Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Rank the Films: Pixar

As any regular reader of feeling fuzzier will know, lists are pretty darn nifty. We have a profound appreciation for straight-up lists. This is the thinking behind Rank the Films, a regular feature that pulls apart the pros and cons of a series of films, ranking them in order of bad to good. 

With Monsters University hitting cinemas at the end of June, we thought it was a great chance to take a look at Pixar's back catalogue of films (from Toy Story to Brave) and settle upon which is best and which is worst. 

Given the large catalogue of films Pixar has produced across the last 18 years, we've grouped any sequels together into one 'entry' - so, the three Toy Story films and the two Cars films aren't included separately on this list.

Please note: this has probably been the trickiest edition of Rank the Films to date; each film Pixar makes is just so special and fantastic in its own way! However, we have to start somewhere, so let's start with...

10th - Cars series: Cars (2006), Cars 2 (2010)

Rotten Tomatoes: 74% (Cars), 38% (Cars 2)

When you're watching Cars, it can be hard to sit back and watch the film or the story. Instead, you're too busy asking yourself questions like "when does this really long commercial for toy's finish?" or "how do the cars build cars when they have no arms?"

I mean, think about it. The whole thing doesn't make a single lick of sense. They're cars, living in a world only populated by cars. So, what is their purpose in life? Do they have seats? Who sits in the seats? How come the cars can talk? Why do they have door handles, or doors at all? How come they talk English? Where do they get petrol from? Who builds the roads/buildings? How do the cars reproduce? WHERE DO THE CARS COME FROM?!

*breathes* Putting logic and the simple fact the films exist to sell toys aside for a moment, it is still plain to see that Cars (and it's even crappier sequel, Cars 2) is Pixar's weakest film to date. Sure, it's packed with stars like Owen Wilson, Michael Caine and Eddie Izzard, but it just isn't up there with the genius of their other films.

It might look really pretty and have plenty of tongue-in-cheek jokes (Jay Leno as Jay Limo har har) but at the end of the day, Cars is fairly forgettable.

9th - A Bug's Life (1998) 

"A Bug's Life - that's the one with Sharon Stone and Woody Allen right?"

"No, that's Antz"

"Oh okay. So does Antz have the crazy German caterpillar in it?"

"No, that's A Bug's Life"

"Uhh, what's the difference?"

Wind back to 1998 and audiences were locked into a battle of wills (I assume); which insect-themed family adventure to commit to? Pixar's A Bug's Life or Dreamwork's Antz? Okay, so maybe I'm overselling that, but you have to admit that the two are just too similar. For me, it is hard to pick one out from the other and as a result, both pale in comparison.

One you get over the odd ant-obsessed year that was 1998 and look a little closer at A Bug's Life, you'll actually find that it isn't all that silly. Sure, it isn't as memorable or moving as Up or WALL-E, but it does provide the little'uns with plenty of giggles and sight-gags. 

8th - Ratatouille (2007)

The first Pixar film I actually enjoy on this list, it is unfortunate that Ratatouille places as low on this list as it does; I would have loved to have put it higher up but it had to come somewhere and decisions were hard.

Anyway, Ratatouille is a beautiful little film about a rat, Remy, who dreams of becoming a top chef in Paris. With the help of talented young (human) chef, Linguini, Remy pursues his dream whilst evading the clutches of the villainous head chef, Skinner.

Set against the gorgeous backdrop of Paris, Ratatouille is a solid and enjoyable entry into Pixar's hall of fame. The voice acting is great and as always, the animation is top notch. It does stick to the recipe book fairly closely (heh heh) however, playing out very much like a classic Disney fairytale. 

7th - Brave (2012)

Brave is the tale of Princess Merida, a flame-haired maiden and skilled archer who is reluctant to marry the man her royal parents have set aside for her. Whilst on the surface it sounds fairly derivative Disney fairytale stuff, Pixar's most recent film is one that is one of it's most ambitious. Setting up their first female lead is a new direction for the studio and whilst the film doesn't pull it off impeccably, they can be praised for their forethought. 

Brave starts out fairly strongly and Merida is a refreshing take on the usual Disney princess troupes. 
It is however a odd twist mid-way through that slightly soiled the full-potential of Brave; it just feels slightly odd and not in keeping with the first half of the film. The film does carry a nice message of mother/daughter relationships however, so Brave is a nice and cute film for kiddies. 

6th - The Incredibles (2004)

If there is one film in the Pixar canon that deserves a sequel, it is The Incredibles

Based around a family of superheroes who are forced into living a normal life by a society who fears their powers, The Incredibles is an incredibly (heh heh) witty and self-knowing movie that has a great plot which isn't unfamiliar from classic superhero narratives like X-Men or Superman.

The result is a film that is full of heart (the opening flashback that sees Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl marry is sweet) and one that can be enjoyed by kids and adults of any age. Like some other Pixar films, The Incredibles can be quite dark at times (such as Mr. Incredible being strung up by Syndrome) but family films need that element of danger or threat to teach kids about danger or death.

Anyway, The Incredibles is one of Pixar's most underrated films in my opinion and fully deserving of a sequel. Either that, or a spin-off/origin story for Frozone. That's if Samuel L. Jackson can be pulled away from playing Nick Fury for five minutes to reprise the role.

