TOY STORY 4’s release now brings us to an era that PIXAR has said sees no more sequels looming on the horizon and as we approach the 25th anniversary of the original TOY STORY, it seems a proper time to rank all the existing 21 feature film and incite hatred upon what is simply my opinion. Shall we?
PLEASE REMEMBER - This is MY list. I would love to hear yours. My life shapes what films impact me more than others. Yours does too. No list is right, none is wrong. Unless CARS 2 is number one on your list. Then seek help. With that in mind…
#21 - CARS 2
Woof. Just about nothing works here. The comedy is dull, the story is forgetful and it features a character best set as the comic relief every 10 minutes or longer. Let’s just move on because I genuinely feel PIXAR does not make “bad” films but this is one. It feels like something ILLUMINATION would make.
#20 - THE GOOD DINOSAUR
It took multiple attempts to stay awake through this one and I can barely recall any of it. It’s just bland. Oddly, in a medium where we are accustomed to seeing animals talk, I had zero desire to hear one word uttered in this film. Something a film much further down the list does to incredible effect for its opening act.
#19 - BRAVE
This one had all my attention going into it. I was expecting a wide ranging adventure film that delved into various mythologies. A HELLBOY for children. Something with atmosphere. It just never happens. There are hints of it here and there but it never fully embraces any of it. It feels as if there is an unwillingness to pull the trigger and it suffers because of it. My goodness is it beautiful though. Lovely music too. The story just sits flat for me. The most disappointing film listed because I had such high hopes.
#18 - FINDING DORY
Everything in this is fine. There is nothing outwardly wrong with anything. There is nothing exceptional either though. It simply exists and you forget it quite quickly. DORY actually reminded me a lot of SHREK 2 in that the film seems to be reigned in for 2/3rd the runtime then goes totally batshit crazy for the third act and that is when it starts to take off. Too little too late though. Also, Baby Dory is the definition of cloying.
#17 - CARS 3
This actually may rank higher as time goes by. It could be that it’s largely a love letter to Paul Newman but I really enjoy it. It’s ROCKY III with Cars. It can’t be all that bad when that is the case. Some of the visuals make you question reality too. Specifically the scene where Cruz and Lightning drive through the forest area. I could put this on in the background and do stuff around the house happily. I think it gets a worse rap than it deserves due to CARS 2 backlash.
#16 - MONSTER UNIVERSITY
MONSTERS U also gets a lot of guff and I really never understood why. Sure, it’s not exactly the PIXAR originality shining through here and repeats a lot of the friendship beats that we already see in MONSTER INC but it’s really damn funny in numerous spots. The entire Librarian scene is fantastic and to this day the Mom character playing her “tunes” in the car is one of THE BEST gags in any PIXAR film.
#15 - INCREDIBLES 2
The sequel we actually begged for did not fail to deliver but much feels too familiar with the roles of Mr and Mrs swapped. Mrs gets swindled into aiding the plan of a chip on the shoulder villain posing as a helper while Mr is learning that superpowers don’t help you versus the greatest of enemies, raising a family. The film jogs along though with sharp humor featuring a highlight battle of baby vs raccoon. I just wish it took a hard left turn with the predictable set-up. The fight between Mrs. Incredible and Screenslaver is astounding though. As long as you don’t suffer from seizures.
#14 - CARS
It’s DOC HOLLYWOOD with barely a new coat of paint on it but the town and its inhabitants raise the film up to a very enjoyable sit with a very impressive production and sound design. It’s got Paul Newman and George Carlin in it. It’s good for that alone. Micheal Keaton shines as the antagonist and if you have a passing interest in NASCAR, as I do, then it really feeds that appetite nicely. Additionally it inspired one the best lands in all of Disney, CARS LAND. That land makes me like the film more. It’s that impactful.
#13 - A BUG’S LIFE
Another film that I am seemingly alone in my enjoyment on it seems. Being a big Kurosawa fan, a remake of SEVEN SAMURAI with the guy from KIDS IN THE HALL is right up my alley. A damn near impossible task of following up TOY STORY was on the field and I always felt BUG’S LIFE, while not trying to expand also did not exceed its reach.
#12 - TOY STORY 2
Here is the part in the list where I honestly feel every film listed is excellent to exceptional. We start at TOY STORY 2 and Sarah McLachlan making weeping babes of us all. A pitch that was originally a direct to video production turned into one the greatest sequels of all time. It’s heartfelt, hysterical and perfectly cast continuing the trend that PIXAR set in ‘95. Hamm pointing out that he “seriously doubts” the Pizza Planet truck gets the mileage listed in the manual as all the other toys scramble to not get killed is gold.
