The Top Ten (or so) Films of the Decade: #2 Finding Nemo (Stanton, 2003)/ The Incredibles (Bird, 2004)/ Ratatouille (Bird, 2007)/ Wall*E (Stanton, 2008)
I refuse to believe that this is cheating. For one thing, I’ve been hinting at it all along– these are me top ten or so films, 2000-2009. For another, I honestly can’t decide. Two years ago, I was pretty sure Pixar’s aughties opus was The Incredibles. This time last year, I was dead set on Wall*E. Today, I’m thinking Ratatouille. So it goes.
These four films are, to be sure, very different critters. But what they represent, when taken together, is something singular and astonishing: Four movies, two directors, and one studio with a passion and a sense of integrity that set their work in a class entirely of its own. If you’re making all-ages, animated movies in the 00s and you’re not working for Pixar– well, chances are, it sucks to be you.
Animation aside, these are standard-setting films, uniform in their commitment to excellence in terms of plot and character. Visually, they’re dazzling, but only in service of story. They’re witty, too, but not cluttered with pop culture in-jokes or lowbrow humor. They’re movies for kids and adults, made with the conviction that if you’re going to make a great children’s movie, it must also work as a great grown-ups’ movie.
Taken separately, all are landmark films., and they deserve superlatives that have nothing to do with their animation. Consider, if you will, that Finding Nemo is among the most colorful and exhilarating adventure movies of the last ten years. Consider that The Incredibles is the most creative superhero movies of the decade, and one of its most compelling family dramas. Consider that Ratatouille belongs on the short-list of the all-time great movies about art– and about food. And consider that Wall*E is arguably the decade’s finest, purest science fiction; and with its virtually silent opening act, it’s one of the bravest mainstream, summer blockbuster offerings.
Taken together, these are movies that stand for something. It’s telling, I think, that a new Pixar movie is almost always greeted with attempts at politicizing; the left-wing was, you might recall, annoyed at The Incredibles for portraying a traditional family in a positive light, while the right was up in arms over Wall*E as some kind of environmentalist propaganda. These are shallow and silly readings both; ultimately, these films are all about something much bigger. They are, I think, about respect: The respect between parent and child; the respect between family members, and members of a society; the respect of the artist; and the respect for our world and our own shared humanity.
I will note that, in an effort to be at least somewhat decisive with the Pixar canon, I have included here only four of their seven post-2000 films. Monsters Inc. is a wonderful Saturday morning cartoon, zany and original but not quite as substantial as the films listed here. Cars, too, is a great movie, but comes up just a touch short of grade-A Pixar magic. And Up, though one of the best movies about marriage I’ve ever seen, is still just a bit too recent for me to feel right about including it among these classics. But give it a year or so and I’m sure this mortal lock will be even tougher for me to sort out.