Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Pixar Animation: A Definitive, 19-Film Ranking

The warmly (read: ridiculously hotly) anticipated Incredibles 2 may have already dropped stateside, but here in the U.K. we finally get to catch up with the Parr family at the end of this week. To mark the occasion, I recruited a group of fellow film fanatics to present you with this: a detailed, definitely definitive ranking of every other Pixar film so far. That's Toy Story right through to Coco. We all scored the films out of ten, forged an average (which you can see next to every title on this list), and the rest is clear. Does little Nemo swim his way to the top spot? Do Carl and Russell fly their house to pole position? Or does this gold medal belong in beautiful tapestries of the Land of the Dead? Find out below!

19. Cars 2 [4.6]

Angus: The sequel that nobody but your kids wanted, Cars 2 is the lowest point in Pixar's history. To give the film some credit, it does go in a different direction in ways that nobody would have predicted and not simply follow the same formula of its predecessor. The combination of espionage and racing didn't mix too well though, with the first film's most annoying character Mater gaining a more prominent role, leading to a fairly unpleasant experience. As usual, Pixar's animation is on point, with the introduction of different locations allowing the creators to showcase their abilities extremely well. On paper it's a fun idea, but one that Pixar perhaps should've had second thoughts on.

18. Cars 3 [5.2]

Nathan: Cars has always been the runt of the Pixar litter, very frequently relegated to the pits of any sensible ranking; the studio failed to change that with the second sequel, and Cars 3 continues to be a black mark against their name. With a screenplay that sticks to delivering more of the same instead of making any new, moving ruminations, it is a film that struggles to master the four-quadrant nature of animation: it feels more squarely aimed at the kids this time around. That’s no problem really, but it feels limited, a film that could have been more substantial should it have searched a little harder. Pixar are usually so strong at balancing their films for a wide audience, but this one resorts to spoon-feeding and exposition that the studio usually seems above; that it’s pushed closer towards two hours than 90 minutes is also a problem, hindering the momentum and causing it to splutter out after the first hour. It's a visually solid picture - but it lacks an emotional sophistication and satisfying justification to the whole thing; we've been there, done that.

17. The Good Dinosaur [5.2]

Madeleine: I honestly do think that this film would've been way better received if it wasn't a Pixar film - it's a wonderful film, but it does pale in comparison to recent Pixar films like Inside Out and it's because of that that people ranked it so low. While I can recognise that the story wasn't so strong, the characters and the relationship between the two main characters made me weep - and I'd just done my eyeliner, so it takes a lot for me to not hold back for the sake of that. The other strong suit is the animation - which is truly stunning.

16. Cars [5.8]

Martin: A world of sentient cars? Leave it to Pixar to take such a bizarre concept and make it work. Though by this point, the studio had so many great hits on their hands there was always going to be one that didn't quite hit those lofty standards. It is your average run-of-the-mill story about an egotistical car, Lightning McQueen, who is brought back into the slow lane when he comes across a down-on-its-luck town. The film is not nearly as memorable as some of Pixar's previous works, but it does the job of keeping you entertained. Though this is one of those films that definitely feels as though it was geared more towards the younger generation. Not a bad thing per se, but just not as emotionally layered as many of the studio's prior features, which is a real shame.

15. Brave [6.9]

Tom: When I occasionally look at people's Pixar rankings, Brave is almost always lumped towards the bottom end of the list. While the story isn't quite big or important enough to compete with Pixar's other features, Brave is still a mighty fine film that's full of endearing and affectionate humour, tender emotion and plenty of technical expertise. Its biggest asset is its resilient, flame-haired protagonist Merida - the classic Disney princess who yearns to break free from what's expected of her and follow her own path, but one that doesn't need a Prince Charming. She's an impressive protagonist because of her indomitable spirit, her stubbornness, her sense of humour and her heart - constantly butting heads with her mother and wishing for an end to her interference but ultimately, obviously, caring about her a great deal. The problem with Brave is that it isn't quite as imaginative or as revolutionary as other Pixar films, and the fact that the plot ends up being "her mother is turned into a bear" means that, while it's still a very worthy watch, it's not a film with a lot of re-watch value.