#11 - TOY STORY 4
This for one, should not exist nor should be this high on the list. Yet here we are. TOY STORY 4 is the most recent of the franchise, from the studio itself, and it’s a marvel. It’s also the first PIXAR film that feels like it jumped a new gap visually since UP. The cinematography feels grand. The camera feels dynamic in a way I have net felt since Wall-E. The conclusion to this feels right and fitting. Where TS3 was the end of Andy’s part in the tale, the toys go on, here felt like a closing of a chapter for a cowboy and his friend from space. Best part, I did not cry here. I felt happy that our friends had found their way. There shall be crying though. Oh yes, we shall cry a lot from here forward…
#10 - COCO
A visual treat that felt like classic PIXAR reborn. The central story about family hits you right in the chest when it wants to. It’s nearly a full fledged musical and PIXAR has now shown it can do that too and I do hope they follow that path again in the future. Just hearing the first note of Remember Me can set me off. the Land of the Dead is perhaps the most fully realized of any location featured in a PIXAR film and that is really saying something. It’s enigmatic and magnetic. As a viewer you want to walk down every single path and alleyway. The music is the thing though and what a triumph it is.
#9 - FINDING NEMO
This was a film that when I saw the trailer my initial reaction was “Oh…ok”. I sum this up to talking animals a lot but it just did not get my attention. Albert Brooks being in it was a major plus though. Little did I know how much I would fall in love with practically everything. It’s perfect beat for beat with comedy and heart. Brooks and DeGeneres made for an iconic duo and the film went much further than the trailer ever let on so all the fun was to be experienced once you sat down. That or it was terrible promotional job. The crew at the dentist office lift this film for me. The bounce off nature of the dialogue and just under the boiling point madness they all seem to posses makes for manic fun which the film needed with the emotional slap that you get in the films opening sequence which is a horror film. It does it all and it does it overly well.
#8 - MONSTER INC.
Speaking of iconic duos, Billy Crystal and John Goodman, what more can you say. The chemistry between these two made you accept immediately that they had been friends for a long time and have been through a lot together. This was Pete Doctor’s first directorial feature with PIXAR and wow has he been a diamond in a company that has the Midas touch. Following the emotional drama of TS2 should have been daunting but MONSTERS INC is up to the task creating one of the most memorable final scenes in PIXAR history turning audiences into puddles.
#7 - TOY STORY 3
Seemingly every time a new TOY STORY is announced it’s met with cries of protest in regards to how perfectly it left off the previous film. Why mess with perfection? Well, meet further perfection. The characters are old friends with the audience and one another at this point with emotions bared for all to see. An intimidating, yet adorable, villain in Lotso is introduced voiced by Ned Beatty and the entire movie theater was convinced this film was going to end with our toys melting into a fiery pit. It’s amazing. Then the final scene happens as Andy says goodbye to his childhood mates and again PIXAR leaves an audience in puddles. PUDDLES. Keep in mind this film followed UP. UP. The film that ruined people for months emotionally. This came after and STILL WORKED. When this hit you were hard pressed to name a more effective trilogy and that holds true. I personally find LORD OF THE RINGS slightly above it but that is a personal thing.
#6 - RATATOUILLE
I wanted to eat the damn screen it looked so delicious. Sharp wit runs the day here as the strangest premise written on paper became a massive creative success proving that PIXAR can make you root for anyone. Even a rat in a kitchen. Patton Oswalt brings charm and charisma by the bucket load to the streets of Paris that are drenched in soft light and a subtle haze throughout. Dreamlike. Peter O’Toole may steal the film as Anton Ego though. Confession time. I had no idea it was Peter O’Toole. None. Not until Ego sits at the restaurant near the finale and eats the ratatouille. That gorgeous flashback happens and then you hear Ego’s review as read by him. This time though his voice is a touch softer, happier. It was then I said, “My God, that’s Peter O’Toole” and began to tear up. That is not why it’s at #6 though. The whole production clicks effortlessly with grand humor and the patented PIXAR heartbeat. Oswalt makes Remy lovable from the get go and never lets you down. It’s smart and sumptuous to look at.
#5 - INSIDE OUT
Following the enormous success of TS3, PIXAR hit a bit of a dry spell. CARS 2 was a mess, BRAVE missed the mark (ha, puns, yeah yeah I know) and while I enjoyed MONSTERS U, it felt very safe following two missteps and you finally had people titling their head at the future of the studio. Had it lost it’s touch? Enter Pete Doctor to remind that magic is still abundant and has the power to grab you by the heartstrings. INSIDE OUT was a welcomed return to form but it went well beyond that. It sported a dazzling visual aesthetic that gave everything a proper dreamlike quality and sporting an murderer’s row of a cast to voice the emotions within us all. Amy Poehler sits at the head of the brain table as Joy. Doing her best to keep the other, more temperamental emotions in check, guiding young Riley through childhood. The scope that the animators build within the conscious of Riley is grand and makes you beg to explore further into the different aspects. Then Richard Kind’s Bing Bong enters the picture and guess what. Puddles. Everywhere. Floods. “Take her to the Moon for me” We don’t need to go any further.
#4 - UP
Pete Doctor is the Sarah McLachlan of filmmakers. You see him and think, “Don’t you do it! Don’t you make me cry like a child, you beautiful monster” and then he does what he does and you are on the ground. I first saw UP, the first 45 minutes to be exact, at New York Comic Con. It was a surprise for the audience and a smiling Pete Doctor announced that we would be the first to see a clip. A 45 minute clip. What fun. These cons are fun, are they not? Joyful day.
