In the last 20 years, Pixar has produced 16 computer-animated feature films, each more technologically impressive and emotionally complex than the last. "Toy Story," which came out in 1995, was its first. In fact, "Toy Story" was the first full-length computer animated film in history. It singlehandedly proved that CGI could be used to tell a character driven story; and in doing so, changed the future of animation forever.
By CBS News staff writer Christina Capatides
"A Bug's Life"
In 1998, Pixar followed up their "Toy Story" success with "A Bug's Life," a CGI comedy adventure about a quirky ant who attempts to save his colony from an onslaught of greedy grasshoppers by recruiting warrior bugs to defend them. The film was embroiled in a bit of controversy, when it came out within a month of Dreamworks' similarly themed "Antz." Despite that, though, the complexity of both its character design and animated environment were not lost on the audience. "A Bug's Life" was a huge box office success, grossing more than $363 million worldwide.
"Toy Story 2"
In 1999, Pixar gave its fans a "Toy Story" sequel, in which Woody was stolen by a toy collector and his once-nemesis Buzz Lightyear, forced to rescue him. "Toy Story 2" was initially slated for a direct-to-video release. However, when storyboards proved promising, the plot was reworked and Disney upgraded the film to a full theatrical release.
It's a good thing they did. The film was met with wild enthusiasm among both fans and critics, grossing more than $485 million worldwide. And on the technological side, the sequence in which Woody has to be sewn up and repaired represented huge steps forward in the complexity of CGI imagery.
In 2001, Pixar released "Monsters, Inc,." a film about a fictional city, where all of the electricity is generated by the screams that monsters elicit from children. The monsters all work at a scare company, called -- you guessed it -- Monsters, Inc. And the film centers around the company's top scarer, James P. "Sulley" Sullivan, and his one-eyed sidekick, Mike Wazowski.
In addition to grossing more than $562 million worldwide, the film is notable for the fact that Sulley is covered entirely in fine blue hair, a CGI accomplishment that would have been unthinkable even a year earlier.
In 2003, Pixar released "Finding Nemo," perhaps its most ambitious film yet. The computer-animated comedy followed a clownfish, named Marlin, on his quest across the sea to find his son. The nature of the underwater environment required sophisticated feats of animation, like the portrayal of moving bubbles and characters caught in currents. Consequently, the vast majority of the film's frames needed to be individually rendered. Good thing all that time and effort paid off.
"Finding Nemo" was the second highest grossing film of 2006 and the 32nd highest grossing film of all time, raking in a total of $936 million worldwide. It also earned an impressive 99 percent rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
In 2004, Pixar released "The Incredibles," a film about a family of superheroes attempting to hide their powers and live normal human lives. It was Pixar's first film with an all human cast and, as such, represented a whole host of new achievements.
Animators had to create realistic looking hair and fabrics that could flow, ripple and even tear. They also had to create larger CGI sets than ever before. In short, the animation advancements made on this film were nothing short of incredible.
In 2006, Pixar continued their quest to anthropomorphize the most unlikely facets of everyday life by granting cars personalities and emotions. To do so, animators had to portray mechanics, suspension and friction. For races, animators also had to put more characters in a single frame than ever before.
Once you've made monsters and ants cute, why not try your hand at endearing the world to rats? In 2007, Pixar released "Ratatouille," a CGI comedy about a young rat who dreams of becoming a chef.
To make the film more realistic, Brad Bird, its co-writer and director, interned at a French restaurant in Napa Valley, so that he could better learn how to make the film's dishes. Animators then created special software that made it possible for one model in a frame to cut another. Think: Remy the rat slicing a zucchini. It may not seem like complicated stuff; but in the world of 3D animation, that was an exceedingly impressive advancement.
Next up: robots
In 2008, Pixar released "WALL-E," its first CGI science fiction film. But the movie's genre wasn't the most ambitious thing about it. The film addressed consumerism, human impact on the environment, and love, all through the interactions of two pre-programmed, largely nonverbal robots and a post-apocalyptic roach.
Its emotional depth shattered people's expectations of what animated films could be, and raised the bar for CGI once again. "WALL-E" went on to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and rank first in TIME Magazine's "Best Movies of the Decade." Also, the fact that neither "WALL-E" nor "The Dark Knight" - both blockbusters that were critical favorites - were nominated for a Best Picture Oscar led the Academy to double the number of nominees the following year.
