Ever since the release of Pixar's first feature, "Toy Story," the studio has been synonymous with the highest quality in animated fare, movies that speak to all ages with a mixture of warmth, wit and wondrous visuals. This week's "Cars 2" is the rare exception, and by far their weakest film yet. But hey, we're all about focusing on the positive around here, so let's take a look at the five best movies Pixar has to offer:
— "WALL-E" (2008): Daring and delicate at once, this is Pixar's most inventive film. It's essentially a silent picture in which the two main characters, a mismatched pair of robots, communicate through bleeps and blips and maybe three words between them. And yet director Andrew Stanton finds infinite ways for them to express themselves — amusingly, achingly, and with emotional precision. The smudged, dented metal that makes up WALL-E'S frame looks so realistic, you could reach out and touch it; at the same time, his big eyes often appear so vulnerable and pleading, you can't help but feel a connection with him. He's a robotic representation of humanity's highest potential.
— "The Incredibles" (2004): Until "WALL-E" came along, this was my favorite Pixar movie; now, it's a close second. The story of a family of superheroes trying to carve out some contentment in the real world resonates on multiple levels, regardless of the age of the viewer. Crimefighting parents Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) miss saving the day now that they're stuck in suburbia, and the kids are just trying to figure out who they are. Writer-director Brad Bird's film is smart and sophisticated, with brains, heart and — best of all — a strong script beneath the striking, '60s-swank visuals. And Bird himself is hilarious in a scene-stealing supporting role as the voice of superhero wardrobe designer Edna Mode, a loving takeoff on legendary costumer Edith Head.
— "Up" (2009): It's a classic B-movie exotic adventure, but it's told through the most gorgeous 3-D animation. It's a mismatched buddy comedy, the kind we've seen countless times before, but the buddies are a curmudgeonly 78-year-old man and a tubby 8-year-old boy — who wind up together in a flying house, traveling to South America. But the most memorable part of all is the lovely, poignant montage that depicts the decades-long romance between this elderly gentleman and his wife. It lasts just a few minutes without a single word spoken — just Michael Giacchino's wistful score to accompany the images — but it tells a full and satisfying story. Don't even bother holding back the tears: They'll come, and deservedly so.
— "Toy Story" (1995): It's the one that kicked off Pixar's staggering run, the first feature-length film animated entirely by computer. And while technology has evolved significantly since then, it remains one of the best, simply because the premise is so ingenious: What if toys have personalities and rich interior lives that only reveal themselves when humans aren't around? Pixar mastermind John Lasseter directed and co-wrote this tale of an old-fashioned cowboy doll and a high-tech astronaut action figure competing for the distinction of being little Andy's favorite toy. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, John Ratzenberger and Don Rickles lead the stellar cast of actors who bring these characters indelibly to life. Warm, funny, clever, sweet — it hits just the right note every time.
— "Monsters, Inc." (2001): An underappreciated entry in the Pixar canon, but it's also based on a pretty inspired idea. Monsters are just regular folk; they drive cars, they go on dinner dates. But their job is scaring kids to capture their screams, which provide energy for Monstropolis, a vividly detailed city that looks more than a little like New York. The twist is, the monsters are deathly afraid of the children they scare. Billy Crystal and John Goodman bounce off each other beautifully as Mike and Sully, best friends whose lives get upended when they run into a little girl who isn't frightened of them. It's wacky and weird, colorful and crazy, but it has an emotional impact that'll sneak up on you.
Think of any other examples? Share them with AP Movie Critic Christy Lemire through Twitter: http://twitter.com/christylemire.