Sign up for the
and get $50 off Final Draft 12
By Martin Keady · February 6, 2023
If you need a reason to binge-watch or read the screenplays for a bunch of Pixar movies — now’s the time. Why? Because Pixar just celebrated its 37-year anniversary of being the most successful animation studio since the original animation studio that Walt Disney established in the early 1920s. Indeed, such was its success since its first (and still best) feature, Toy Story, in 1995 that it was inevitably subsumed by the increasingly dominant Disney in 2006.
Pixar has always been at the cutting edge of film-making, becoming the first computer animation studio in the mid-1990s, long before the rest of cinema (and eventually the rest of the world) became digitized. Underneath its state-of-the-art graphics was an understanding of truly cinematic storytelling, of the kind that Walt Disney himself had pioneered nearly a century earlier. Consequently, it is arguable that Woody, WALL-E, and Pixar’s other seminal creations have become the most universally adored cartoon characters since Mickey, Donald, and the other original Disney characters.
Read More: Top 10 Themes of Pixar Movies
A series of remarkable and often Oscar-winning scripts has been at the heart of that cinematic storytelling. They have told the stories of and given voice to all the greatest Pixar characters (with the obvious exception of the silent WALL-E). Indeed, they have gone further and entered the wider culture, so much so that Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase, “To Infinity and Beyond!” has almost become a byword for all human activity in the 21st century, from parents using it to liven up the dullest shopping trip to becoming a shorthand for humanity’s hopes of interstellar travel.
Below is a collection of the greatest Pixar movie scripts, which remain models of screenwriting in animation or any other genre. Indeed, one might say that they deserve the epithet: “To Excellence and Beyond!”
There is a strong argument that the Toy Story series is the greatest series of films in all of cinema, not just in animation. Indeed, it is hard to think of any other series or “franchise” that has been so consistently imaginative for so long, with each of the four Toy Stories being extremely high quality. There is certainly no equivalent of The Godfather Part III to tarnish the series’ reputation.
Toys had been animated before Toy Story; indeed, they had even been “animated” in non-animation films. Pre-Toy Story, perhaps the most memorable “talking toy” was The Ventriloquist’s Dummy, part of the British anthology horror film Dead of Night (1945), in which the titular dummy takes control of its supposed master. At its creepiest, notably in the scenes in the house of Sid, the next-door neighbor who abuses his toys by making “mutants” out of them, Toy Story has that same sense of dread.
But of course, Toy Story is ultimately Joy Story, as Woody and Buzz, the toy cowboy and toy spaceman, effect a daring escape from Sid and then an even more daring flight to try and rejoin their beloved little boy, Andy, before he moves house and leaves them behind. Thus, the extraordinary Pixar template of combining real danger with real elation in a way that is unique to childhood and recreations of it were established in its first film.
Another Pixar movie, A Bug’s Life (1998), was not nearly as successful as Toy Story, largely because it was released at the same time as Antz, a superior “insect epic” whose hero was voiced by Woody Allen in one of the finest films he ever made for another director.
Toy Story 2, however, was another triumph for Pixar, so much so that it has often been compared to The Godfather Part II for being that rarest of sequels: one that is at least the equal, if not the superior, of the original film. In this second installment, Woody, Buzz, and all the other playthings embark on another adventure, this time involving an unscrupulous toy collector (unforgettably voiced by the great Wayne “Newman” Knight) who steals Woody to complete his collection of “Cowtoys.”
Deeper, darker, and richer, Toy Story 2 occupies the same relationship to Toy Story that The Godfather Part II occupies to The Godfather, as it is somehow both a sequel (furthering the original story) and a prequel (explaining how that original story began).
However good the animation (and animation in Pixar movies has always been extraordinary), what really animates a great cartoon are the same things that animate any film or any narrative work in any art form: that unique combination of plot and character. As Taika Waititi has succinctly said, “Interesting things happening to interesting people.”
Of course, more than any other genre, animation doesn’t have to limit itself to “interesting people”; its characters can be interesting toys, interesting androids, or, as in Monsters, Inc., interesting monsters. The titular monsters in Pixar’s fourth feature are not just interesting but fascinating: the Yeti-like Sulley; and the walking eyeball Mike. In a parallel world in which monsters harness the power of children’s screams, disaster and hilarity ensue when one child accidentally crosses over to the monster world and has to be returned safely to her own.
If the original animating (pun intended) genius of Pixar was John Lasseter, the director of the first two Toy Story movies, then the creative baton was eventually passed to Brad Bird, the director of the next two great Pixar movies, The Incredibles and Ratatouille.
