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Ranking Pixar

Pixar’s seventeenth animated feature Finding Dory has just swum into theaters, and advance word at the time of this writing suggests the long-awaiting follow-up to 2003’s Finding Nemo is yet another instant classic.

Time will tell where the new movie ranks in the pantheon of Pixar titles, but in preparation for Nemo and Dory’s next great oceanic adventure, here’s a bottoms-up survey of every Pixar movie thus far.

Happy trails, pleasant reading, and remember to just keep swimming—and, also, no capes!

#16) Cars 2 (2011)
#15) Cars (2006)


Both Cars flicks are at the bottom of the Pixar list, not merely because it’s all too obvious they’re geared towards the youngest and least discerning audiences, but mainly because the movies are blatant grabs for merchandising dollars. As Cars products apparently outsell all other Pixar tie-ins, you cannot fault the filmmakers for catching sequelitis—nor parent company Disney for their spin-off/rip-off franchise Planes—but it’s highly dispiriting to witness the absence of heart in this series. The original ranks a tidge higher because it’s somewhat less egregious than the cash-in, er, sequel, and is also graced by the vocal stylings of the late Paul Newman.

#14) Brave (2012)

Despite a strong and feisty Scottish heroine, and a plot hinging on a spell that transforms her mom into a bear, there’s very little Pixar magic going on here.

#13) The Good Dinosaur (2015)


Not a total dud, but aimed squarely at the pre-school set, and completely lacking the ebullience and wit of the great Pixar classics that rank higher.

#12) Monsters University (2013)


It took twelve years for Pixar to finally deliver a follow-up—actually, a prequel—to their beloved Monsters, Inc. During that seemingly eternal gap, the filmmakers lost sight of what made the original movie such a snappy and emotionally gratifying delight—principally, the sweet relationship between monsters Mike & Sully and the little lost human girl Boo. There are visual and verbal gags aplenty here, though they are less rapid-fire than last time. Still, medium-grade Pixar is better than most other studios’ animated fare.

#11) A Bug’s Life (1998)


Pixar’s sophomore feature still holds up quite well today, thanks to its goofball supporting characters and fine vocal performances, and an imaginative digitally drawn production design. This picture went head-to-head with the similar DreamWorks production Antz, and a lot was written at the time about how both movies would cannibalize each other, but I’ll wager most readers had probably forgotten all about Antz until just now.

#10) Ratatouille (2007)


After a string of hits featuring anthropomorphized toys, automobiles, insects and other assorted monsters and sea creatures, it was a rather risky move to wrap a Pixar movie around a rat. This Parisian tale of a culinarily inclined rodent who assists and inspires a young kitchen worker is one of the studio’s most charming and unconventional tales. Computer animation just keeps getting better and better, but the sheer beauty of the production design has rarely been topped, even a near-decade later.

#9) Toy Story 2 (1999)
#8) Toy Story (1995)
#7) Toy Story 3 (2010)


All three Toy Story adventures represent some of the most wildly imaginative stuff the folks at Pixar have dreamt up, but I’d rank the original squarely between the two (so far) sequels. Part 2 boasts more characters and better computer animation, but there’s too much of a been-there-done-that feel to the proceedings (originally conceived as a straight-to-video affair). All three movies touch upon the importance of friendship, the fear of abandonment and the loss of childhood, but Part 3 soars far and above the others for the effortless way it bores deeper into our hearts. That final bit with the toys resigning themselves to a fiery fate is some of the toughest and emotionally wrenching stuff Pixar has challenged us with, and its surprise resolution still ranks among the most crowd-pleasing moments in movie history.

#6) Up (2009)


Representing yet another bold leap forward for Pixar, the movie focuses on their most unlikely hero yet: a curmudgeonly senior citizen who, after the loss of his beloved wife, tethers a few thousand balloons to his house and floats away on the adventure of a lifetime. It’s a poignant and jubilant tale of not going gentle into that good night.

#5) Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Filled to the brim with loveable critters, frantic antics, and wonderful visual and verbal gags, it’s nearly impossible to catch your breath and notice how formulaic it all is—but, boy, do the folks at Pixar know how to employ that formula to create an indelible classic. What makes all the comic mayhem matter is the core friendship between Mike and Sully and their tender relationship with a little human girl who accidentally gets trapped in the monster realm.

#4) Finding Nemo (2003)


From toys to insects to toys again and then monsters, it wasn’t such a stretch for Pixar to design their fifth film around sea creatures. It’s unsurprising, too, that the movie follows a tried-and-true hero’s journey formula. What makes the picture so memorable is its gallery of endearing characters and, most crucially, the central bond between Nemo’s overprotective dad Marlin and his forgetful companion Dory. As Marlin and Dory traverse the Great Barrier Reef to find Marlin’s captured son Nemo, they encounter a magnificent assortment of sea creatures, and everybody learns a whole lot about love and life and letting go of your fears. The lush and colorful production design represents yet another quantum leap forward for the digital artists at Pixar, the vocal contributions are a giddy joy, and the humor, hijinks, and heart are all in ample abundance.

#3) Wall-E (2008)


Part romance between two robots, part futuristic fable of the resilience of the human spirit, Wall-E is typically buoyant and emotionally enthralling stuff from Pixar. The nearly wordless first act recalls the great silent classics of the dawn of cinema, but once the story moves from desolated and abandoned Earth into outer space, things get a bit more conventional. Even so, the picture is elevated by its eco-mindful story, an astronomical advance in digital animation artistry, its out-of-this-world production design and, most profoundly, Ben Burtt’s unique synthesized sound design that lends voice to the mechanical characters.

#2) The Incredibles (2004)


Brad Bird’s tale of a superhero family coming out of retirement to fight a dastardly megalomaniac is a high-flying homage to both caped crusader tales and James Bond-style adventure flicks. It is, perhaps, the greatest superhero story ever put to film—all the more astonishing because it does not originate from the pages of a DC or Marvel comic book (though, to be fair, it owes a lot to Marvel’s “Fantastic Four”). With its retro-fab production design, jazzy instrumental score and sophisticated humor, the movie is constantly engaging, and its relentless momentum makes for Pixar’s most breezily entertaining flick yet. Of course, what makes it all work so well is a strong emotional undercurrent—namely, its core value of family unity.

#1) Inside Out (2015)


In depicting the inner workings of the mind, the wizards at Pixar have concocted yet another timeless classic, one so bold in its heady ideas and execution that it towers over just about any other modern-day work of animation. The digital artistry is astonishing and shows off a wondrous, dreamlike production design. Further, the wit and pathos appeal to kids and adults alike—there are ample tickles of laughter as well as tearful tugs on the heartstrings, but the beauty and genius of the screenplay is in how often these moments occur simultaneously. I’m not sure my kids are old enough to quite understand it all, but I know they loved every moment of it. I also felt by the end of the film that we’d all somehow gained a few I.Q. points together.

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