Toy Story
Angus MacLane: 5 Animated Movies That Inspire My Work at Pixar
Angus MacLane
Angus MacLane
Director/Animator

Angus MacLane joined the Pixar team in 1997, in time to work as an animator on the studio's first sequel, Toy Story 2. Fortuitously, the original Toy Story was what made MacLane want to work at the studio in the first place.

Over the past 25 years, MacLane has been a storyboard artist, animator, voice actor and screenwriter on Pixar films such as Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles (for which he won an Annie Award), WALL-E, Up and Toy Story 3. (He's also served as part of the senior creative team on Coco and Toy Story 4.)

He made his feature debut with Finding Dory, which he co-directed with Andrew Stanton, before going solo with Lightyear, which MacLane conceived as the sci-fi movie upon which the Buzz Lightyear toy is based.

MORE: 'Lightyear' Filmmakers on Raising the Bar for Pixar Animation and What Comes Next (Exclusive)

It's a dream come true for somebody who spent his childhood obsessing over animation. "When I was growing up, there was not a lot of opportunity to see animation. You'd maybe see a few animated shorts in front of Sesame Street," MacLane says, citing Warner Bros. Cartoons as another early influence. "But I was so interested in animation that I would seek it out."

Below, he shares with A.frame the five movies that ultimately led him to Pixar.

1
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
1966
How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Directed by: Chuck Jones and Ben Washam | Written by: Dr. Seuss

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas represents the zenith of Chuck Jones' abilities as both a director and an animator, coupled with a tremendous vocal performance from Boris Karloff. There's a confidence to Chuck Jones' work that you can really see in the action of the scenes. It has this sense of physical realism that is really uncommon for 2D animation. It's just well observed. What I learned from that is the sense of trying to get truth into every shot. You always want to have something that feels true. Even if it's not realistic, it feels true.

There's something about the production design, the Maurice Noble backgrounds, the animation. It's Chuck Jones' A team applied to a really timeless and interesting story. And since it was shown every year, it was something to look forward to. In the era before home video, and for a person that did not have cable growing up, The Grinch was a way to get animation that was consistent, and very dependable, and better executed than most things that I could see.

Where to Watch: Peacock

2
Mountain Music
1976
Mountain Music

Written and Directed by: Will Vinton

Will Vinton is an Academy Award-winning producer — he won [Best Animated Short Film] for Closed Mondays in 1975 — and he's best known for claymation. He had a studio that I ended up working at in college, where I learned a ton, and Mountain Music is the first movie I saw there. It's not a narratively exciting film, but it's an early stop-motion, claymated film about a rock band on a mountain top. And the mountain is a volcano that explodes and, I think, kills everything.

But something about that manufactured, miniature world of these clay puppets really inspired me. It was very physical. It was all built, and it all existed. I was really excited about everything that was claymated at the time. It was the closest thing to movie-making that we had, and it was something that was seen on the world stage. It was something that just really hit me at the time as something I wanted to do, and I'm fortunate that I got a chance to work with those people.

3
Twice Upon a Time
1983
Twice Upon a Time

Directed by: John Korty and Charles Swenson | Written by: John Korty, Charles Swenson, Suella Kennedy and Bill Couturié

Twice Upon a Time had an odd releasing scenario, where it was only released in a few markets and it was released as a double feature with The Secret of NIMH. So, after slogging through the very depressing Secret of NIMH, which has a color palette that is mostly browns and dark grays, and is full of depressing sadness, we needed a pick-me-up. I asked my parents if we could stay for the double feature, and Twice Upon a Time was unlike anything I'd ever seen. There are so many dark films around that era. Comparatively, a movie where birds drop nightmare bombs into live-action children's heads was a real pick-me-up. It had this bizarre sense of humor that was almost Python-esque.

Twice Upon a Time spoke to me because it was so unusual. Pre-Internet, it was the kind of experience where you'd go, 'I saw this thing,' and you would try to describe the things you'd seen, and nobody had seen it. I found out later there's an R-rated version of the film that's even funnier. It was buried because the director, John Korty, hated it. So, there was a lot of controversy around it. But I feel like, at that time, the people that were making animation were these ne'er-do-wells, these weirdos, and they would make these completely inaccessible movies that nobody could find. But I was so interested in animation that I would try and seek them out.

4
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
1988
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
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Where to watch

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis | Written by: Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman

Who Framed Roger Rabbit really changed the landscape for everything. There's a lot of dated stuff in there — I don't think I've revisited it in a while — but it had such a profound effect on filmmaking. It legitimized 2D animation in a way that it hadn't been before. That being a success, and then, Little Mermaid being a success literally changed so many people's lives, because it allowed animation to be cool again, for it to be commercially successful. Who Framed Roger Rabbit really brought 2D back to the fore as far as being cool. I was 12 in '88, so that — and Batman — really set the course for the kind of thing I was interested in watching.

5
Toy Story
1995
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Where to watch

Directed by: John Lasseter | Written by: Andrew Stanton, Joss Whedon, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow

I had been following Pixar for a while through their short films. So, when I saw the trailer for Toy Story, it really hit me. I remember where I was when I saw the trailer itself. It was in Tigard, Oregon, at a theater that no longer exists. Apparently it was haunted, which I did not know until recently. That was the theater where I saw a lot of the classics. I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark there. It's where I saw Time Bandits. It's where I saw The Karate Kid Part II. I saw The Indian in the Cupboard, and in front of it was the trailer for Toy Story.

When I saw Toy Story, it hit me like a lightning bolt. So much so that I got on a payphone to my parents afterwards and I was like, "I know what I want to do. I want to work at Pixar." I go back to school at the Rhode Island School of Design and I tell my good friend, Scott, "You've got to see this movie. It's amazing." And then, next thing we know, it's showing at the school auditorium. There was a representative from Pixar there, and from that, Pixar partnered with RISD to hire some interns. One of the interns was my very close friend, Scott Clark. I got that internship the following year, and I slept on his couch. Because of that screening, indirectly, that's why we're having this conversation today.

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