14. Monsters University [7.0]

Markus: Monsters University is a prequel to the fantastically creative and beloved Monsters, Inc. And it tells the story of how Sully and Mike went to the same college, butted heads, and eventually became friends. So we see those typical prequel themes while also seeing them having to deal with your typical college comedy problems like jocks, strict asshole teachers, and some kind of sports tournament. It's really generic, but it's still not a bad movie. While Monsters University is nowhere close to as good as the first movie, it still manages to get a few laughs out of me. No major gut-busting laughs, but some good chuckles. The cast is pretty stellar too. John Goodman and Billy Crystal are of course great, but we also have Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Sean Hayes, Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, Bobby Moynihan, Charlie Day, and a ton of others. So while the plot is uninspired and the character development a bit too bland, there's still too much good stuff to call it bad. The cast, the animation, a good amount of the comedy, and the opportunity to revisit this creative world all makes up for some of the lacklustre elements... for the most part.

13. A Bug's Life [7.0]

Nathan: A Bug’s Life is a film that has, rightly or wrongly, been dismissed. It’s considered something of a disappointment: one of Pixar’s more forgettable, disposable releases. Truth is, at the time of its debut in 1998, A Bug’s Life would have been entirely suitable, acceptable and enjoyable entertainment for the whole family; it is only now, when we view the film in retrospect next to Pixar’s other outputs, that it has come to be considered something of a disappointment. It is certainly one of Pixar’s most ‘basic’ films, emphasising visual gags over the verbal wit or humour that the studio frequently impresses with; there are traces of that in here but it lacks the sophistication and profound sense of theme work that has made Pixar films what they are today. It focuses on a misfit ant looking to protect the colony from greedy grasshoppers and there’s little to it beyond that, lacking any charm or narrative flourishes outside that very rudimentary conceit. With simple allegories and impressive animation, A Bug’s Life is effective enough. There’s certainly passion and creativity, it just doesn’t feel as smartly or carefully executed and there’s a reason few people remember A Bug’s Life, without any especially memorable or noteworthy elements.

12. Ratatouille [7.7]

Tom: This entry in the animation giant's back catalogue may pale in comparison to some of their more prolific projects, but Ratatouille very successfully explores the joy of food, tastes and flavours - starting off with our main character venturing on his culinary odyssey by experimenting with different flavours and experiencing different sensations, all of which is expertly illustrated by the use of colour and music. The film is a fun, entertaining ride and while Remy may not exactly be one of the studio's most memorable characters, he's given life by the amazing Patton Oswalt. The rest of the cast is great too - the unmistakable voice of Brad Garrett is a perfect fit for the endearing Chef Gusteau and of course Peter O'Toole is a bona fide scene stealer as the intimidating Anton Ego, reminding us how certain people discovered their love of food at a young age in one of Pixar's more revered sequences. All in all, it's a film with generous amounts of imagination, passion and technical skill but, in terms of longevity, I reckon it lies somewhere down the middle - more hopeful than some of the studio's weaker projects, but far away from the more beloved classics.

11. Finding Dory [7.9]

Ryan: Pixar made us wait over a decade to catch up with our underwater friends but, luckily for us, Finding Dory was worth the wait. While it's far from the heights (read: depths) of the original, and the new roster of fishy faces didn't quite shine the way most Pixar supporting characters do, Finding Dory was a confident sequel that provided an imaginative, surprisingly emotional spin on the film's own title. While Marlin travelled oceans to find his son back in Finding Nemo, Pixar's sequel instead opts to look at finding oneself amid a a sea of uncertainty. Finding Dory is reliably funny and gorgeously animated, but it's the heartfelt storytelling of one fish coming to both understand and accept herself that makes this film click.

