Sunday, June 30, 2013

Re-Ranking the 14 Pixar Films

Allow yourself to be transported to roughly a year ago.  Way back then, I posted a list ranking the 13 Pixar films that had been released up to that point.  Well, here we are a year later, with a new Pixar film to add to the list.  But rather than just stick it into the existing list, I've reevaluated all my opinions about each film, so there might be a few surprises in store if you're expecting all the other films to still all be in the same order!

14. Cars 2

Cars 2 easily manages to retain its spot at the bottom of the list.  Last year I still tried to defend the film somewhat but, let's be honest here.  Cars 2 is a bad film.  Its story is not very interesting, it's characters are flat, and the fact that the film has almost no heart combined with some surprisingly dark scenes just give the entire film an unpleasant after-taste.  It's very much watchable, but the argument that "even the worst Pixar film is better than all other animated films" is definitely not the case here.  Sorry, Michael Caine...

13. Brave

I was still trying to like Brave when I wrote last year's list.  But I just can't like it.  It's a gorgeous film for sure, but that's really the only thing it has going for it.  To date, this is the only Pixar film that I don't own in my DVD/Blu-Ray collection.  It's also the first Pixar film in years that I only saw once in theaters.  It's story is just too contrived and uninteresting for me to want to revisit it.  I didn't hate it the first time I watched it, but I have almost no desire to watch it again.  So, in the end, Brave isn't really bad.  It's just very very forgettable.  Perhaps another pass at the script could have fine-tuned it into something special, but the film that was released just wasn't quite there yet.

12. The Incredibles

Brave's bump down means that The Incredibles gets to stay in the #12 spot for another year.  Once again, there isn't really anything wrong with this movie.  It's a really well put together movie.  I've just never been able to understand the appeal of it.  It's very solid, but it's style just doesn't grab me, so I hardly ever feel like revisiting it.  On the plus side, Brad Bird's audio commentary on the DVD is one of the finest tracks to accompany an animated film, so I at least have to give it credit for that.

11. Cars

I still like Cars.  I still don't love Cars.  I still think it's a bit too long for the story its trying to tell, and could have been a stronger film with some brisker pacing.  But, as a whole, it's likable and easy to enjoy.  Not one of Pixar's masterpieces, but certainly not deserving of the amount of hate that gets heaped upon it, sometimes seemingly just because of how poor its sequel is.

10. A Bug's Life

I really want to rate A Bug's Life higher than the #10 spot.  I just watched it again recently and it's so good.  Really, if you haven't watched A Bug's Life recently, give it another look.  It's likable, funny, and has an incredibly good story.  It's also home to one of Randy Newman's best film scores.  But, unfortunately, A Bug's Life just doesn't have any particular elements that I really latch onto the way most other Pixar films do.  No particular characters I really love.  No particular scenes I really remember above the rest.  It's still an extremely good film, though, and a fantastic example how charming Pixar films can be.

9. Monsters University

Pixar's latest film manages to find a nice comfortable spot here in the middle of the list.  It's very much like A Bug's Life in that it doesn't necessarily stand out in any major ways, but it's constantly enjoyable and fun throughout.  The biggest advantage it has over Bug's Life is its memorable cast, headed up by the always easy-to-root-for Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan.  Throw in a really great and realistic message for audiences, and you have a nice solid prequel.

8. Up

I used to like Up a lot more than I do now, and I still find it to be an incredibly moving film.  These days, however, I've started to lean toward the opinion that the more fantastical elements of the movie just aren't quite as compelling as the grounded-in-reality story of Carl and Ellie.  It's still a thoroughly enjoyable film, and it never fails to make me cry, but during some of the more action-oriented sequences I find myself looking at my watch a bit, hoping to get to the next quite emotional scene, as they are really the main reason I enjoy the film.

