My Top 10 Pixar Films

Before The Good Dinosaur comes out, I thought I’d take the opportunity to rank the previous fifteen full-length films from Pixar. Remember, this is my opinion only, so feel free to disagree. I’m sure you all have your own favorites.

I’ve given Honorable Mentions before or explanations why others didn’t make the Top 10. Since there are a total of 15, I’ll start with a 1-2 sentence reason why these five didn’t crack the Top 10:

#15 – Cars 2: Pixar usually has tremendous originality. Sequels usually do not, especially this one.

#14 – Cars: It’s okay for a main character to grow from being a jerk if he’s likeable, but Lightning McQueen is too whiny for me to care for him.

#13 – Monsters University: It has some fun moments, but this prequel is a far cry from the original, begging the question if it was really necessary.

#12 – A Bug’s Life: There’s not much wrong with Pixar’s sophomore attempt. It’s fun, but there are so many better things that came afterwards.

#11 – Toy Story 2: It’s a sequel, but it’s a decent one. Not as strong as the third part, however, but the Zurg/Buzz father/son scene is hysterical!

Now to the Top 10, but be warned: SPOILERS MAY BE AHEAD!

 

#10 – Brave

Merida is Pixar’s first female main character. That’s just mindboggling that it took them so long to get there. The Scottish highlands are lushly animated, and every strand of Merida’s wild red hair is rendered beautifully. Though Merida’s a princess and her parents are seeking a husband for her, she’s not the typical Disney princess. She’s feisty and…well, er…brave. Also atypical for a Disney princess story is how the movie explores a strained mother-daughter relationship, and for the most part, it works. The little triplet boys are funny, but there’s no real explanation why they and the mother get turned into bears. Though we see the magic that does it, why bears? And on the subject of bears, Disney has covered that territory before in Brother Bear. I think Brave is the overall better movie, but at least in Brother Bear there seemed to be a karma kind of reason for the bear transformation.

 

#9 – Toy Story 3

Get out your tissues, because this one will make you cry. The best Pixar movies work on multiple levels—bright, adventure stories for children to enjoy, and deep, existential themes for adults to ponder. With Andy now heading for college, the toys are left unplayed and they’re questioning their existence. Instead of being stored in the attic, most of the toys accidentally end up in the trash. Fortunately, they escape into a donation box and find their way to a daycare center, where the toys are run by the vile Lotso-Huggin bear (maliciously voiced by Ned Beatty). His evil plan is to keep newcomers in the young children’s room, even if they’re broken, so he and others in his inner circle stay in the older children’s room. Woody, Buzz, and the gang stick together until the very end, and when they finally make their way back to Andy, he does something truly altruistic and heart-warming. These toys will be played with and cared for again…and maybe we’ll see what happens next in their story.

 

#8 – Monsters, Inc.

Being ranked eighth out of fifteen would seem average, but so many of the Pixar films are outstanding and some will have to be lower than others. Take Monsters, Inc. for example. It’s an absolutely fantastic movie. The buddy vocal work of Billy Crystal and John Goodman as Mike and Sully is outstanding. I can’t imagine anyone else in these two roles. Steve Buscemi is perfect as bad guy Randall. The puns in translating human society into Monstropolis are hysterical, and I love the inverted notion that the monsters are afraid of human children. There are real stakes being built throughout the story, the characters and their relationships evolve, and there are some really unexpected twists in the plot. There’s slapstick comedy, real scares and tension, and truly tender moments—the film has it all. So why ranked so low? Well, something has to be #8, so I knocked it for some predictability: I knew far too early that laughter would be more powerful than scream. But isn’t that a wonderful message?

 

#7 – The Incredibles

Here’s one that may upset a lot of people, as this film is a fan favorite. Don’t get me wrong, this film is…well…incredible. Pixar perfectly casts their movies, this time with the combined talents of heroes Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jason Lee’s twisted and caped villain Syndrome. So why only #7? As a superhero story, I don’t really think it breaks any new ground. There’s a team of four superheroes that include (1) someone super strong, (2) someone super stretchy, (3) someone super fast, and (4) someone who can turn invisible. Though it’s a family with parents and kids, aren’t those the basic superpowers of the Fantastic Four? I guess there’s only a limited amount of superpower possibilities out there, but it’s been done before. And like many superhero movies, there are loud and long action sequences, and even though the animation is superb, I feel those sequences are a bit too long. However, what truly elevates this movie is the mid-life crisis aspect that Mr. Incredible finds himself in. With supers having to stay hidden, he questions his relevance and is depressed about it. Getting the challenge to use his powers once again invigorates him and ultimately brings his family together. The life-questioning and ultimate family bonding is where the story works best for me. That and any part of the movie with scene-stealing super costume designer Edna Mode. She’s a truly unique Pixar creation!

