Disney has long been one of the most innovative names in entertainment, from groundbreaking animation to the acquisition and development of blockbuster franchises like Marvel and Star Wars. But before it got into the acquisition game, Disney’s partnership with Pixar introduced computer animation to the world and opened up a new realm of possibility in film.
Through Disney+, Disney has made it easier than ever before to enjoy Pixar’s diverse catalog, from its beautiful shorts to the features themselves. With all that content available, however, it’s not a matter of what can I watch but what should I watch? These are the best Pixar films currently streaming on Disney+.
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Pixar’s newest release went directly to Disney+ on Christmas Day in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Jamie Foxx voices Joe Gardner, a middle school band teacher whose jazz career never quite took off. But when one of his former students calls him with an opportunity to play a gig with the renowned Dorothea Williams Quartet, he thinks his life is about to finally change. Unfortunately, in his excitement, he falls into a manhole and is shipped off to The Great Beyond. Unwilling to give up his shot, Joe panics, finding himself instead in The Great Before, where he meets an intransigent soul named 22 who has refused for millennia to go to Earth. They strike a deal in which Joe will help 22 finally earn the Earth Pass, which he’ll use as his ticket back to his body.
What better place to start than with the original Pixar film? It’s not just the original Pixar film, however; it’s the first entirely computer-animated film in history. But Toy Story was groundbreaking when it released in 1995 not just because of the animation but due to its surprising depth and heart that hadn’t really been seen in an ostensibly children’s movie before. It’s a film for the kid in everyone, that believes that imagination and childhood are the ultimate gifts. Through Woody, Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, Rex, and the rest of the toys in Andy’s bedroom, we see a magical world that delightfully mirrors our own but refuses to grow up. Adults, frankly, may learn more from this film than children do. It’s rare in life that your first attempt at something is your best work, but considering Toy Story has spawned three sequels, it feels safe to say this is one of the most successful and enduring film franchises on the planet.
Pixar’s most recent release came to Disney+ earlier than expected. Onward takes place in a fairy tale world that looks a whole lot like modern-day Los Angeles. You see, the world was once full of magic, but magic was tough to master. When technology made things more convenient, magic all but disappeared from the world. Now, there are trash-eating unicorns on every block and once-powerful creatures like the Manticore operate kitschy family restaurants. But when two teenage boys are given a magical staff by their late father, they perform a magical spell to bring their dad back for one day. Unfortunately, the spell goes wrong and they only bring back his lower half. Now, they must set out on a quest to complete the spell lest they waste their one day with their father. The journey is filled with cryptic maps, impossible obstacles, unimaginable discoveries, and, as you might expect, plenty of magic.
With a cast led by comedians Albert Brooks and Ellen Degeneres, Finding Nemo is one of the most transparently comedic movies in the Pixar repertoire. However, it’s also one of the more socially conscious films as well, with a subtle message of conservation enduring throughout clownfish Marlin’s (Brooks) epic search across the ocean to find his lost son, Nemo. As Pixar’s first film set beneath the sea, the visuals in this one are breathtaking and remind us not just of the ocean’s beauty but of its essential nature to the planet. Plus, with characters like the absent-minded Dory, surfer bro sea turtles, and vegetarian sharks, the trip to P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way Sydney is a load of fun.
Perhaps Up‘s greatest claim to fame is how fast it makes you start crying your eyes out. With one of the most touching, heart-wrenching, tidy opening scenes of any film, Up takes you through the entire lifecycle of a relationship and establishes the character dynamics and narrative fuel that will power the entire film in about five minutes. It’s a rare film that starts you in tears and uplifts you throughout the rest of the story. Literally, as it happens, as the story follows an elderly gentleman who attaches enough balloons to his home to fly away to the paradise he never managed to visit with his wife while she was alive. There are laughs aplenty, too, but Up is one of the tear-jerking films in the Pixar repertoire for both sad and joyous reasons.
WALL-E appeals to a range of people, from imaginative kids to science-fiction buffs. While Finding Nemo‘s conservation is more subtle, WALL-E overtly warns of the dangers of mass consumption and mindfully critiques our past and present. While it may not be one to watch at the holidays with a bipartisan family, this anti-corporate, pro-environment film is a satirical look at global greed and gluttony, one that poses provocative questions about humanity’s relationship with technology. It’s a thoughtful movie about what it means to be human, starring an out-of-date robot and its next-gen companion. Naturally, it’s one of Pixar’s finest explorations of humanity.
The Incredibles didn’t precede superhero movies by any means, but it did take on the superhero genre well before the mass expansion of the Marvel and DC cinematic universes. Unencumbered by backstory, tropes, or rules, The Incredibles came at superhero movies with a fresh eye by centering the story on an entire superpowered family. You think your family is dysfunctional, try giving superpowers to everyone and asking the kids to figure out how to use them while a supervillain embarks on a vendetta to destroy you all. The problem is, superheroes are not legally allowed to operate in the open after harsh national legislation. With a fun mix of adventure, humor, and an exploration of justice and the meaning of family, The Incredibles has more depth than the average superhero movie without sacrificing any of the action.
Pixar has never shied away from incorporating diverse cultures, viewpoints, and worlds into its universe and, by centering around Dia de Los Muertos, Coco is one of the most visually stunning feats in the entire Pixar collection. This lush, colorful fantasy follows a little boy, Coco, on a magical journey into the afterlife as he uncovers secrets and discovers a deeper connection to his family, his heritage, and his own future. One of the most musical of the Pixar films, Coco makes you want to sing, dance, and revel in the excitement, right up until it starts strumming chords on your heartstrings.
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