A World of Pure Imagination
Walt Disney built his company around a few simple characters. And for better or worse, that humble beginning has led to Disney becoming one of the most powerful and influential media companies on the planet.
And ever since Disney’s fabled collaborations with Pixar (eventually leading to the purchase of Pixar in 2006), the studio has been shot through with a new wave of creativity and originality.
We asked ourselves to do the difficult work of trying to list out our favorite Disney and Pixar movies from before and after the buyout. See if any of yours made the list.
From media maven Brad Bird, ‘Ratatouille’ has a plotline that’s easy to mistake as goofy or just plain weird: a rat from the French countryside cooks through an incompetent garbage boy by pulling on his hair.
But in practice, the movie is somehow able to make you care deeply about this unlikely duo and their standing in the Parisian culinary scene.
A singularly moving performance by Peter O’Toole as unforgiving food critic Anton Ego rounds out a film whose performances are as stellar as its visuals.
It may, in fact, be one of my favorite depictions of Paris in any movie. It’s not a realistic depiction, far from it. Instead, it keeps the viewer in a state of total magic, a world where the lighting is always beautiful, where words always have purpose.
‘Ratatouille’ was also able to find a universal subject matter that appeals to both children and adults — the mark of a truly great Disney movie.
2. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Who knew that a stop-motion animated film from 1993 could feel so essentially modern, even more than 20 years after its release.
And while visionary filmmaker Tim Burton did not in fact direct ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ (the reins were firmly in the hands of Henry Selick), he did conceive of the characters and the basic storyline, all of which beautifully ride the line between genuinely creepy and intensely heartwarming.
Against all odds, the movie has become a classic for both Halloween and Christmas viewing. And to top it all off, you’ve got some of Danny Elfman’s best musical work, ranging from sentimental showtune numbers to big bang and swing.
3. The Lion King
It’s difficult to summarize the significance of ‘The Lion King,’ both as a movie and a cultural watershed.
With a score by the now-monumental Hans Zimmer, pop tracks from Sir Elton John, and an art style that remains absolutely mesmerizing, the resounding descriptor for this one is “monumental.”
For many others like me, ‘The Lion King’ was the childhood VHS that got played more than any other, over and over again until the tape itself started to fade.
There’s Shakespearean influence here, as well as masterful pacing and a family-friendly tone that gets dark but never so dark as to make it unwatchable.
The upcoming CG remake certainly has some big shoes to fill, or, rather, some very big pawprints.
4. Toy Story
This is a movie that launched an empire. From then-scrappy Pixar came this strange thing, the first ever fully CGI feature-length film.
The animators overcame the limitations of the technology by focusing on lively toy characters rather than on the slightly unsettling renderings of Andy and his human family.
Even at the start, Pixar was telling stories about growing up, feeling left out, and wanting to belong while still maintaining a sense of individuality. It’s really no surprise that audiences connected with these characters, who in the end felt more real and human than Andy.
And the sequels have only served to add depth and profound meaning to these characters and their steadily shifting personalities.
5. The Emperor’s New Groove
While ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ is an astonishingly fun movie all the way through, its backstory and years of production hell only make it that much more of an impressive feat.
Originally conceived of as the Incan cultural equivalent of ‘The Lion King,’ integrating elements of an entire people’s history and mythmaking into a 90-minute flick.
A 180-degree turn late in production meant scrapping the story and most of the characters. This movie, as we know it, had to come together very quickly.
And it’s nothing short of a miracle that it actually turned out to be one of the most exciting, contemporary, and hilarious Disney movies of the early 2000s, or even the last 20 years for that matter.
Oh yeah, and it just might be one of Eartha Kitt’s greatest performances, maybe ever.
Certain movies are just a tribute to the power of visual storytelling and ‘Up’ will likely be remembered as one of them.
The “Married Life” scene of this movie is arguably the best scene in any Pixar movie. And it’s maybe to the movie’s detriment that a majority of the plot doesn’t quite have that same kind of vibrancy.
But by the end of the story, it all comes back around to heart and heartache and the sadness of loving others. You don’t even notice that the movie has been teaching you something the whole way through.
‘Up’ was possibly the unofficial Pixar peak, before production turned more toward sequels rather than original stories that found their own footings.
7. The Princess and the Frog
‘The Princess and the Frog’ holds a place in our hearts for many reasons.
For one, it featured a black female lead, which even today is still relatively unheard of, both in animation and mainstream cinema as a whole.
It also brought Randy Newman back to make some killer music about having dreams, and wanting more, and not knowing where to go next.
This is also the most recent, and will perhaps be the very last, 2D animated Disney movie, which should be a bigger deal than it is. Disney exists today because of 2D animation.
And while CGI has taken its place as our favorite way to consume children’s movies, ‘The Princess and the Frog’ reminded audiences of the impressive emotive visuals that can be gotten out of 2D.