Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Best Pixar movies

I recently came back from seeing Inside Out (review coming eventually) and felt like re-evaluating what I would consider the top Pixar films. I've been a fan of this studio since watching the original Toy Story in theater with my grandmother and cousins back when it came out and have been impressed with the way they continue to improve with each new movie idea (their originals, in other words) and have turned me into one of their biggest fans. Pixar is one of the best.

Now, it isn't all roses. I really dislike the Cars movies, and am pretty forcefully against the sequel onslaught they'll be delivering on us (Incredibles 2? YES. Toy Story 4 and Finding Dory? NO.) very soon. But when they are allowed to be themselves and make a truly original movie, they always seem to put out something incredible. Something always worth seeing. Even when they stumble like with Brave, it still has enough wrinkles to prove interesting enough to sit through.

All in all, it is a film canon worth watching for anyone who enjoys stories. Kids or not, this is quality film-making worthy of all audiences.

Without further pause, my list:


1. Up

Probably my favorite movie of all time. Up has everything I enjoy in a good story.

Much has been said about the first ten minutes of the film, but not so much about the rest. What makes Up work so well is that it's about adventure in every aspect. The movie starts with the lives of Carl and Ellie, two young children, eager for the mysterious and wondrous world ahead of them as they grow from silly kids into responsible adults. The rest of the movie is about facing mortality and the end of the road, as well as learning that, despite life being one big adventure, there are important things you will miss if you don't pay attention. The adventure Carl goes on with Wilderness Explorer Russel, is both the journey of fatherhood he never got to take, and the journey of wild adventures he dreamed about having as a kid. Really, this movie is about young Carl at the beginning of the movie and elderly Carl at the end meeting again and remembering how to live. Carl remembers what it means to be alive again. It's one of my favorite films of all time for a reason and it's not just the dogs with funny voices.

Oh, yeah, there are talking dogs, a flying house, a mysterious bird, a villain that shows the emptiness of the life Carl wanted to have and never got to, and an ending that brings everything forward again. I don't think there are many legitimately better films than Up.

2. Inside Out

The most recent film, as of this writing, but it will easily rank with the best at the end of the day. I can say this since all top five entries here have never budged from being my favorite Pixar films since their releases and I have no doubt Pete Docter (Director of Up, Inside Out, and Monsters, Inc.) has much more in this film I didn't notice on my first viewing. Both his other films had the same qualities that only improve the film on further viewings.

This is a film about growing up, about what makes us tick, about childhood, and about the future. It is wrapped in typical Pixar goodness like top notch character design and direction, dead-on dialogue and observational humor, and an emotional core that speaks on a universal level. It has everything Pixar at its best has always had. Over twenty years later from their first movie and they've still got it better than ever.

Unfortunately, it's too new for me to really dig into both to spoil and for what I missed, but I know that it will become a favorite in the future because it already is.


In a similar case to Up, it's the first part of the movie that gets most of the discussion but not what happens later. You see, it's both about the hero's journey for the title character and for a reflection on the world that allowed him to exist in the first place. WALL*E is the remnant of the world humanity left behind, including their hopes and dreams and potential, and it is only he that can restore the soul that they long abandoned for comfort and pleasure. It's also a love story that is as adorable as it is potent.

WALL*E is a movie that has everything great about Pixar with little of any faults. This movie had a ton of care put into it and it shows in every frame that Andrew Stanton directed.

Thankfully, this movie is well regarded and should hopefully go down as one of the all-time greats. It has earned the title.

4. The Incredibles

A superhero movie from before the superhero boom, The Incredibles is a clever look at both the importance of family, and the desperate search for purpose in a broken world. Mr. Incredible might be one of the best protagonists Pixar ever devised with both the inner struggle with justice and a sense of meaning, and his outer struggle with a world that doesn't want him, despite needing him and others like him.

This, of course, being directed by Brad Bird (the man behind The Iron Giant, and Ratatouille) means there is a lot here under the hood that begs watching. Noticing Syndrome's plan of destroying any sort of exceptional-ism with mediocrity and the struggles of superheroes to remain relevant in a world that doesn't want them, you begin to see a lot of subtle cues and nods in both the dialogue and the animation tics.

