broken-hearted after Ellie’s death, and frustrated by the relentless development of his neighbourhood, fixes thousands of colourful balloons to his home, causing it to lift to and float away on the breeze. Russell, a keen but somewhat bumbling boy scout and Kevin, a talking dog, join Carl on his quest to Paradise Falls: during which time Carl begins to feel sympathy for Russell. The house eventually lands next to the falls, as per Ellie’s wish, but Carl and Russell return to the city and Carl attends Russell’s badge ceremony as a kind of honorary grandparent. This charming film shows how old age does not have to mean the end of dreams and ambitions.