The Top 5 Pixar Duos: You’ve Got a Friend in Me
We all know Pixar. For all of the massive changes that have affected the film industry over the last couple decades (digitalization, 3-D, rising ticket prices), there has been one blazing constant: Pixar makes darn good movies.
As such, the studio has become a powerful brand in an industry where brand means everything. The Luxo Jr. lamp hops on screen and we know we’re in for something special. Despite its cutting-edge use of modern technologies, Pixar offers a moviegoing experience from a time long past, a package deal not unlike something from the studio system in the Golden Age of Hollywood. It’s a two-for-one deal, a charming short film followed by an enchanting full-length feature. As screens get smaller and the viewing experience becomes more and more isolated, Pixar consistently does the unthinkable: it brings the whole family back to the movies.
And why? It’s become a cliché to talk about the studio that hits a home run every time it steps up to the plate, to praise its remarkably realized worlds and narrative virtuosity. But at the end of the day, we love these movies because the characters, be they rats, cars, bugs, or robots, are astonishingly human. We recognize ourselves in them, in all of our flawed essence. And we recognize our relationships, the games we play, the way we treat the people we love in our highest and lowest moments. That’s why parents enjoy taking their kids to these films as much (if not more) than the kids enjoy going to them.
So with Monsters University coming to theaters this Friday, it’s as good a time as any to count down the top 5 Pixar duos, choice pairings that make us laugh, cry, and marvel at the power of movies.
5. Mike and Sulley
Appeared In: Monsters, Inc. (2001), Monsters University (2013)
The mismatched yin and yang of the Monstropolis “scarers”, these pals seem to have nothing in common. Sulley (John Goodman) is the ultimate gentle giant, an alpha-monster with natural scaring abilities and an intimidating physique, but also an unwavering moral compass. Mike, as voiced by Billy Crystal, is all talk. With a short figure, spindly limbs, and a single eye more silly than it is frightening, words are all he’s got.
Longtime buddies and coworkers, their rapport is always spiked with a sense of rivalry and competitive spirit. Conceived as a pair of jocks, their relationship is made all the more humorous when they must care for a young girl who enters the “scare floor”. As the kid’s new surrogate “dads”, their contrasting emotional and intellectual temperaments come to a head to test their rock-solid friendship. Sulley names the child “Boo”, revealing his paternal sensibilities. Mike is all business, demanding that they listen to reason and get rid of the child at once, as their career and quite possibly their safety (monsters believe children to be toxic) is in jeopardy.
Of course, the duo must learn to reconcile their differences for the greater good, the safety of an innocent child.
Best Moment: When Mike and Sulley are banished to the abode of an abominable snowman in the Himalayas, they reach an apparent breaking point. Mike is just too selfish, Sully too stubborn for the two to coexist. But like all true friendships, they’ll be there for each other in the end.
Memorable Quote: “We got Boo home. Sure, we put the company in the toilet, and gee, hundreds of people will be out of work now, not to mention the angry mob that’ll come after us when there’s no more power, but hey, at least we had a few laughs, right?” (Mike).
What’s Next: The origins of Mike and Sulley’s rivalry, and of course their enduring friendship, will be explored in the upcoming prequel, Monsters University (June 21).
4. WALL-E and EVE
Appeared In: WALL-E (2007)
Somehow, Pixar’s most poignant romance to date involves two machines that barely utter a word to each other. WALL-E (beeps and boops provided by Ben Burtt), the last functioning “Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth-Class”, cleans up trash and collects odds and ends on the evacuated ruins of Earth. Big business has rendered the planet unlivable, and the remainder of the human population “lives” in a state of obesity on the spaceship Axiom. EVE (Elissa Knight) is an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator programmed to search for organic life in the wasteland WALL-E calls home.