Though we are currently hip-deep in the (highly welcome) superhero boom, The Incredibles is still one of the best of its kind. Despite what I said before, I highly anticipate a sequel to this film, because it is well suited to it (unlike Finding Nemo, or Toy Story 3, which need no sequels) and Brad Bird is a master at characterization.

5. Toy Story 3

This is the capstone to the franchise that started Pixar and gave us the current best movie studio in the world. Toy Story 3 is the final chapter in a surprisingly great trilogy of films that follow a very iconic set of characters as they come to terms with their purpose. This movie is mostly centered on Woody the cowboy, not as a flawed protagonist as the first two movies, but as the hero he was always striving to be just as Buzz Lightyear, the spaceman, had already come into his own by the second film. Woody and his friends are survivors simply hoping for rest after a rough bunch of years and the story that follows is both uproariously funny and profoundly touching in very unpredictable ways.

What helps it work so well is putting it in context with the rest of Pixar's work. The kids who first saw the groundbreaking original Toy Story back in 1995 are now adults who have left the childhood room of Andy behind for the grown up world. This movie reflects exactly that transition those original fans have had to go through when growing up and leaving things behind them. The theme of growing up and moving on is in this movie from something as simple as losing an important toy (and character) in a garage sale to something as ultimately important and crucial as death and salvation. For a movie about toys that is as funny as this, it might seem out of place, but not if you follow from what the first two movies set up.

Pixar capped off an excellent trilogy with this film and I sincerely hope the next Toy Story film is a spin off of some kind because we do not need a sequel to this. The ending here is as perfect as can be, and finishes off one of the best movie trilogies of all time.

6. Toy Story 2

I suppose I could repeat myself here, but why bother? Toy Story 2 does everything the first movie does, but does it better. More characters, deeper characterizations, and the first inkling of theme of fake immortality with real life and mortality that is delved into in the third movie. I don't think there isn't an adult in the world that doesn't get a bit of misty eyes during the scene where Jessie describes where she came from. And comparing it with what happens in the third movie really brings it out further.

It is hard to believe that this was only their third movie, but it was a sequel well worth being told. It also made Buzz Lightyear into more than just a counterpoint to Woody, but also made him a hero in his own right at the same time. Toy Story 2 was the first sign the Pixar was not a one trick pony.

7. Toy Story

And finally, we have the film that started it all. The animation might not seem as impressive nowadays compared to where computer animation is now, but the film itself certainly does. A buddy movie about a mismatched pair of toys, (one from the future and one from the past) the film deftly dives into the importance of imagination, being a kid, and remembering who you are as opposed to believing your own hype. For a first film, it's still a knock-out.

Pixar would go on to bigger and better things, like what I listed above, but this is still the benchmark that everything they do will be judged by. They are one of the best, and this movie will always remind people as to why.

8. Monsters, Inc.

The last movie I would consider a masterpiece, is their fourth movie and third original film idea, being Monsters, Inc.. Now, the reason I would say that is because this movie succeeds as probably one of the best examples of a buddy comedy I can think of, while staying highly original, and having a surprisingly emotional core. It isn't as out there or deep as the aforementioned movies, including Pete Docter's other films, but it is a movie where craft puts it over the top.

I wouldn't call it Pixar's best overall, but it deserves to be ranked near the top on the pure effort and quality the film shines with and how simply enjoyable it is to watch. This is the movie that made Pixar into a studio worth paying attention to as their first non-Toy Story movie to shine with a quality few others do.

Great Movies

9. Ratatouille

I know there are many people who would roast me alive for this, but while I've always liked this movie and have adored most of Brad Bird's other work, Ratatouille has never been a favorite. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the characters, the direction, and the themes, but they never registered with me nearly as well as anything above it on the list.

This is a good movie to pop in and enjoy, but it's never seen as much play as anything else above it or Mr. Bird's other animated work in my house. That said, I do understand the appeal. It just doesn't hit me very hard.