With a name like his, Brad Bird could probably only ever have been an animator. Indeed, his live-action films, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) and Tomorrowland (2015), have been far less fully realized than his animation films. Fortunately for him and the world, his finest animation films have been astounding, all the more so given that he not only directed them but also wrote them.
The Incredibles are a family of superheroes who yearn to live unheroically but are forced into action to save the world. And to complicate matters even further, Mr. and Mrs. Incredible are joined by their young children, one of whom is only a baby. A meditation on the often unheralded heroism of parenting, The Incredibles, unlike most superlatively titled films, lives up to its name.
Brad Bird resisted the inevitable clamor for an Incredibles sequel (at least until 2018, when The Incredibles 2 almost inevitably failed to live up to its predecessor) and instead achieved something even more incredible. That was writing and directing a film about a rat who longed to be a chef that made rodent phobics of the world warm up to the most unlovable of animals.
The title may have had to be broken down phonetically on the poster (rat-a-too-ee). Still, nothing else about Ratatouille had to be spelled out because, like all the best Pixar movies, its plot had the simplicity of genius. Remy, a country rat, becomes transfixed by TV cookery programs and decides to become a big-city chef. In a brilliant twist, he animates a young sous chef by hiding under his chef’s hat and tugging on his hair to direct him toward the best ingredients.
Bird actually further inverts the idea of anthropomorphism by showing that the real “rat” is not Remy but a famous food critic, the unforgettably named Anton Ego. Ego is initially appalled by the thought of a rat cooking but eventually realizes that the rodent is, like himself, a true gourmand. Ego was voiced by Peter O’Toole, and if it wasn’t the great Irish actor’s last screen role (he acted until just before his death in 2013 and even appeared posthumously in several films), it was undeniably his last great screen role.
Andrew Stanton had been a screenwriter on the first two Toy Story films, Monsters, Inc., and directed Finding Nemo (2003), another Pixar box-office hit, but he really struck gold with WALL-E. More than a decade into its feature-making life and now bolstered by having Disney behind it, Pixar’s movie WALL-E proved that it could do almost anything, including making one of the best silent films since the coming of sound.
WALL-E is short for ‘Waste Allocation Load Lifter’: Earth Class, the robots left behind by humans to try and clean up Earth after they evacuate. Nearly a millennium later, WALL-E is still going but is LONEL-E and so embarks on a space journey of his own when he follows a scouting probe, appropriately named EVE, back to her mothership. Stanton consciously modeled his android on the most unemotive human ‘android,’ Buster Keaton. The result was another classic silent creation, a ‘Siliconface’ to follow the ‘Old Stoneface.’
Like all the greatest studios, Pixar has always been a team effort; given the armies of animators involved, it might be called the ultimate team effort. In addition to John Lasseter and Brad Bird, another general leading those armies has been Pete Docter, director of Monsters, Inc. and the director and co-writer of the sublime Up.
Animation, like all Pixar movies, is a universal form of cinema because viewers of all ages can enjoy it. Up exemplifies that, telling the story of an older man who attaches helium-filled balloons to his house to travel to South America, accompanied by a stowaway eight-year-old boy. An exploration of aging and the possibility of resisting it through the pursuit of dreams, Up was arguably the greatest cinematic role for Ed Asner, a television titan in Lou Grant. It says everything about the age-defying magic of Pixar that some of its greatest roles have been performed, or at least voiced, by legends such as Asner and O’Toole.
Download the script!
Amid all the sequels and spin-offs in the last decade of Pixar movies, such as Monsters University, Incredibles 2, and Lightyear, one of their finest original creations has been Inside Out. It returned Pixar to its ingenious roots by depicting probably the most basic conflict of all: the battle inside us between our emotions. It portrays the power struggle between joy, sadness, fear, disgust, and anger within a young girl who struggles to cope with being uprooted from her idyllic home.
Inside Out is almost the animated equivalent of one of the most inventive live-action films of the 21st century, namely Charlie Kaufman’s greatest creation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). In Eternal Sunshine, a man longs to forget the woman he loved and lost but then realizes, after his memory of her has been ‘wiped,’ that even memory is better than nothing at all. Inside Out almost inverts this process, with the young girl’s emotions initially struggling to control her in a period of emotional upheaval before realizing that they have to work together to save her. Consequently, both films are internal epics, showing how humans’ greatest struggle in the 21st century is not only against a rapidly collapsing environment but how to cope with that most daunting of realities.