It’s love at first sight, at least on WALL-E’s end. The only moving entity he’s seen in 700 years is a cockroach, and EVE, with the sleek compactness and glistening frame of the newest Apple product, drops his jaw to the floor. Like any smitten schoolboy, he tries desperately to impress her, even showing her his adorable dancing moves (which he of course learned from watching Hello Dolly! on repeat).
They’re from different worlds, different makes and models, but like any good love, they elevate and transform each other into something more than they ever knew was possible. In a world where humans resemble robots more and more, living out our days in service of our “directives”, WALL-E reminds us what is really important. Dating has migrated online, but even in a technologically overwhelming universe, WALL-E reassures us that some are just made for each other and that true love is possible.
Best Moment: WALL-E retrieves the plant for EVE, and with it all hope for the future. The two share a weightless dance with a fire extinguisher (of all things) against the awe-inspiring animated cosmos, all set to Thomas Newman’s magnificent score. It’s a staggering technical achievement that wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans if we didn’t care about these piles of nuts and bolts so much.
Memorable Quote: 90% of their dialogue consists of saying each other’s name, but with an amazing range of inflections and emotion captured by legendary sound designer Ben Burtt.
What’s Next: Nothing in the works, and let’s hope it stays that way. Let the robot lovers live in peace!
3. Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl/Bob and Helen Parr
Appeared In: The Incredibles (2004)
Leave it to a cartoon to deliver one of the most complex and nuanced husband and wife relationships in recent memory. This super-couple has been through everything together, from saving the world to raising two special kids, from high-wire heroics to the deadening mundanity of a dull suburban existence.
After a series of lawsuits, superheroes everywhere, or “supers”, are ordered to adapt and assimilate into mainstream society, a sentence that confines the larger-than-life Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) to a stifling corporate cubicle and reduces the powerful Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to a housewife’s routine. When Bob Parr tries to get back in the game and resume his role as Mr. Incredible, he does so in secrecy, a move that purposefully parallels the actions of a cheating husband. What’s at stake is obviously not the husband’s fidelity (this is a kid’s movie, after all), but how the couple views each other and themselves. Society has attempted to make them less than who they are, and issues of trust, freedom, and self-worth hang in the balance.
Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl have seen each other at their best and worst. A mature and fully formed relationship, they often do and say things that they regret. But when push comes to shove, they have each other’s backs in both the big moments and in the small ones, which are no less satisfying.
Best Moment: It’s hard to beat the Glory Days prologue. On the way to their wedding, Mr. Incredible rescues a cat from a tree, helps the cops out with some gun-toting gangsters, and checks in on a train robbery. The best part is that, elsewhere, Elastigirl is busy being equally badass. There’s some playful banter that’s almost too steamy for the kids (including an innuendo about being more flexible), and it’s a perfect microcosm of their relationship: all charm and exuberance, often tested but never quite destroyed.
Memorable Quote: “You keep trying to pick a fight but I’m just happy you’re alive!” (Mr. Incredible)
What’s Next: I’m sure a sequel down the line is inevitable, and with the superhero genre in need of a serious spark, I’d welcome it!
2. Marlin and Dory
Appeared In: Finding Nemo (2003)
Here’s a duo that could have easily been taken in a romantic direction, but with admirable restraint and narrative tact, the result is a platonic movie friendship for the ages. After a barracuda eats his wife and all but one of his eggs, Marlin the clownfish (Albert Brooks) controls every aspect of his son Nemo’s life. It’s out of love, of course, and a parent’s perpetual worry, but the incessant micromanaging drives Nemo away. His son appears to be lost and gone forever when a scuba diver snatches him up on the first day of school.
Marlin finds an unlikely companion in Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a blue tang with short-term memory loss, also separated from her family (“Where are they?” she wonders). One’s too bossy, one can’t remember a thing, and a vast ocean stands between them and Marlin’s son. The lessons they learn along the way aren’t just for the younger viewers. It takes overcoming every obstacle the “big ol’ blue” can throw at them, but they eventually realize the value of working together in the face of adversity, never judging a book by its cover, and most importantly, never giving up on someone you care about.