10. Finding Nemo

So while I realize this is one of Pixar's biggest successes (and I like it a lot!) it has never been a favorite. In my opinion, both the buddy comedy and emotional appeal of Monsters, Inc. were done better in that movie, the themes were not as gripping as the Toy Story movies, and the string of films they made after this one were just so far above it that it's hard to rank this high at the end of the day.

It's a movie I can easily watch when it comes on TV, but it's not one I go out of my way for. And don't get me started on the fact that it's getting an entirely unneeded sequel. Ugh.

11. Monsters University

This movie gets ragged on a lot for being an unnecessary sequel (even though it's a prequel), and while I agree it doesn't match the original film, it does offer a lot. The themes are quite strong, especially in this age of You Can Do Anything and participation trophies, about how there really are things you can't do but that's okay. Maybe your calling is just somewhere else. In this age of mindless self-esteem it was no wonder why this film got unfairly dumped on.

But it is no masterpiece. It's simply a fun college party movie for families that also manage to pack in some great themes and an ending that dovetails really well with the original movie. Of all their unnecessary sequels, this is the one the shouldn't get half the guff it gets.

Good Movies

12. Brave

This movie was pushed so hard when it came out that it's almost a tragedy that it isn't that great. Of course, it had many production problems, but the central issues are hard to ignore. The first is the plot being so totally cliched to the point that this feels more like a Disney film than a Pixar one. It's hard at times to remember that this was actually made by Pixar. The second is that the main character is really hard to like. She's very bratty and self-centered (of course, teenage girls can often be that way) but doesn't leave a lot of room for wanting to root for her because of it.

What works is that the main theme (that maybe your totally overbearing parents actually know what they're doing! Wow, who woulda thunk it?) is strong on a level Disney rarely is, especially nowadays, the animation can be pretty gorgeous and awe-inspiring at times with its use of fantastical and Scottish locales, and the comedy is typically funny Pixar that never misses a beat.

It's simply a good movie. Unfortunately, this is Pixar, and they're frequently much better than good.

13. A Bug’s Life

This is the most forgotten Pixar film for a reason. It has the pieces other Pixar films have of a great moral and story, but none of them are very fleshed out. What you get is an above average animated movie with no real identity. But given that it's only Pixar's second movie, that can be very understandable.

Unfortunately, it's just good. It doesn't even have the interesting themes or direction of Brave to pick up some slack. It just doesn't stack up to any of Pixar's other originals. But it isn't a bad film, at the very least.


14. Cars

It's Doc Hollywood with cars. So just go watch Doc Hollywood instead. Or better yet, watch just about any other Pixar movie. This movie has been made plenty of times before.

15. Cars 2

It's a spy movie spoof with cars. These Cars movies are so far below what Pixar is capable of that I cannot imagine why they are so successful at the end of the day. The fact that it will be a trilogy soon is just amazing as if it is anywhere near the level of the Toy Story trilogy. These films have nothing going for them that other Pixar movies (even the plain good ones) don't already do a hundred times better.

Other than the Cars movies (seriously, enough already) the worst I've found Pixar's films are decent. I'm hoping The Good Dinosaur coming out this holiday season is another home-run for the studio, but I am definitely NOT looking forward to Finding Dory. I liked Finding Nemo well enough, but there is nothing about it that called for a sequel whatsoever. Same with Toy Story 4. That series was capped off perfectly with Toy Story 3, there's nothing else to see here that they couldn't do in more of the (very good) shorts they're already doing. At least the Monsters, Inc. prequel added some new wrinkles to the dynamic and centered on Mike like the original centered on Sully and The Incredibles 2 will likely be typical Brad Bird goodness and continuing with the themes from the original. These films add to the originals. Finding Dory is like Toy Story 4-- something that really has no need to be made, but for some reason is. I honestly don't understand Pixar's sequel fascination. It's simply not needed.

As a whole though, I'd say Pixar is probably my favorite movie studio. They only climb higher with every new original, and if they could just stop with all the sequels (except another Incredibles film, I'm really okay with that) they would be even better off. They've certainly surpassed Disney, in my mind.

This post goes out to Pixar! To infinity, and beyond!

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