I know this might sound like a ludicrous statement since Pixar movies have been critical darlings ever since they debuted back in 1995 with Toy Story, but I think now, more than ever before, is Pixar's golden age. I initially thought this when I first watched Soul (which we ranked as the best film out of the top 10 movies of 2020). But this was absolutely confirmed after I watched 2021's Luca, and most recently, 2022's Turning Red. No doubt about it, Pixar is currently taking its victory lap.
And this is no small feat, since they're not alone anymore in the outstanding animation department. Yes, their former rivals would have probably been DreamWorks Animation, but ever since 2013's Frozen (even though I always thought Tangled was better than Frozen), Disney themselves have been on a roll with recent classics like Moana and the new animated musical, Encanto, to steal the former champ's thunder. Not only that, but films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which is my, and many others, absolute favorite Spider-Man movie even took the coveted Best Animation Oscar away from Incredibles 2 back in 2019, with Pixar always being the former Oscar favorites.
And yet, with exciting movies like Soul and Turning Red, I'd still rather watch a Pixar animated movie more than any other studio's, and it's all because, as I already mentioned, Pixar is in its golden era. How, you may ask, when they've already released classics like Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and Inside Out many moons ago? Well, I have four reasons why, and you're about to find out.
Pixar Movies Deal With More Mature Topics Now Than They've Ever Dealt With Before, Which Is Perfect For Adults
I first realized that Pixar had given up focusing purely on children when I watched Soul and found that my own children were not invested in it at all. My daughter sort of watched it with me, but my son gave up on it about midway through and started banging his Ben 10 action figures together. But, I absolutely adored it.
That said, I completely understand why my children didn't care to watch a story about a middle-aged man going through an existential crisis who feels like he's wasting his life, only to ironically die when he finally gets his shot. I mean, how is that a story for children? Sure, his soul eventually finds itself inside the body of a cat, and hilarity ensues, but it's not the same silliness that can be found in a movie like, say, Up, which started out serious, but then dovetailed into a story that featured dogs flying airplanes. Soul's entire story, however, stayed focused on the concept of what it means to exist rather than to just live. A children film, it's not.
And while Luca and Turning Red are definitely more child-friendly than Soul, I find that both of those films have very strong B-stories involving the parents of the young protagonists having to learn to be more supportive of their children growing up. This is definitely more adult-focused than say, Andy's mom in Toy Story. Yes, one could argue that Finding Nemo did the whole worried parent dealing with giving their child more freedom plot even before Turning Red or Luca (or Coco, for that matter).
But Finding Nemo is more of an outlier than the standard, and even that felt more aimed toward children learning a lesson about listening to your parents rather than Nemo's father learning a lesson about giving his child more freedom. In many ways, Pixar films feel like they've grown up, which makes sense, since (and this will make you feel old), many of the children who grew up with Toy Story are now of parental age themselves.
That Said, They Still Discuss Topics In A Manner That Is Digestible For Children, Like Getting Your Period, Coming Out To Your Parents, And Death
You know, I never thought an animated film would allow me easy access for discussing periods with my daughter, but Turning Red gave me that ability. Early on in the film, the protagonist is having trouble controlling her emotions, and she turns into a giant red panda. But, her mother at first thinks it may be her period, and she is trying to offer her daughter pads, to which my own daughter asked, "What are pads?" Since this was in the movie, it allowed me to explain periods to my daughter, and also how her own mother, my wife, has pads in the bathroom. Turning Red gave me that jumping off point, which is amazing.
There is also a short on Disney+ called Out, which is about a gay man struggling to come out to his parents, and he transfers his consciousness into his dog. It's really cute, but it also allowed me an opening to discuss gay relationships with my children in a way that they could easily digest.
Same with discussing death when it came to Coco (Again, my kids totally tuned out Soul), as it got into the topic, but still made it not appear scary. No question, when it comes to ranking Pixar's non-franchise movies, I would definitely put films like Turning Red and Soul at the top of the list. They've both knocked Onward off from being my former favorite Pixar movie. And relatively quickly, I might add.
Diversity Is At The Absolute Forefront Of Most Of Their New Movies
Don't get me wrong. I love movies like Toy Story 3, Inside Out, Monsters Inc., and of course Ratatouille, but can I just say that I'm glad that Pixar is finally focusing mainly on people for the time being and not monsters, cars, or emotions? And the reason that this makes me glad is because we're finally getting a lot more diversity now when it comes to our protagonists and settings.
Coco really started this with its Mexican characters, but Soul also has a great deal of Black characters, Luca is definitively Italian, and Turning Red concerns a Chinese protagonist with a rainbow coalition of girlfriends. It also takes place in Canada to boot! (I said, to boot! Not aboot, eh!)
No question, I am absolutely loving the diversity I'm seeing in these Pixar films, as well as these Disney films. It's just beautiful to see it all unfold, and yet another reason why I feel this is Pixar's golden age. We're finally seeing stories for everyone!
The Company Seems To Be Less Focused On Sequels, And More On Exciting, Original Ideas Instead
There was a time when Pixar was all about innovative and fresh new ideas. But then Toy Story 2 happened. And while I love Toy Story 2 (and 3. And 4!), I gotta say, I miss the days when Pixar was all about surprising me. Sure, if you were to rank every Pixar movie from worst to best, some of the best films would be sequels. That said, I much prefer Pixar when they surprise me.
And it looks like Pixar is back to doing that with stories like Soul and Turning Red. Hell, even the upcoming Lightyear is a bold, new approach to an already established series, so I truly feel like Pixar is in a better place now than they've ever been.
But what do you think? Have I convinced you that Pixar is currently in its golden age? For all things Pixar and Disney, make sure to swing by here often.
Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.
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