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Ranking the Pixar Films

It goes without saying that Pixar is the most creative and innovative movie studio today. I don’t mean because of its animation, which is light years in front of any other animation studio’s and continuing to improve at an astonishing rate. It’s because they are committed to storytelling first and foremost, and every Pixar script is filled to the brim with full-blooded characters with heart and witty dialogue that will still make you laugh the fiftieth time you watch the film (and you’ll watch them that often, believe me). Out of their nine films, six of them have been a Top 3 film in the respective year of its release. With their newest film, Up, due out tomorrow, I thought it an appropriate time to reflect upon the studio’s past work, and I set out upon an impossible journey: ranking the films of Pixar, from worst to best– or rather, from still-very-good-but-not-as-good-as-the-rest to best. And I’ve included some Youtube clips of my favorite scenes in the films (or at least the best ones I could find online). Here we go:

9. A Bug’s Life (1998)

While still quite funny and creative, this film is the lightest of all Pixar fare, a lark about the secret life of ants. Kevin Spacey’s Hopper is one of the better villains in Pixar history, and the animation is the usual top-drawer work. However, this is the only Pixar work where the Dreamworks animation studio bested them, with Antz, which tackled similar subject matter more creatively. This is nitpicky, since, like Toy Story 2, this is still one of the better animated movies of the last fifteen years. However, it’s weightless enough to be at the bottom of this list.

8. Cars (2006)

I think Cars gets a bum rap. Sure, the message is a bit more granola than the other Pixar films– a country life has merits too, save the environment, etc.– but the car chase scenes are actually exciting, the Mater character is quite funny, and Paul Newman and Bonnie Hunt give their respective cars some serious heart. The main issue I have with the film is the ethnic stereotype cars, which are disheartening. Still, it was a Top 15 film in 2006, extremely well told, and beautifully animated per usual.

7. Toy Story 2 (1999)

Some prefer this one to the first. To me, this is lunacy. It’s a very good sequel, lots of suspense, and the characters are still full of the same life and humor as before. However, I felt that at times this one strained to be as good as the first. The highs in this movie are higher than the highs in Cars and A Bug’s Life, but the lows sink lower too. Still, it’s more ambitious than the other two, so it gets the better ranking. Also, be sure to keep in mind that Toy Story 2 is still at worst a 3-star film, better than nearly every other animated movie by a non-Pixar studio in the last fifteen years.

6. Ratatouille (2007)

How in the world did this wonderful film, a movie that made my Top 3 list in 2007, sink to #6? Truthfully, I have no idea. It’s another of Pixar’s finest achievements, one of its most beautifully animated and unconventionally told films. Brad Bird, the genius (and I don’t throw that word around) behind The Incredibles and the grossly underrated 2-D animated film The Iron Giant, came up with a third consecutive masterpiece here. It’s a bit harder to swallow in places than the rest of the 4-star Pixar classics, because of its headfirst dive into whimsy and its earnest voiceover narration. Still, just like the critic at the end of the film, it is nearly impossible for even the stoniest of critics to deny the magic of this film.

5. Toy Story (1999)

The original works not because of its animation, which was revolutionary at the time, but because of how masterfully the story is told. If the first computer-animated movie had been less than special, the Pixar name wouldn’t have this value. Good thing then that this is expertly executed cinema at its finest, including a climax that is so sensational that it always brings to mind Back to the Future. Here’s why: in Back to the Future, they’ve stacked the deck so hard against Marty, that when it looks like he’ll make it and the car won’t start, your heart sinks. You just knew he was going to make it– it’s a movie! The hero has to make it! But then the storytelling has been so immaculate that you heart sinks and you begin to think, “Oh my God, he’s not going to make it.” The film has engaged you that much that you stop thinking logically and are utterly lost in the moment. When Woody lights the match and the car whizzes by and blows it out? That’s a sinking-heart moment. Behold the magic of cinema. Toy Story has it in spades.

4. The Incredibles (2004)

One of the best superhero films, if not the best, ever told. Only a few superhero films manage to really deliver on both the action-sequence front and the fleshed-out characters you care about front. The Incredibles does both effortlessly. It’s not just about the struggles of being a hero, it’s about the importance of family. It sounds corny on paper, but it’s not. It’s the most exciting of all Pixar films, finding laughs in every unexplored corner of the superhero genre. When a remote-controlled killer robot’s controls lands in the hands of the family, and everyone is yelling at each other on how to use to remote, it’s perfection– superhero families have the same fights we have. As a comic geek, this film holds a special place in my heart.

3. Monsters Inc. (2001)

It’s mindboggling to think of the ingenuity that went into making this film. Nearly every movie that gets made is a twist on the world we know and love. This film creates an entirely new world and explores every single nook and cranny of it– most films aren’t even adventurous or smart enough to look deeply into the pre-existing world. Coming up with a concept is easy: monsters live in a world that is fueled by the screams of human children. Cool, sounds interesting. But where do these monsters live? How do they make it to our world? A creative concept usually inspires a thousand questions about that concept, and Monsters Inc. has the creative juices to tackle nearly all of them. The door sequence (which starts around 7:30 in the clip I provided) is one of the most brilliant and clever action sequences I’ve ever seen in a film. And I haven’t even mentioned the hilarious buddy-comedy repor of Billy Crystal and John Goodman. This is one of the few movies where I’d kill to have a sequel– it’s an absolute gem.

2. Finding Nemo (2003)

There is a group of great father-son films as deep as the ocean, and this one is right near the surface as one of the best there ever was or ever will be. Finding Nemo is the type of storytelling that is simple but full of heart and it achieves a magic 99% of films these days couldn’t dream of. The animation of the ocean is rich and deep– it is very easy to forget while watching this film that you’re not looking at real footage of the ocean, which is enormous praise to the animators responsible. Finally, there’s Dory, one of the sweetest, funniest, and all-around best characters created in the last decade. If you’re familiar with the film, the clip above will get you misty-eyed, regardless of how old or tough you are.

1. Wall-E (2008)

If you haven’t read my review already, do so immediately. I stand by every word written. It was the best film of last year, and I believe it is a movie that will be talked about for decades as one of the great movies of its kind. The storytelling is flawless, and while some have argued it slows down once Wall-E reaches humankind, I’d argue that’s where the satire gets darker and more adult. It’s the sheer ambition of this film that blows me away– what a gamble to create such a dystopic future in what general audiences would view from the outside as a kid’s flick! I don’t own this on DVD yet, because I don’t own a Blu-Ray player yet, and it would be a crime to watch this film in anything less than the highest picture quality. Beautifully drawn and beautifully told, it’s the best of the best.

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~ by russellhainline on May 28, 2009.

3 Responses to “Ranking the Pixar Films”

  1. Toy Story 2 > Ratatouille > Wall-E > Toy Story > The Incredibles > Monsters Inc > A Bug’s Life > Finding Nemo > Cars

  2. Great post. this is what I looking for, thanks

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with this list. Where would you put Up? I’d squeeze it into the #5 spot, although anywhere between #6 and #3 wouldn’t draw an argument from me.

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