Then, in 2009, after "WALL-E" and EVE made our hearts bigger, the opening sequence of "Up" shattered them. It depicted both the flipside of love and the nuanced tragedies of life, with just under five minutes of silent pictures and a heartbreakingly simple piano score.
And as if that sort of emotional content wasn't a big enough leap forward for animated films, the minds at Pixar then lifted Carl's house off the ground with "upwards" of 20,000 individual balloons. As a result, "Up" rose to become the second animated film in history (after Disney's "Beauty and the Beast") to be nominated not just for Best Animated Feature, but for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
"Toy Story 3"
Then came "Toy Story 3" in 2010, a CGI drama that dealt with the end of innocence, and tugged at the heartstrings of Pixar fans everywhere by placing the beloved "Toy Story" gang at seemingly the end of the line. In the first "Toy Story," we met Andy as a little boy. In "Toy Story 3," he's heading off to college.
People flocked to the theaters in droves to see what that meant for Woody, Buzz and the gang. "Toy Story 3" raked in over $1 billion worldwide, rendering it the highest grossing film of 2010 and the highest grossing animated film of all time. It also became the first ever film to be released theatrically with Dolby Surround 7.1 Sound, and the third ever animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.
Nostalgia is undoubtedly one of the filmic elements that works best for Pixar. So, in 2011, the groundbreaking animation studio followed up their third "Toy Story" film with their second "Cars" one. "Cars 2" features the fan favorite duo of race car Lightning McQueen and tow truck Mater back in action, but in Asia and Europe this time, as McQueen has been invited to compete in the prestigious World Grand Prix.
The film wasn't as highly lauded by the critics as Pixar's previous films, but it still came in first in the domestic race for box office sales its opening weekend.
Hair has long posed an obstacle for animators engaged in the creation of truly real-looking characters. And while Pixar took major strides forward in this area with both "The Incredibles" and "Monsters, Inc,;" before 2012, they had only managed to depict the fall and movement of millions of tiny strands of straight hair. "Brave" marked the first time CGI animators realistically depicted the texture and bounce of curly hair.
The film is also groundbreaking in that it represents Pixar's first feature-length film directed by a woman. The film's female protagonist is a yet another important Pixar first that can't be "brushed" aside.
"Toy Story" worked as a franchise and so did "Cars." So, in 2013, Pixar rendered "Monsters, Inc." a franchise too. "Monsters University" serves as a prequel to the 2001 hit, in which Mike and Sulley meet and ultimately get themselves expelled from college. It's a Buzz and Woody-esque tale of rivals becoming friends, that successfully plays on the nostalgia of Pixar's fans, and depicts how the two young monsters became the characters so many loved in the original.
In the same way that "WALL-E" and "Up" gave us nuanced depictions of the human condition, the content of 2015's "Inside Out" was as quietly revolutionary as it was completely life-affirming.
An examination into the voices inside our heads, "Inside Out" justifies the feeling and expression of negative emotions, in addition to positive ones. It depicts a pre-teen protagonist grappling with sadness, anger and fear. And that is a groundbreaking first for animated films aimed at children. "Inside Out" is a subtle and psychologically sophisticated depiction of the reality for most kids today, in which not all memories can be colored with joy, and it is okay -- frankly, even necessary -- for big girls to cry.
"The Good Dinosaur"
On November 25, 2015, Pixar's "The Good Dinosaur," hit theaters in the U.S. Its premise -- What if the astroid that destroyed the dinosaurs missed? -- spawns an unlikely friendship between a young Apatosaurus, named Arlo, and a prehistoric human toddler, named spot.
In typical Pixar fashion, Arlo finds himself lost and lonely, missing his family, at the start of the film. In an unexpected twist, however, Arlo and the film's other dinosaurs can talk, while the human at the film's center walks on all fours, communicating in a range of howls and grunts.
On June 17, 2016, Pixar released "Finding Dory," the long-awaited sequel to its beloved 2003 underwater comedy, "Finding Nemo." This time, the story centers around the original film's sidekick, a bubbly Blue Tang Fish named Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), who suffers from short-term memory loss. And thanks to the nuances of its plot, the film is actually doing its part to break down stereotypes about disability.
"Finding Dory" gives audiences a whole spectrum of characters who thrive in the face of different challenges. Hank the octopus is missing a tentacle, Destiny the shark has vision problems and Bailey the beluga whale has trouble with his sonar abilities. But they all ultimately find their own special skills to help Dory get home.