OUT SOON: Incredibles 2

Markus: So our (for the most part) lovely host Ryan asked me to write a short "What can we expect?" piece for Incredibles 2. Well... I don't know, honestly. Early reviews are quite positive, so that's a good sign. And Brad Bird is a director who has only directed good stuff (haven't seen Tomorrowland, so I can't comment on that). From the first Incredibles, to Iron Giant, to Mission Impossible, the dude hasn't disappointed me yet, so I'm not really worried. I'm excited to see what the Parr family would be up to after the events of the first movie. I fully expect good action scenes and some enjoyable family dynamics along with some gorgeous animation. Not much else I can say really. In Brad Bird we trust.

The Top Ten

10. Monsters, Inc [8.4]

Angus: Monsters, Inc showcases Pixar's sheer creativity with its ingenious look at the world of monsters. Yet again, the film is filled with fantastic characters including genuinely creepy villains that rank among animation's best. The deeper message of what's on the inside mattering most is also very positive and fantastic for a children's film. In saying that, the film does have some great emotional moments as Pixar continued to show early on how they could pull at their audience's heartstrings. Pixar's success does owe a lot to this film as it was one of the first out with the Toy Story series to showcase the studio's knack for quality animation and helped to pave the way for future films.

9. WALL-E [8.6]

Martin: It is quite an accomplishment to go 30 minutes into a film without a single line of dialogue being spoken and establish a real connection with your eponymous lead character, but WALL-E achieves that and then some with its beautiful but yet quite dark story of a future in which humanity has left Earth behind us in a mountain of garbage. WALL-E's world transforms when he meets EVE, a female robot who WALL-E falls (what is the robot equivalent of head over heels?) for. Fusing its soppy but heartfelt story of robot love, the core message at the heart of this movie is some serious stuff that is likely to go completely over the heads of younger viewers. However, it is one that in our ever-increasingly populated world is just as relevant today as it was back in 2008. It's wholly original and masterful storytelling from Pixar that, if it hadn't already done so by this point, cemented their status as one of the finest animation studios around.

8. Toy Story [9.1]

Madeleine: Though it's lead me to worry about my teddy bear's feelings for years, Toy Story has such a massive place in my heart for the same reason everyone loves it: it's a great storyline with the brilliance lying in the characters. They are all instantly loveable figures which is a hard feat to do with so many of them, but Wheezy through to Woody each and every one is as well written as they are loved. Not only that, but its groundbreaking animation is obviously historic - and the songs. It's just so good. There's a reason it's still so present over two decades on.

7. The Incredibles [9.1]

Angus: The Incredibles isn't just one of the best animated films of recent times, it's one of the best superhero and action films of the century so far as well. The film is a perfect blend of action, comedy, heart and animation that is yet to replicated in the 10+ years since its release - sequel pending. The film even succeeds in providing a great villain who seems to be reflecting modern day fan culture, ensuring the film continues to be relevant over a decade after its release. The Incredibles is a total blast from start to finish and is enjoyable for everyone with the fun, troubled and interesting family covering all bases, leaving it only fitting to be described as incredible.

6. Toy Story 2 [9.2]

Tom: Toy Story 2 is a mightily impressive sequel that's on par with its predecessor, containing elements that made the first film so wonderful, but also raising the stakes and setting itself on a much larger scale - treating us to an exhilarating adventure with the perfect amount of both laughs and affecting emotional moments, further reflecting on how much toys mean to a child and the joy that comes with being part of a child's life, rather than existing as a museum piece. The inherently loveable characters from the previous film return, and of course we also get plenty of great new characters like Jessie, Bullseye, Al, Stinky Pete and Emperor Zurg - all played with heartfelt zeal by the film's superb cast. Toy Story 2 continued to showcase Pixar's increasing technical skill and Randy Newman's music - complete with several new pieces including the heartbreaking "When She Loved Me" - hits all the right notes. Toy Story 2 is one of the greatest movie sequels, and a bonafide Pixar classic. 

