Previous to 1995, no animated feature had ever been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, but Pixar’s first movie (and the very first full-length computer animated film) changed all that. At the time of its release, Toy Story became the highest-grossing animated feature on record and put Pixar Studios on the map. The hardworking company followed its initial success with eight more feature films (including this weekend’s release, Wall-E), each one brimming with humor, ingenuity and technical prowess. The studio has established itself as a leader in creating family movies that are more than just colorful distractions for kids; its films have a sense of depth and humor that is responsible for breathing new life into the often stale genre of family-friendly films.

Since its founding in 1986, Pixar has worked hard and undergone a lot of growing pains, including a sometimes-strained relationship with Disney (since 2006 it has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Mouse House) to achieve the success it holds today. Not only is Pixar responsible for humanizing the art of computer animation—with each new film, their digital landscape becomes more detailed and lifelike—but its animators have also shown an amazing creative capacity to turn everything from rats to race cars into characters with which anyone can empathize.

With the release of this weekend’s Wall-E, MM takes a look at some of the Pixar films that have changed the face of animated movies and made the company into the well-loved household name it is today.

Toy Story 2 (1999)
Toy Story 2
Using an idea originally proposed during the creation of the first Toy Story film—what happens when a child outgrows his or her toy—Toy Story 2 burst into theaters and captured the hearts of audiences with lovable characters from the original as well as a host of new toys, like sassy cowgirl Jessie (voiced by Joan Cusack). Originally slated for a direct-to-video release, Toy Story 2 was filled with enough Pixar magic to earn more than $485 million at box offices worldwide ($100 million more than the record-breaking original) and win a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture—Comedy/Musical.
Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Monsters Inc.
Only Pixar could turn every child’s worst nightmare—monsters in the closet—into a film that pulled in more than $525 million while charming both critics and audiences. Merchandise flew off the shelves as kids were drawn to the creatures that once frightened them. Roger Ebert called it “cheerful, high-energy fun and,” he pointed out, “like other Pixar movies, has a running supply of gags and references aimed at grownups.”
Finding Nemo (2003)
Finding Nemo
The 2004 Oscar-winner for Best Animated Feature was a hit with everyone from children to adults, combining humor, fully fleshed-out characters and top-of-the-line animation to tell a distinctively human story through the eyes of the cutest clownfish ever seen on film. The movie is also a testament to the reputation Pixar built with its earlier successes; Nemo managed to accumulate more than $860 million worldwide, becoming the ninth highest-grossing film of all time.
Cars (2006)
Pixar’s most notable talent is the company’s ability to humanize anything—and its animators seem to step up their game with each subsequent film. Here they manage to endow race cars with distinct and charming personalities, proving, as Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly writes, that they “could draw a mote of dust and a pair of socks and turn them into characters worth caring about.” Utilizing the voices of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt and Tony Shalhoub, Pixar delivered a story that tracked the journey of a haughty young race car’s road to modesty.
Ratatouille (2007)
Another Oscar-winning Pixar feature, Ratatouille features a top tier cast of actors (including Peter O’Toole, Ian Holm, Brad Garrett and Brian Dennehy) providing the voices for a story about a rat fighting against prejudice and a disapproving family to pursue his culinary dreams. Main character Remy (Patton Oswalt) certainly overcame the many hurdles in front of him; he managed to bring in more than $600 million at the box office.
Wall-E (2008)
Although the previous Pixar films are tough acts to follow, the buzz so far (including a rave review from Richard Roeper) indicates that Pixar has done it once again with Wall-E. Just as in their earlier films, the studio’s creative minds invite viewers to explore an alternate universe and our destroyed home planet through the eyes of a quirky main character. Anticipation is certainly building for the film, but will children—or adults for that matter—be entertained by a film whose first 30 minutes are entirely devoid of dialogue? Only time—and this weekend’s box office receipts—will tell.