7. Toy Story 3

Whoa!  What happened here?  My #2 pick from last year dropped all the way to #7?  What's that about?  Well, after watching all the Toy Story films again in the recent past, I can't help but feel like Toy Story 3 maybe just went a little too serious for its own good.  It's still a great film, and all of the praise I gave it last year still applies to it today.  But now, looking back, it does feel like a rather jarring transition to go from the incredibly funny Toy Story 1 and 2 to the more muted and melancholy Toy Story 3.  A good way to end the series, sure, but not really the most fun film to go back to and just watch on its own.  I find there are a few other Pixar movies that I tend to be more interested in revisiting over this one these days.

6. Ratatouille

The film about the little chef that could has definitely grown in my eyes a bit since last year.  I'd still argue that it has some pacing problems and that the story could have been tightened up in a few places but, by and large, it's hard to imagine the film working better than it does right now.  The visuals are beautiful, the music sublime, and every single character is interesting and easy to invest in.  From Remy's almost fanatical passion about what he does to Chef Skinner's increasing paranoia about ghost rats to Anton Ego's delightfully dark but sophisticated way of carrying himself, all the characters leave a lasting impression here.  Ratatouille is definitely unlike other Pixar films, but I mean that in the best possible way!

5. Monsters Inc.

There you go, Monsters Inc.!  You made it into the Top 5!  I lamented not having a higher spot on the list for this film last year and thanks to some of the reshuffling, Monsters Inc. has managed to get it's moment to shine.  As I mentioned earlier in this list, Mike and Sulley make for an incredibly entertaining and endearing duo to watch and they consistently steal the spotlight from one another throughout the adventure.  Add in a supporting cast of creative monsters, and a solid emotional core to the story courtesy of Boo, and you have one of the finest examples of Pixar providing the whole package of technology, humor, and heart that they so often pride themselves on.

4. Finding Nemo

Nemo finds himself moving up one spot this year thanks to Toy Story 3's fall from grace.  In addition to being one of the most universally appealing Pixar films to any audience, Finding Nemo is also one of the most beautiful.  In fact, having watched last year's 3D re-release in theaters,  I was still blown away by how good this film looks, despite having watched it dozens of times prior to that.  The undersea world of Nemo and his friends is wondrous to behold.  Getting to spend an hour and a half in this world accompanied by Pixar's best comedic duo, Marlin and Dory, is a real treat.  As resistant as I was to the thought of a sequel at first, I can't deny that I am looking forward to visiting this world again when Finding Dory rolls around in a couple years!

3. Toy Story

It's a real testament to the quality of Toy Story that it can continue to be as entertaining today as it ever has been, despite it's notably dated visuals and 90's culture.  The characters are wonderful, the story is fresh and original, the music memorable, and the moving van chase scene at the end still provides one of the most exhilarating and entertaining climaxes to be scene in a Pixar film.  Toy Story has a timeless quality that will no doubt make it a classic for generations to come.

2. Toy Story 2

Toy Story 2 takes everything that Toy Story did and does it one better.  More wonderful characters, an even more interesting and fleshed out story, more memorable music, and a much more developed emotional center to back up all the humor.  Rex gets his time in the spotlight for much of this film, completely upstaging his traveling companions at every turn and newcomer Jessie's tragic backstory that parallels what Woody is dealing with is heartfelt and brilliantly executed.  Toy Story 2 introduces many of the more somber themes that dominated Toy Story 3, but here they are kept relatively subdued so they never get in the way of the humor or drag the movie down.  The perfect balance of humor and heart.


Surprising nobody, WALL-E manages to hang onto the top spot.  Everyone's favorite little robot is just as easy to root for now as he was last year, and the years prior to that.  WALL-E's bold decision to forgo traditional dialogue for the majority of the film still manages to feel fresh five years later, and the visuals still impress with their thorough attention to mimicking the qualities of live-action films.  I simply can't gush about this movie enough.  With its sophisticated storytelling and phenomenal characters, WALL-E just can't be topped.

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