 

#6 – Toy Story

This was Pixar’s first full-length film. Though animation techniques and technology have improved, it still holds up today as one of their best stories. Woody the cowboy (Tom Hanks giving him both a perfect calm, collected voice and a frantic, jealous voice) is the leader of the toys in Andy’s bedroom—toys that come to life when Andy isn’t around. Everything is great in his world until the arrival of Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen at his cockiest best). Many Pixar movies come from one character’s stable world suddenly being thrown into an unstable situation. Woody is jealous that Buzz is now commanding Andy’s attention. The décor of the room goes from cowboys to spaceships. When Woody tries to hide Buzz from Andy, Buzz accidentally falls out the window. The other toys think Woody purposely eliminated Buzz from the room, so he loses their trust. What follows is a buddy adventure of Buzz and Woody trying to make their way back home before Andy’s family moves to a new house without them. Like the best buddy travel movies, they bicker and then learn to appreciate one another along the way. It has spawned two sequels so far (Toy Story 4 is supposedly in the works), and these characters are so far worth seeing further adventures of.

 

#5 – Up

First off, that prologue—the montage of Carl and Ellie’s courtship, marriage, and ultimately her passing—makes me cry every time I see it. And that’s just the first ten or so minutes. What follows next is a mash-up of fantasy adventure story, buddy comedy, and important life lessons. Mr. Fredricksen (a wonderfully cranky Ed Asner) attaches thousands of helium balloons to his house in order to avoid it being torn down for new construction and finally to take the adventure to Paradise Falls that he and Ellie had put off for years because of life’s financial burdens interfering. What Carl failed to realize is that young scout Russel is along for the ride. On the plateau in Venezuela, they meet talking dogs—particularly the laughable and loveable Dug (“Hi there, my master made me this collar so I can…SQUIRREL!”)—a rare bird protecting its family, and Carl and Ellie’s childhood hero seeking the bird. Though the story is a little disjointed at times, the animation and strong action, comedic, and heartwarming moments make up for it. The characters of Carl and Russell have so much depth, and the final result of their bond at a scout badge-receiving ceremony is really touching.

 

#4 – WALL-E

It’s hard not to love the character of WALL-E. He’s such a (literally) wide-eyed optimist. Even though there’s virtually no dialogue or any other characters for the first twenty minutes of the movie, Pixar incredibly lets us know everything we need to about WALL-E’s existence—and the world he (but no one else) inhabits. Some of the best stories come from an “everyrobot” kind of character with a ho-hum existence suddenly being thrust into so much more. Enter EVE, a much more sleek and stylized robot with her own mission—to find plant life on the barren wasteland of Earth. Well, she finds it, and she and WALL-E are thrust into adventure and danger on the Axiom—the big space ark carrying what’s left of the human race. But these aren’t the humans who left the planet; they’re humans several generations later. Because of dependence on machines—particularly comfy chairs that move from place to place—they’ve become lazy and…well…large. The major criticism about this movie is that some of its themes are a bit too heavy-handed. I won’t discuss that here, but it is true that people are polluting the Earth, and it is true that we’ve become extremely reliant on technology. But in the end, this story is about the unlikeliest of heroes inspiring a society ultimately to do the right thing. Let’s hope our real society can take some inspiration from WALL-E (the robot and the film).

