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A retrospective look at the best CGI films

Sean Sweany | Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Feature-length animation has come a long way since the era when Walt Disney created memorable, hand-drawn films like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) and “Pinocchio” (1940). In this digital age, movie studios have decided that computer generated imagery (CGI) is the way of the future when it comes to animated films. Since 1995, when computers began to replace pencil and paper in making animated movies, CGI movies have flooded cineplexes every year.

Monsters, Inc. (2001)

This Pixar film explores life from the point of view of the monsters who hide under children’s beds. In the city of Monstropolis, where energy is created from the screams of children, James P. Sullivan (“Sully”) and Mike Wazowski are the top scarers for Monsters, Inc., the city’s energy company. The main action occurs when a child runs loose in the city and the two must bring her home amidst various struggles.

In addition to being a heart-warming story, “Monsters, Inc.” stands as one of the most complex and imaginative CGI movies ever created. The textures and scenes created feature thousands of details almost unnoticeable to the human eye. The people at Pixar have imaginations that seem boundless, and this movie depicts that perfectly. The coupling of that imagination with their excellent talent makes “Monsters, Inc.” a must see for audiences of all ages.

Shrek (2001)

Dubbed the “greatest fairy tale never told,” “Shrek” is an irreverent comedy from Dreamworks that follows the green ogre, Shrek, who teams up with a talking donkey to save a princess from an evil king. The voice talent of Mike Myers (Shrek), Eddie Murphy (Donkey) and Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona) helped this movie draw in huge audiences. While “Shrek” has grown into a huge franchise, the original still stands out as a classic. The story is original and represents the best animated film from Dreamworks. This is because “Shrek” is as rooted in fairy tales as it is in popular culture. The sacrilegious take on fairy tales is coupled with numerous references to modern culture and results in a film that, while topical, is easily enjoyed by kids and adults.

Finding Nemo (2003)

An intelligent CGI film that is able to delight, “Finding Nemo” also sends a positive message. Marlin is a clownfish who is overprotective of his son Nemo. When Nemo disappears, his father journeys across the ocean in a touching father-son story. The most impressive aspect of “Finding Nemo” is the underwater world Pixar has created. There are a multitude of details in the CGI ocean that make it real, alive and believable. Most importantly, the characters in this film are endearing and entertaining. Albert Brooks is excellent as Nemo’s father and Ellen DeGeneres gives a funny performance as Dory, the fish with no short-term memory. Overall, the world of “Finding Nemo” is one an audience can dive into for first-rate entertainment.

Toy Story (1995)

Still, the first CGI movie, John Lasseter’s “Toy Story,” remains the best. Pixar’s inaugural film was a labor of love for all involved. In the “Toy Story” universe, toys like Woody the cowboy (Tom Hanks) come alive when their owners leave the room. When Woody and his gang are joined by the new toy, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), friction develops until the toys can unite behind the common cause of outwitting the neighborhood bully. It appeals to the imagination thanks to its originality and heart. Famous for its lovable characters and Randy Newman’s endearing soundtrack, this is a timeless classic that has spawned sequels, television shows and theme park rides. While ancient by CGI terms, “Toy Story” set an impressively high bar for all successive films.

The CGI genre is still young and it progresses by leaps and bounds with each new film. These four movies are the cream of the crop and represent the best that CGI films have to offer – if future endeavors follow the path blazed by Pixar and Dreamworks, the medium is in good hands.