5th - Monsters Inc. (2001)

Pixar's fourth feature length film is one of it's highest concept; Monsters Inc. is set in a city that is populated by monsters and powered by the screams of frightened children.

Hardly sounds like cutesy, animated family fun now does it? What makes Monsters Inc. such a success then is its ability to make the protagonists, Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) seem cuddly and loveable. Despite their odd looking nature, it is hard not to love Sully's 'brother bear' personality or Mike's sarcastic and wisecracking jokes. 

What's even better about Monsters Inc. is the rest of the motley crew in and around the factory; Randall, Celia, Roz, the Abomnible Snowman; each are endlessly quotable twelve years since the film came out. Which, at the end of the day, is a true test of the films longevity.

4th - WALL-E (2008)

In my mind, WALL-E is Pixar most 'out-there' film; it's really adventurous, really different and is actually trying to say something meaningful. All of this, in what is supposedly a kids film.

To me, WALL-E is nothing short of a masterpiece. It is beautiful, heart-felt and touching whilst simultaneously being wonderfully wacky. The film is centred on a robot named WALL-E. Left alone on a desolate and damaged beyond repair Earth, WALL-E spends his days collecting, shaping and stacking cubes of garbage left behind by humanity, who have long departed on a voyage across space.

When WALL-E meets EVA, a simply charming romance sparks into life and together they go on a journey to restore humanity's lost sense of hope. Like I said, for a Pixar film, WALL-E says a lot about 21st Century life. The excess waste, the influence of technology, the ignorance towards our environment; Pixar explores these themes wonderfully and still manages to craft a film that isn't preachy or lecturing its audience.

However, underneath the social commentary lies a film that is simple, effective and well-told. 

3rd - Up (2009)

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%

A close contender for the top spot on this list, Up is a wonderfully touching adventure with one of cinemas greatest 'odd couples'.

Grouchy septuagenarian Carl Fredricksen (Edward Asner) and eager scout Russell (Jordan Nagai) are whisked off a bonkers adventure to South America. Here, they come across dogs that can talk, zany peacocks and stunning vistas that bloom with colour.

Up is not just hugely original, it is quintessential Pixar. With a heartfelt family message at its centre, Up is a simple story told beautifully; who could of thought that a kids film could have carried messages of life, death, love and ageing so brilliantly.

It is also wickedly funny with plenty of sly jokes and references you might not get the first time around. And if you didn't cry during the opening 10 minutes your probably dead inside. Admit it. You shed a tear. You shed a bunch of em.

2nd - Toy Story series: Toy Story (1995), Toy Story 2 (1999), Toy Story 3 (2010)

Arguably a contender for 'best trilogy of all time', the Toy Story films have practically defined the childhood of any child born in the 90's.

Practically everyone would have seen the first when they were a kid and it is for this reason that the trilogy ranks so high in everyone's collective hearts and memories. If you didn't have a Woody or a Buzz doll, you missed out my friend.

In my opinion, the films get better and better with each entry. The first film has that original spark of ingenuity whilst the second builds on the strengths of the first and adds even more loveable characters (Jessie, Bullseye) to the crew.

The third film jumps forward in time a whole ten years and moves both the story and the characters on well. I think it might be my favourite of the three but it is pretty hard to choose.

Let's hope that rumours of a fourth entry aren't true and the completeness of the trilogy isn't sullied.

1st - Finding Nemo (2003)

Rotten Tomatoes: 99%

A joyous underwater adventure, Finding Nemo is hard to fault on any level - script, visuals, characters, themes - every element is nigh on perfect.

When young clownfish, Nemo, is whisked from his Great Barrier Reef home and plonked down in a dentist waiting room tank in Sydney, it is up to his overprotective father Marlon (and some ingenious supporting characters like Dory and Crush) to find him and bring him home.

It really is hard to find any fault with Finding Nemo - the vibrant colours, the jokes, the loveable characters, the endless quotability. It takes a simple premise (family are separated) and makes it its own. What makes it even more remarkable is how, at the time of release, many critics simply didn't consider Nemo as a worthy successor of A Bug's Life and Monsters Inc.

Described as being "sub-par Pixar" by the Gettysburg Times, many critics didn't find Nemo to be as "wildly imaginative" as its predecessors. Over time, the film has grown into one of the most beloved works in Pixar's ever-growing pantheon of cinematic greats and my favourite - many critics now use Nemo as a benchmark by which the studios latest are graded, cementing its status as a classic.

What is your favourite Pixar film? Did I make the right call or get it hideously wrong? Leave me a comment in the section below! Check back soon for my review of Monsters University.

Next month, we untangle the often messy and clumsy chronology of the X-Men franchise in Rank the Films #7. If you're a fan of my Rank the Films feature, leave me a comment suggesting which film franchise I should endeavour to order next. See you soon!


  1. Great post! I never really got the hype over Up, maybe I expected a bit too much because everyone was raving about it. Finding Nemo gets better every time I watch it!

    1. Thanks! Fair enough, each to their own :) I quite like Up because it's just so wacky and irreverent. But yeah, Finding Nemo is the pick of the bunch, it never gets old.



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