Helped along by Brooks and DeGeneres’ fresh, zippy exchanges, we believe in them despite all odds. Dory reminds him how to have fun and enjoy life and Marlin gives her a drive and a purpose, something worth remembering. Marlin becomes increasingly exasperated with Dory’s condition, even to the point of cruel insensitivity, but it always makes sense for the character; his life hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk. We’ve been hopelessly spoiled by Pixar and the careful manner in which they craft motivation and behavior.
Best Moment: Trapped in the mouth of a whale, they appear to have hit rock bottom. Ever the optimist, Dory “keeps swimming” and tries to offer up solutions that a despondent Marlin can’t take anymore. He scolds her, unwittingly repeating some of the last words he had spoken to his son: “You think you can do these things, but you just can’t, NEMO!” …and it hits him that he’s in the wrong. Masterful storytelling.
Memorable Quote: “Hey Mr. Grumpygills” (Dory, in a sing-song voice). DeGeneres at the top of her game.
What’s Next: Finding Dory is slated for 2015. If it were any studio but Pixar, I’d say they’re just buying time for fresh ideas or trying to make an easy buck…but who am I kidding? Should be great.
1. Woody and Buzz Lightyear
Appeared In: Toy Story (1995), Toy Story 2 (1999), and Toy Story 3 (2010)
Can you believe it’s been almost two decades since we were first introduced to Woody and Buzz, and with them the future of computer-animation? Cowboy doll Woody (Tom Hanks) is the de facto leader of a band of toys, the nearest and dearest plaything of their owner, Andy. But his status and popularity are threatened by the arrival of the space ranger action figure Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), a new and improved gizmo that can do way cooler stuff than Woody’s antiquated pull-string. Jealousy, resentment, and genuine hatred ensues.
The two are born leaders and Andy’s bedroom doesn’t seem big enough for the both of them. Woody’s enjoyed his life as Andy’s favorite toy, but Buzz’s novelty act seems primed to endanger the cowboy’s relationship with his owner and his friends. What’s worse, Buzz genuinely believes that he is a space ranger, a naive misunderstanding that infuriates Woody to no end.
Their back and forth bickering is petty, often malicious, full of hurtful finger-pointing and name-calling. But once again, the conflict arises from organic emotions firmly rooted in the characters’ personalities and backstories. Buzz is fresh off the assembly line; he doesn’t know any better. And Woody, in fits of anger and fear, never misses an opportunity to remind the space ranger that he took away everything that was important to him. In the face of an even greater danger, the vicious toy-torturer named Sid, they must put aside their differences and help each other out of a colossal jam. In so doing, they realize that they’re not so different after all. Such an honest, warts-and-all portrayal of a truly complicated friendship is hard to come by, in animation and beyond.
Best Moment: Sid’s kid sister has held Buzz captive and dressed him as Mrs. Nesbitt for a tea party. After learning from a commercial that he is in fact a toy and not a renowned space ranger, Buzz becomes woefully depressed and he hits the, um… tea pretty hard. Woody finds him intoxicated, and disarmed by the previously commanding space-toy’s slurred speech, not to mention his bonnet, he rescues him. Woody later informs Buzz that he is a cool toy and the hatchet’s buried for good.
Memorable Quote: “YOU. ARE. A. TOY!” (Woody). “You are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity” (Buzz).
What’s Next: I’d say “hopefully not another sequel,” but with a third installment that made grown men weep, why the heck not?
So there you have it, five dynamic duos that have cemented Pixar’s legacy of family-friendly entertainment. By eschewing stale pop culture gags, the studio never condescends to its audience, developing humor out of characters and relationships rather than whatever seems to be “trending” at the time. The result is something that endures, something that will stand the test of time. No matter how far removed from our reality the characters may seem, we recognize them as indisputably human. Whether we’re walking the streets of Monstropolis, gliding down the East Australian Current, or collecting dust in Andy’s bedroom, we see ourselves.
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