Total Recall: Pixar Movies

With Cars 2 hitting theaters, we run down the animation studio's complete filmography in chronological order.

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The Incredibles


Pixar has been known to build a winsome feature around what looks like a questionable storyline, but they've also developed some wonderfully original stuff -- like 2004's The Incredibles, which looks at what can happen when a superhero trades in costumed adventure for domestic tranquility too soon. Exiled to a suburban family life after a series of mishaps leads to the government putting the kibosh on super-powered crimefighters, the former Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) deals with the monotony of his new job at an insurance company by sneaking out after hours and upholding truth and justice on the QT with his best friend, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson). His secret doesn't stay secret for long, of course -- not from his superhuman wife (Holly Hunter) and kids, and not from the supervillain whose nefarious plot draws them all together. As with roughly 70 percent of all kids' movies, The Incredibles teaches a lesson about the value of being yourself, but even if the moral of the story isn't exactly unique, the characters and situations offered a nifty twist on the superhero craze -- and writer/director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant) proved an excellent addition to the Pixar stable. It is, in the words of ReelViews' James Berardinelli, an "exemplary mixture of top-notch storytelling, visual razzle-dazzle, accessible humor, and involving action."



Even the most successful family can have a black sheep, and at a relatively paltry 74 percent on the Tomatometer, 2006's Cars is Pixar's. While not poor enough to break the studio's chain of Fresh certifications, the reviews that greeted this John Lasseter-directed tale of a young racecar (Owen Wilson) and his quest to wrest the Piston Cup from a pair of challengers (Michael Keaton and Richard Petty) weren't up to the usual Pixar standard; whether dismissing it as unoriginal (Christy Lemire of the Associated Press accused it of "[ripping] off Doc Hollywood, almost note for note) or overlong (the Chicago Reader's J.R. Jones called it "not a test of speed but endurance), the critics concluded that Cars ran a little too rough to stand alongside earlier classics. Audiences didn't mind, though -- it grossed over $460 million -- and even if it didn't measure up to Pixar's previous, it was still good enough to earn praise from scribes like Chris Vognar of the Dallas Morning News, who wrote, "no other outfit can match Pixar's knack for plucking heartstrings without tearing them off the frets."



For anyone who'd been counting down the days until Pixar's inevitable downfall, the period between the lukewarm critical reception afforded Cars and the debut of 2007's Ratatouille seemed like it might be the beginning of the end: not only was the studio working on a movie with a rather unappetizing protagonist -- a rat who wanted to be a gourmet chef -- but the movie itself had something of a troubled journey to the screen, including a Pixar-mandated director swap that ousted the film's creator, Jan Pinkava, and replaced him with Brad Bird. All's well that ends well, though, and by the time Ratatouille reached theaters in June of '07, it was abundantly clear that all the creative turmoil had paid off -- not only did it provide Pixar with another box office bonanza, gathering up more than $621 million in worldwide receipts, but it quickly established itself as yet another critical winner for the studio, ending up with a 96 percent Tomatometer rating and a bunch of glowing reviews from critics like Newsweek's David Ansen, who called it "a film as rich as a sauce béarnaise, as refreshing as a raspberry sorbet, and a lot less predictable than the damn food metaphors and adjectives all us critics will churn out to describe it. OK, one more and then I'll be done: it's yummy."



How do you deal with the incredible expectations created by eight films, and almost 15 years, of solid excellence? Conventional wisdom would say to play it safe and fall back on everything that's worked for you before -- but Pixar has never been conventional, and they proved it again with 2008's WALL-E, a movie that took the studio's knack for adorable characters and hyper-realistic CG animation and flung it into the uncharted (and even a little avant garde) regions of outer kidvid space. It's hard to imagine any other studio having success with a family film this idiosyncratic -- a movie about a lonely trash-compacting robot with a mostly dialogue-free first act doesn't exactly scream summer blockbuster -- but audiences trusted the Pixar brand enough to show up in droves, and they were rewarded with not only one of the best-reviewed animated releases of 2008, but what was, in the words of the Boston Globe's Jay Carr, "the best American film of the year to date." WALL-E came with a surprising bit of controversy, drawing fire from conservative pundits who were annoyed with what they interpreted as a left-wing, anti-business message, but its 96 percent Tomatometer and massive $534 million gross drowned out the chatter. As with just about everything Pixar has done, it works whether you're looking to be edified or simply entertained; as the New York Times' A.O. Scott noted, "it is, undoubtedly, an earnest (though far from simplistic) ecological parable, but it is also a disarmingly sweet and simple love story, Chaplinesque in its emotional purity."



After heading into space for WALL-E, Pixar returned to Earth for their next feature, 2009's Up -- but they continued to push the boundaries of mainstream American animation, using a story with a certain amount of surface silliness (grumpy old man uses balloons to send his house airborne and turn his back on society, only to discover a young stowaway) to explore such decidedly serious themes as death, regret, aging, and friendship. Like WALL-E, Up takes its time getting to the speaking parts, opening with an extended musical sequence depicting the decades-long love story between Carl Fredericksen (played by Ed Asner) and his wife Ellie (Elizabeth Docter). Without a single word of dialogue, Up reduced many filmgoers to tears -- and it was just getting started. By the time it was all over, Up had taken audiences on a journey from crowded city streets to the tepui mountains of Venezuela, helped mend Carl's broken heart, shared a message or two, and scored only the second Best Picture Academy Award nomination for an animated feature in history. At 98 percent on the Tomatometer, Up was one of the best-reviewed movies of the year, and a favorite of critics such as the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan, who wrote, "Rarely has any film, let alone an animated one powered by the logic of dream and fantasy, been able to move so successfully -- and so effortlessly -- through so many different kinds of cinematic territory."

Toy Story 3


By the time they reach their third installments, most franchises have either been corrupted by time (The Godfather Part III), stretched beyond sensible narrative limits (Die Hard with a Vengeance), or simply stopped trying (Superman III). Leave it to Pixar to create an exception to the rule with Toy Story 3, which used the decade-plus between sequels as a framing device for a poignant story about the exciting (and emotionally wrenching) transition between childhood and adulthood. Of course, it wasn't all dramatic overtones; Toy Story 3 also made room for action-adventure, in the form of a daring, Great Escape-inspired plot to bust the toys out of their new home at the local daycare. It all added up to over $1 billion at the box office, five Academy Award nominations (including wins for Best Song and Best Animated Feature), and almost universal praise from critics like Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, who called it "A bona fide summer delight loaded with action, humor, nostalgia, a veritable blizzard of pop-culture references and general good vibes."

In case you were wondering, here's how Pixar's films rank according RT users' scores:

1. Toy Story 3 -- 91%
2. WALL-E -- 89%
3. Up -- 86%
4. Ratatouille -- 84%
5. Monsters, Inc -- 83%
6. Toy Story -- 81%
7. Finding Nemo -- 80%
8. Cars -- 80%
9. Toy Story 2 -- 72%
10. The Incredibles -- 67%
11. A Bug's Life -- 61%

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don't forget to check out the reviews for Cars 2.

Finally, here's Pixar's first Oscar winner -- 1988's Tin Toy: