Obviously I love movies. I love those kinds of movies that will take you to places you have never been, creating something that is so real it’s tangible. I love movies that can move you. Disney has been like the pioneers in making such feat. And with the advancement of technology, Pixar has done wondrous things to Disney’s magical storytelling. IGN.com released their own ranking of which Pixar movie is their favorite. Let’s see.
With Brave currently sitting atop the box office — and with Finding Nemo 3D andMonsters University on the horizon — we’ve decided to update our ranking of the films of Pixar Animation. For a studio with such a successful track record, there is great and there is good, but there is very little if any bad. So bear that in mind as you read the following list… Even the worst of Pixar is usually better than the competition’s best! Let us know in the Comments below how you would rank the Pixar films!
Cars 2 benefits from cherry-picking the best elements of the first movie and switching genres completely by taking Lightning McQueen and Mater out of Radiator Springs and dropping them into the middle of a fast-paced, dynamic spy flick. What’s lost here, for the most part, is the warmth and heart that we adore, and expect, from most Pixar offerings. It gets left in the dust.
This is also a darker film where several car characters do meet an untimely, and sometimes grisly, end. But the fast pacing here works in the films favor, as the slightly morbid moments flicker in and out as quickly as race car laps. Cars 2 isn’t the usual intimate magical experience you expect from Pixar fare, but it’s still a high-octane adventure the burns fast and furious.
It should come as no surprise that 2006’s Cars is near the bottom of this list, as it and its sequel are the least loved of all the Pixar films and yet, as we noted above, when it comes to Pixar, the worst is still so much better than most of the other junk being churned out by Hollywood. Directed by Pixar honcho John Lasseter and the late Joe Ranft, the film tells the tale of Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), a rookie racecar who learns that winning isn’t everything. Which, one supposes, is easy for Lasseter and his team to preach, now that they’ve basically won everything themselves.
The film, while quite entertaining and clever, just doesn’t quite meet with the high standard that Pixar has set for itself over the past 15 years or so. As we noted in our original review, “Cars is hardly the bump in the road that some predicted. It’s still a fun movie, it’s cute and has enough going for it to draw in audiences. The unfortunate aside on Cars is that, unlike Pixar films past, this may be the first entry by the studio that parents will want to avoid re-watching alongside their kids, opting instead to plop their kids in the back of the mini-van with a set of headphones. Even the kids may opt to go back to that worn copy of Finding Nemo or Incredibles quicker than expected.”
A Bug’s Life was the second Pixar film after Toy Story. A take on the old Ant and the Grasshopper parable, A Bug’s Life was a great sophomore effort for the young company, even if it didn’t quite match the magic of Toy Story. Still, it outdid DreamWorks’ Antz by a yard, so that’s saying something. Dave Foley is Flik, an outcast ant who, after his colony is threatened by villainous grasshoppers, pulls a Seven Samurai and recruits a bunch of other loner insects — well, actually they’re just circus performers who are out of work. But they are, of course, up to the task.
With this film, Lasseter and co-director Andrew Stanton once again proved they had let the genie out of the bottle with the Pixar formula, a mix of kid-friendly comedy, adult-friendly knowingness and nostalgia, and state-of-the-art computer animation. Throw in elements like Kevin Spacey voicing the lead baddie Hopper, Randy Newman offering up the film’s music once again, and a sophisticated element of characterization. How else could bugs be made to be so lovable?
The first Pixar film to follow a female protagonist (the arrow-shooting princess Merida), the first one to be set in the past (medieval Scotland), and their 13th film to open at No. 1, Brave wisely forsakes the well-worn relationships of other animated fairy tales – the wicked stepmother/stepdaughter dynamic or father/daughter bond or the princess and prince romance — in favor of the more complicated, yet loving bond between a headstrong mother and her equally stubborn daughter. And yet despite that smart choice, Brave still never becomes more than a traditional Disney princess tale.
The narrative is surprisingly rote for a studio whose mantra is that story is everything, and it’s chock full of the usual “girl power” tropes and comeuppance moments one would expect. Brave is a technical marvel (Merida’s wild curls, the misty Highlands, immersive 3D), but it’s ultimately a lesser effort from a studio known for breaking new ground. Grownups may appreciate the artistry that went into making Brave, but they’ll likely yearn for the transcendent Pixar films they fell in love with.
Released in 2001, Monsters, Inc. broke free of Pixar’s toys and bugs track record — they’d only released A Bug’s Life and two Toy Story films up until that point — with a story about kindly creatures and the utility company that they work for in the land of Monstropolis. Starring John Goodman as Sulley and Billy Crystal as Mike, a couple of working-class monsters, the film finds its inspiration in the familiar area that Toy Story did, giving reality and weight to childhood fantasies as we learn that, yes, Virginia, there are monsters in your closet.
And yet, Monsters, Inc. pales in comparison to the Toy Story films. “What’s peculiar here is why the film doesn’t work as fully as it should have,” we noted in our original review. “A lot of it has to do with how thinly-drawn its characters are. When considering the Toy Story movies, both films are consistently clever, with insightful and well-rounded characterizations running throughout. In fact, characters in those movies are generally established before they set about doing things which affect the plot. Monsters, Inc.’s characters never fully engage or flesh-out. We ultimately warm-up to them a bit, but for the most part, they’re just going through the motions — much like the first 50 (or so) percent of the movie.” Still, Monsters, Inc. is fun and better than most of its non-Pixar peers (how many times do we have to make that distinction today?). It’s just that it feels like it could’ve been even greater than the sum of its monstrous parts.
Ratatouille was a risky one for Pixar when it was released in 2007, if only because of that title. Let’s face it: Americans don’t like French (or the French) much, especially when they can’t pronounce it. So that makes this film, in its way, the Alien 3 of the Pixar oeuvre — the hidden gem that’s not as well recognized as it should be, but is typically a revelation for those who come late to its stew. Directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles), who was already beloved by animation aficionados prior to joining Pixar for The Iron Giant, the film was originally conceived by Jan Pinkava. But the Pixar bosses weren’t happy with Pinkava’s work, and Bird was brought in to rebuild the project from the ground up.
Particularly given audiences’ lukewarm anticipation for the film, Bird’s follow-up to The Incredibles could have easily been a return to the kind of moviemaking which established his name: widely praised but little seen, if only because it was far too smart for its own good… much less the moviegoing public’s. But Ratatouille is that unique experience that strikes deep notes of recognition across many kinds of moviegoers, be they discriminating technophiles, fans of animation, or just everyday folks expecting to be entertained. Bird has created the kind of movie that is truly for everyone.
Finding Nemo, from 2003, features perhaps the most widely recognized characters from a Pixar picture aside from the original Toy Story troupe. Ask anyone, age 50 or five, who Dory or Nemo is, and they can probably tell you. This is surely the result of several factors, not the least of which are the breathtaking design of the deep-sea world inhabited by the characters, the spot-on vocalizations by Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Dafoe, Albert Brooks, and the rest, and the real-world emotional parallels of the story that mark the best aspects of all of the Pixar films.
The film’s story of an overprotective father who is separated from his son instantly preys upon any parent’s deepest feelings, and yet the film is never manipulative or calculating in its storytelling methods. “Finding Nemo is ultimately a rewarding, engaging, compelling, and even spiritual adventure that works charismatically on multiple levels,” we noted in our review. “Many recent endeavors have used ultra-powered CGI to broaden their canvas of storytelling, usually to cold, lackluster, and uninspired results. Nemo powerfully illustrates the conceit that… at the end of the day… the human equation is still what prevails in filmmaking. And, that all the meticulously rendered razzle-dazzle in the universe doesn’t mean anything unless it’s driven by a truthful human spirit.”
Toy Story 2 shouldn’t be as good as it is, but as a matter of fact it is the rare example of a sequel that comes close to topping its predecessor. That means it ranks up there with the likes of The Godfather: Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, and Aliens. High praise indeed. The 1999 film was originally meant to be a direct-to-video follow-up to the first Toy Story, but during its development it was decided that it had the potential to break out on the big screen like the original did. Perhaps its chief disadvantage when compared its predecessor, in fact, is that by its very nature it cannot be seen as groundbreaking as the first film.
But still the story of Woody’s abduction by a toy collector (Wayne Knight) and the attempt by his pals to save him is truly great stuff. Aside from the typical excellent design elements and humor and action, the Pixar philosophical bent is at work again in Toy Story 2: Woody is faced with a serious choice between living forever — hermetically sealed as a collector’s item — or going back to his friends and the boy who loves him and facing the prospect of getting torn apart at any moment, as a boy’s toys tend to be. Live life or watch from the sidelines? What would Woody do?
When The Simpsons alumnus Brad Bird’s feature film The Iron Giant was released to critical acclaim — and the sound of crickets from the masses — back in 1999, a cynical person might’ve figured that was the end of the story. But such a person would be underestimating the power of being a CalArts graduate. The school that essentially gives us every important mainstream American animation professional, it was from those early studies that Bird knew a classmate named John Lasseter. And Lasseter was one of The Iron Giant’s fans. And that’s how we eventually got The Incredibles.
The story of retired superheroes Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), as well as their super children Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack, The Incredibles takes Bird’s love of old-school comic-book conventions that was evident in The Iron Giant and mashes it with a satire about the American nuclear family. Also, it has robots! Bird brought a new and different voice to the Pixar world. The Incredibles is less cute and more biting in its satire and wit. Some of the characters, such as the children of the Parr family, are still cute, but they have more of an edginess to them, such as the goth Violet (Sarah Vowell). Bird does a great job of balancing a huge group of characters and giving each their own well-rounded development.
When the first Pixar feature was released in 1995, the animated genre saw a new age dawn. It wasn’t just the whole CG thing — though that was certainly big. But it was also what we’ve been talking about throughout this entire list today, the humanity and emotion that director John Lasseter and the rest of the team brought to the film.
The original story of Woody and Buzz and the rest could’ve been a heartless and cold affair, owing to the then uncharted field of feature-length CG animation. Anyone who has ever seen bad, TV-level CG knows what we mean here. But Toy Story was technically at the top of its game, while also illustrating some very familiar thematic throughlines that included the rivalry between Tom Hanks’ wooden cowboy and Tim Allen’s space-age action figure, the buddy comedy, the fear that we all have of becoming obsolete, and of course the very idea of toys having a life of their own. The result was a huge success that took age-old tropes and made them fresh and new again — and created the cinematic mega-beast known as Pixar along the way.
Up proves its power within the first ten minutes! With just a few lines of dialogue, an opening montage introduces us to the main character, Carl, and shows us the story of his life and love with Ellie – from their meeting as children, to their marriage, to their inability to have children and to her death. Those last two elements tell you all you need to know about a film where Pixar once again proved they didn’t talk down to their audience or shy away from truly emotional, powerful material.
The adventure that follows for Carl and the young boy, Russell, who inadvertently tags along is certainly fanciful – Carl gets an entire house to fly using balloons! – yet infused with an incredible amount of pathos and meaning, as we watch Carl oh so literally carry his burden on his back, as he physically drags that floating house through the jungle, determined to bring it to the place he and Ellie dreamed about. Funny, exciting and touching, Up is a beautiful film and became the second animated movie to ever receive a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.
You will believe a robot can fall in love! With WALL-E, Pixar began to flirt with a slightly experimental edge to its filmmaking, while tricking Americans everywhere to pay for the pleasure to witness said experiments. What other film studio could offer up a movie with a first act that is almost entirely without dialogue, and still make boffo box office and win the Oscar for best animated film? It’s Pixar’s willingness to break out of the boundaries of the genre that makes its films so worthwhile. Whereas old-school Disney eventually fell into a rut that saw it recycling the same concepts over and over again, the Pixar bosses seem to be actively working against that very trend.
WALL-E has undeniable technical and conceptual merits, but it’s its emotional core that makes the difference between just another animated film and what this one uniquely offers. It doesn’t matter if you think about the movie, only if you feel something while watching it. Ultimately, WALL-E serves its potential audience — that is, everyone — extremely well because it offers older viewers the opportunity to examine its deeper themes while it thrills younger ones with colorful imagery and a fun, simple and most of all beautiful story.
At the heart of most Pixar films is the theme of isolation. WALL-E, the animation studio’s crowning achievement, is a breathtaking meditation on loneliness and the re-enforcement that every sentient creature contains an unbeatable desire to connect with someone else. We were all told, from the teasers, that we were going to absolutely freakin’ love this little robot bastard — and we scoffed! Right. Sure we would. Just because he makes squeaky noises and looks a bit like Johnny 5 doesn’t mean he’s going to win our hearts, minds and a spot on our lunch pail. But guess who was all sorts of wrong? All of us! Because Pixar just has a way of creating fantastic creatures and characters who tug violently on all our heartstrings. And all WALL-E wanted to do was hold someone else’s hand like he’d seen in the musical Hello, Dolly. Post-trashocalyptic world be damned! Oh, and the villain of the piece? Our heinously corrupted, yet inevitable, future as gluttonous consumers. Talk about a dark backdrop.
Leave it to Pixar to make the best threequel ever. The story of Andy moving on to college, leaving Woody and Buzz and the gang dealing with a great, understated villain in Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear at the new daycare center home, is the most fun of the Toy Story films. It works as a drama, a comedy and an action film – a trifecta of storytelling that live-action Hollywood should take pointers from. It’s a beautiful, vibrant story about memories, the passing of time and how you treat the people in your life. The symbiotic relationship that the toys have with their owners in the Toy Story-verse has always been a curious thing. In order for toys to truly feel wanted, their owners need to really use their imaginations while playing with them. There almost needs to be a heightened sense of wonder involved in order for the toys to feel complete.
As with everything Pixar does, the attention to detail here is incredible. The split-imagery within the daycare/Alcatraz is great. How the slide in the playground becomes a watchtower at night. How the bead mazes double as razor wire. How marker smudges become prison tats. The level of detail, in things like Woody’s rounded-down hairline, is astounding. So many moments – character moments, mind you – crossover into “great” or “perfect” status, and the last 15 minutes are some of the strongest work the studio has ever done. (A quiet moment of holding hands in the face of horror? Andy’s final decision? Big. Fat. Tears.) The movie is simply pure wonder wrapped in joy.
I could not agree more with Toys’ Story 3! I have to say I did CRY buckets when I first saw the film, and every time I watch it, I shed a tear. They should have placed Finding Nemo a little bit higher though but I’m completely fine with the ranking (except for Brave because I have yet to see it.)