Once upon a time -- like five years ago -- the opening of a movie animated with computer-generated imagery was a super-huge deal. Pixar ushered in a new era with 1995's Toy Story, which spurred animators to put down their pencils and turn on computers. With studios rushing stinkers like Shark Tale and Robots into multiplexes every couple of months now, it takes an Incredible film to generate the buzz Toy Story did a decade ago, since all the good ideas appear to have been tapped.
To mark Friday's opening of Madagascar, DreamWorks' big summer movie about zoo animals that make a break for the wild, we offer the best-ever CGI-animated movies and their advances of the genre:
5. Finding Nemo -- The fish-out-of-water story about a lost ocean-dweller and his fretful father features the all-time greatest performance in an animated movie -- Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, a scatterbrained regal tang that accompanies dad Marlin on his epic quest. No other animated character has been so, well, animated.
4. The Incredibles -- It's a grown-up tale -- about a family of extraordinary superheroes that tries to fit in with its ordinary neighbors -- driven by sharp dialogue, weighty themes, and very adult quandaries.
3. Shrek -- The only DreamWorks production to make the list (the others belong to Pixar), Shrek is also the funniest of the bunch. With sly winks and nods to the moms and dads watching the movie with their kids, this skewed (and skewering) fairy tale is loaded with pop-culture references, toilet humor, and plenty of tradition-tweaking.
2. Toy Story -- The granddaddy of CGI animation set the standard with warm characters, compelling storytelling, and witty banter. It also established the practice of using big names (in this case, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen) to voice the tale.
1. Toy Story 2 -- Woody, Buzz, and pals come to one another's rescue once again, but the 1999 sequel gets the edge over the original because of the genuinely moving "When She Loved Me" sequence, in which a discarded toy laments her fate (it has more heart than most live-action films). We tear up every time we hear it.