Cranney: Pixar films not exclusively for the kids

Joey CranneyI’m a 20-year-old college student who sleeps underneath a “Toy Story” poster every night.

As a part of a mildly disturbing – but totally justifiable –  years-long obsession my bedroom is topped only by Andy’s himself when it comes to “Toy Story” memorabilia.

I have multiple “Toy Story” PEZ dispensers, a “Toy Story” coffee mug, a “Toy Story” guitar strap, an adult-sized cowboy hat and too many Sherriff Woody dolls to count. I’ve been Woody for Halloween three times, including last year.

It gets weirder.

When I would have to sign my name in greeting cards as a kid, I used to write “Woody” instead of “Joey.” We still have an “I Spy” book that says, “This book is the property of Woody.”

Obviously, my childhood adoration for “Toy Story” has extended into my adult years, but the Woody-and-Buzz infatuation has formulated itself in other ways, too. It’s really not so much a Toy Story fixation as it is an admiration for all things Disney Pixar.

Now a multi-billion dollar company, Disney Pixar got its start in 1995 with “Toy Story,” the first feature-length computer generated film in history. The start-up was released in my formative years, so naturally I latched on as Pixar continued churning out one animated classic after another.

I can rattle off the address on the back of the goggles in “Finding Nemo” as quickly as Dory does in her excitable fish speak. I could pick Boo’s bedroom door from “Monster’s Inc.” out of a lineup and can explain the powers of each family member of “The Incredibles.” When someone mistakenly identifies the rat in “Ratatouille” as being a title character, I’m quick to offer a correction: His name is Remy.

By any measure, Disney Pixar has been the most successful American film studio since it broke through in 1995. Pixar averages nearly $600 million in worldwide gross per film, and “Toy Story 3” is the 10th-highest grossing film of all time. Pixar films have also received an average score of 81 from Metacritic.com, a review aggregate, indicating “universal acclaim” from movie critics of major news publications.

In total, Pixar has won 11 Academy Awards, including a “Special Achievement Award” for “Toy Story” director John Lasseter. The Oscars created the “Animated Feature Film” category in 2001 mostly to accommodate the slew of Pixar films that weren’t being honored in other categories.

Trying to enumerate such a highly-acclaimed, well-watched and totally consistent series of films might seem impossibly hard, but there’s no doubt that I, as a Pixar junkie and list aficionado, have years of experience to draw from.

More so than perhaps any list I can create, the 10 selections I make are all awesome achievements of their own, inspiring in their creativity and staggering by the scope of their influence.

A list of the Top 10 Pixar Films isn’t so much a ranking as it is a celebration of a studio that stays dedicated to the art of storytelling and never falters on its appeal to the kid in all of us.

10. Cars

“Cars” gets some of the least amount of love of any Pixar movie, but I’ll defend its commendable message and stellar voice cast. As far as protagonists go, Lightning McQueen leaves something to be desired, but his surrounding characters more than make up for lost ground.

9. The Incredibles

Of all Pixar movies, “The Incredibles” feels the least Disney, with its familiar tale of a band of superheroes. But no matter where the story comes from, it’s supremely entertaining and masterfully executed. Edna Mode is one of Pixar’s best characters.

8. Ratatouille

I’m a sucker for rats, but Brad Bird’s 2007 masterpiece, the story of a rat with a dream to be a chef in Paris, is relatable to anyone with a passion. The scenes of Remy conducting Alfredo’s movements are reminiscent of Disney’s classic animation days.

7. Wall-E

Pixar’s most ambitious film, “Wall-E” dares to depict a future where humans have destroyed the planet and employ robots to clean up the mess and look for signs of life. The willingness of the studio, largely marketed to children, to put itself behind such a film and its ability to pull it off is as good an indication of Pixar’s genius as any.

6. Monster’s Inc.

Pete Docter, John Lasseter’s protégé on the first two “Toy Story” installments, got his directorial debut with 2001’s “Monster’s Inc.” In addition to being one of the company’s best stories, “Monster’s Inc.” also had Pixar’s first standout score, ushering in a decade of some of the film industry’s finest movie music.

5. Toy Story 2

The folks at Pixar appeared to have made their first misstep when they began production on a straight-to-video sequel of “Toy Story,” but the final product was so good that the studio decided to mass release it in theaters. A risky move paid off, as “Toy Story 2” had all of the heart, humor and entertainment value of the original.

4. Up

An old man befriends a boy scout as they journey to South America: only Pixar could pull off a movie with that kind of tagline. But “Up” is actually about an old man’s quest to fulfill his lost love’s lifelong wish. The beginning montage, which wordlessly tells Carl and Ellie’s story, is Pixar’s finest hour.

3. Finding Nemo

Disney’s mission statement is to make movies with stories that are so universally appealing that they aren’t geared toward a specific age group. With “Finding Nemo,” a legitimately hilarious, immensely entertaining, family-oriented ocean adventure, Pixar has done its best job yet in sticking to its foundations.

2. Toy Story 3

Out of all of the movies on the list, “Toy Story 3” is the most perfect. It deals with issues like abandonment, death and love but never loses its heart or sense of innocence. It also manages to create a more-than-satisfying ending to one of the greatest movie series of all time. It’s a true masterpiece.

1. Toy Story

This was a foregone conclusion. “Toy Story” is my favorite movie of all time and one of the most important films ever made; a technologically advanced master class in storytelling that astonished audiences and created a new genre in filmmaking. Its influence expands to infinity and beyond.

Joey Cranney can be reached at joseph.cranney@temple.edu or on Twitter @joey_cranney.

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