Then it happened. The Married Life sequence. 7 minutes into the film we see a wedding and little did we know what would happen to us as a community over the next four and a half minutes. In 4 minutes a room filled with THOUSANDS of people were openly weeping. Loudly and openly weeping. I have never in my life experienced anything like it before or since. Some time later there was a talking dog and I could not wait to see the rest of this absolute masterpiece. The film is a film school. Take it with you and study it. Editing, cinematography, framing to heighten emotion. It has it all and it all looks so easy. Nothing screams at you to pay attention. It wraps its arms around you and you can feel the fabric in Carl’s chair. When it came out I said it was their best. It has gone down a few spots since the initial wave of emotion wore off but it holds strong with three absolute diamonds ending this list.
#3 - TOY STORY
It may seem cliche to invoke the quote normally given to SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS but TOY STORY is truly the one that started it all. It began a revolution in animated filmmaking that changed everything. It’s a perfect film. Lots of people ask that question online. What’s a “perfect” movie? The realistic answer is none. Something somewhere can always be improved upon. It’s those qualities that make it art and ultimately human. We are flawed. We will always create flawed things. TOY STORY though for all intents and purposes, is perfect. The cast is a Mount Rushmore of chemistry and character. Each has a distinct voice with distinct characteristics. You know each and every one of these toys in how they speak, walk and handle situations as they occur. And while I understand the current mood towards John Lasseter, he is the reason this all came together. He fought for this new wave of creativity, gave it a path and with a legion of talented artists at his side, started a golden age of filmmaking from a studio the likes the industry never quite saw before. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are Redford and Newman for this generation and the generation before it. It is timeless.
#2 - INCREDIBLES
Brad Bird is a magician. IRON GIANT is one one of the best film ever. Full stop. INCREDIBLES is one of the best superhero films ever. Top 5 most likely. 2004 was a year the comic book films were definitely a thing but the quality was all over the place to put it mildly. X2 came out the year prior but so did Ang Lee’s HULK, DAREDEVIL and LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. SPIDER-MAN 2 (still the best Spidey film out there) hit in 2004 along with HELLBOY. It was also the year CATWOMAN, THE PUNISHER, BLADE : TRINITY and SKY CAPTAIN were unleashed. The next year was also a very mixed bag with BATMAN BEGINS starting one of the biggest trilogies in history but FANTASTIC FOUR, ELEKTRA, CONSTANTINE, MAN-THING and SKY HIGH surrounding it. It was very messy.
Brad Bird understood the medium unlike most people in Hollywood at that time. Still does. He knew that punching bad guys was great but making you get invested in the heroes was the real trick. You also could have fun AND tell a dramatic tale. That is really his specialty. A mix of humor and high stakes where the drama feels important but allows you to breath in-between without feeling desperate for a laugh like we see in many current DC productions. The Parr family has a familiar dynamic. We understand them. They also happen to be the Fantastic Four. THE INCREDIBLES is the best Fantastic Four movie ever made and one day Marvel will have to tackle that. Good luck. Like many PIXAR films the soundtrack has its own personality and Giacchino’s brass blazing jazz hum gives this a very unique feel over the others in the list. A great villain, a clear obstacle facing out heroes, an effective wit and high action make for an endlessly entertaining trip into a cinematic gem. This spoke to me directly. I was starving for a film like this and my joy in the theater when I first saw it is one of my best theater going memories.
#1 - Wall-E
2007 to 2010 featured four releases by PIXAR and I honestly don’t know if I will ever see a run like it from any studio again in my life. RATATOUILLE in ‘07 with UP in 2009 and TOY STORY 3 in 2010. In 2008 WALL-E was released and I don’t think people were truly prepared for what Andrew Stanton had prepared for them. In one of the gutsiest moves ever, for roughly the first 20 minutes of the film there is no dialogue. The story is told by visuals and music only. It’s not a silent picture by any means as the sound design of an abandoned Earth fill the theater and we even hear a bit of song and dance courtesy of Jerry Herman with HELLO DOLLY, but it has that feel. You follow this little garbage crushing robot on his normal routine and through the magic of animation, fall in love. His body movements and specifically his eyes, convey more than any written word could. You effectively learn to communicate with the lead character on body language alone. The cinematography also takes a massive leap in the world of computer animation. The program, by default, wants everything to be in focus. The entire frame. Films normally don’t do that though. They create a depth of field to give emphasis of certain part of the frame to visually illustrate an emotion within the picture itself. So the people at PIXAR had to break the perfection of what they currently used. And they did so to stunning effect. The film breathes unlike any other PIXAR film. It’s bold in direction and delivery. I know PIXAR does not make “kid films” but honestly, that is the bulk of the audience. Families with kids. They put out a film that had no talking for the first 20 minutes. Demanded the audience to pay attention. No record scratches. No character saying “Here we go again…”, no fart noises. It’s remarkable. It is a masterpiece.
The heart of the film lay in its title character though. All the cool tech in the world doesn’t matter unless you buy into Wall-E and not only does he steal your heart, him and Eva combine to make one of the great all-time onscreen romances. Two robots who don’t speak beyond saying the others name and “directive”. That’s how good this film is. That’s how good this film still is and will always be.