5. Toy Story 3 [9.3]

Martin: Sometimes, the third film in a trilogy can be the worst, and sometimes it can arguably be the best. This is one of the latter examples. With Andy off to College, his toys are bound for the attic until a disastrous turn of events leads them to a day care. This starts off well for them, but quickly turns into a terrible play time session for Woody and the gang. The main bunch of toys all remain effortlessly watchable, but the film brings some excellent new additions, including Michael Keaton (yes, really) as Ken and Ned Beatty as Lotso. Bringing a Shawshank-esque element to its third act was a masterstroke in storytelling, and who could forget the Spanish Buzz? Of course, like with most Pixar films, there are a couple of moments here (you know the ones) that are guaranteed to get the audience weeping too. So long indeed, partner... 

4. Finding Nemo [9.3]

MarkusWhat we have here with Finding Nemo is a beautifully animated adventure filled with good lessons, solid character development, funny jokes, and one of the best animated characters ever in the form of Dory. The movie really makes you feel for Marlin's plight, while still making you understand that he's not a perfect person... fish... individual. Pixar has always been groundbreaking in terms of their animation, and Finding Nemo is no different in that regard. Never before has the ocean been portrayed so beautifully yet realistically in an animated feature, and it has still yet to be rivalled. And the voice cast is pretty fantastic too. Albert Brooks, Alexander Gould and Ellen DeGeneres are terrific as the leads, but then we also have people like Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Stephen Root, John Ratzenberger (duh), Geoffrey Rush, Vicki Lewis, and Willem god damn Dafoe. It's one of the those adventures that I just fell in love with the first time I saw it when I was a child. And it's stuck with me for years. Finding Nemo is honestly my favourite Pixar movie.

3. Up [9.3]

Ryan: Pixar's imagination and knack for emotionally charged storytelling have always been their strongest attributes, so when they land on their most imaginative concept yet and open it with a sequence so touching it brought families around the world to tears, you kind of get the vibe you're in for something special. Up is very much special, taking us on a wild journey in the company of a grumpy old man, an excitable young boy, a talking dog and a female bird called Kevin. It's about as wacky as it sounds, but writer/director Pete Docter refuses to run his film for longer than 15 minutes without rekindling the emotional stakes behind every character beat and crazy innovation. Up reminds us, implores us, to make every moment count, to always remember those who are important to us, and to never, ever, give up on our dreams. Who knows, maybe some day your home will rest upon the cliffside of paradise too.

2. Coco [9.5]

Madeleine: No film has wrecked me as much as Coco did. It is the only time in my cinema experience that I have had to sit with my hand clamped over my mouth to stop me from wailing. It really is the most gorgeous story, so immersive in how it presents the culture with truly stunning animation and wonderful music that still, I'll admit, makes me well up even now. The characters are gorgeous, the story so unpredictable and unlike anything I've seen. One of, if not the best films to come out of Disney and Pixar ever.

1. Inside Out [9.5]

Nathan: It didn’t take long for Pixar’s Inside Out to be considered a masterpiece. It had all the markings of a future classic, one that will stand with the likes of Toy Story, The Lion King and Spirited Away as one of the strongest animations of all-time; that it topped our list just three years after its release, besting more established flicks like Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc and The Incredibles, is a testament to its brilliance and creativity that will endure for many more years to come. Gorgeous animation is nothing to be surprised at with Pixar but the sheer beauty, precision and creativity of every shot here is astonishing still, and not something we should take for granted: it is showcased no better than as we explore young Riley’s mind, landscapes and set pieces bursting with colour and oozing with ingenuity. It may seem quite narratively complex on the surface but director Pete Docter ensures that it remains every bit as accessible for younger audiences as it does powerful for those who have left their childhood and adolescence behind.

It so profoundly evokes memory and is so universally relatable in its themes, with touching messages that transcend what we give animation credit for, brought stunningly and sophisticatedly to life by a talented, nuanced set of writers, an excellent voice cast, skilled animator and a director who brings all of that together so sharply and astutely. Oh, and Michael Giacchino’s score is one of the decade’s very best, enriching the film emotionally and with charm to spare. In every single respect, Inside Out is a crowning achievement, a masterpiece that shines even in the brightest of filmographies and an example of film making (not just animated film making, but film making in general) magic. It is with great privilege that we reveal Inside Out as our Greatest Pixar Film.


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