 

#3 – Inside Out

I find it challenging to describe this movie to people who have never heard about it. It’s about a typical 11-year-old girl named Riley who’s smart and kind, loves her family and hockey, and is moving from Minnesota to San Francisco. It’s also about five emotions—Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust—residing inside her brain. It’s also about a heap of psychological ideas about emotions, memories, and how the brain works. AND it’s a mismatched buddy movie on a very important quest to complete before time runs out and disaster strikes. Though it may not possess Pixar’s best animation (I claim that for the two remaining movies), it definitely has some of the most impressive visualizations of psychological concepts. Memories are fragile spheres, colored to match the primary emotion associated with the memory. Certain memories—the core memories—stay in the control center of the brain. Others get sent to long-term storage. There’s a funny moment with two workers coming across some phone numbers and discarding them because no one memorizes them anymore because we program them in our phones! There’s also a recurring bit about replaying an earworm commercial jingle. And dreams are the brain’s workers making weird or funny movies—an added detail is the movie posters about falling, flying, and other common dreams. Details like this enhance the film. The voice cast is outstanding, with Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling as the respective emotions. But the well-kept secret weapon of this movie is Richard Kind as Riley’s former imaginary friend Bing-Bong. I realized how his storyline played out about five seconds before it does, and it deeply affected me. Ultimately, the closing message that memories can be more than one emotion at a time is beautifully visualized, and it comes with a control center upgrade now that Riley is older and experiences events with more than one emotion. Only time will tell whether this movie is classic Pixar, but it had a profound effect on me and deserves this high ranking.

 

#2 – Finding Nemo

This has to be Pixar’s most vividly animated film. The underwater world is so vibrant and dynamic, and the story of a father searching for his lost son is tremendously relatable. But it’s about so much more than that quest; its themes really are one of children growing up and seeking independence, and another of parents coming to grips with their children growing up. Clownfish Marlin (perfectly neurotically voiced by Albert Brooks) is an overprotective father of Nemo, understandably since Nemo is the only egg to survive a barracuda attack that also took Marlin’s wife. Nemo is born with one fin smaller than the other, further adding to Marlin’s overprotectiveness and insistence that there are certain things Nemo just can’t do. But we learn all the wonderful things Nemo can do when he helps the crazy fish in the dentist’s tank and later saves a bunch of fish in a net. Disabilities shouldn’t define us; we need to embrace differences and recognize the strengths we individually have. There are so many individual characters effectively dealing with their own “disabilities” or shortcomings in different ways. Dory has a short-term memory problem, but it doesn’t stop her from having a good “Just keep swimming” attitude and being helpful. The sharks want to get over their reliance/addiction to their carnivorous ways (“Fish are friends, not food.”). Crush the turtle enjoys life despite his age. And the members of the tank gang have their own quirks. This is a great story of overcoming adversity and loss, and I’m intrigued by how that will carry into the upcoming sequel Finding Dory next year. Sequels can be tough, but Ellen Degeneres imbues Dory with so much heart that her upcoming story is bound to be awesome.

 

And finally, MY FAVORITE PIXAR FILM…

#1 – RATATOUILLE

Movies are sights and sounds; cooking is smells and tastes. Wrong senses, so this shouldn’t work. The main character is a rat, and not just any rat but a rat who wants to be a master chef and must therefore touch food. Rats touching food? Blech! It shouldn’t work. Seriously, the premise of this film is so freakishly out there that it’s hard to imagine it even getting greenlighted in the first place. IT. SHOULDN’T. WORK. But you know something? Somehow, it does work. And not only work, but work remarkably well with an abundance of heart. First off, just look at the animation. The soft earth tones make Paris look beautifully rustic. I’ve been to Paris—the city is gorgeous—and this film makes it look even better. The incidental music feels so Parisian. The main characters are so likeable. Patton Oswalt as Remy balances underdog charm with just a dash of cooking snobbery like a master chef. Too much of either ingredient and it wouldn’t work. There’s tremendous physical comedy as Remy learns how to use Linguini as a marionette in the kitchen. Clever visuals and sounds elicit tastes and smells. It’s got wonderful themes about chasing dreams and receiving support from family. Ian Holm plays Skinner as a nasty villain that you want to see get bound by a fleet of rats. And then there’s the character arc of food critic Anton Ego, perfectly voiced by Peter O’Toole. The visualization of a first bite of ratatouille bringing back childhood memories is brilliant, but the subsequent review he writes is a beautiful meditation on the creation of art and the subjectivity of criticizing it. “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Not every movie can be a masterful work of art, but this one surely is, and every time I rewatch it, I’m instantly reminded why it’s my favorite Pixar film.

 

Agree? Disagree? Comments, compliments, complaints? Fire away!

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