A Dad’s Ranking of Pixar’s Movies

Stone Cold Classics, every one.

Pixar has been a gift to parents everywhere. When I was a kid, animated movies were completely hit or miss, and parents were often drawn into watching Disney musicals (I know a lot of people my age love The Lion KingAladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast, but I don’t think they translate all that well into adult viewing – the narratives seem constructed entirely to get from one musical number to the next and sell another sing-along CD) or The Land Before Time XVIII on family movie nights or rainy summer afternoons. Thankfully, Pixar showed up in the mid ’90s with Toy Story and introduced non-musical animation that stood up to repeat viewings and were more enjoyable for parents than anything of their ilk had ever been. (Weirdly, Shrek often gets credit for being the first animated movie to consciously target adults with jokes that kids wouldn’t get, but Toy Story aimed at adults too, just in a less obvious way, i.e. – no fart jokes.) I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have Pixar’s movies in the lineup, because if you know anything about three year-olds, you know that when they find something they enjoy, they have no interest in savoring it or saving it for special occasions; they want to read the same books, watch the same movies, and play the same games over and over and over again until they stumble upon something new. Even though I still get bored repeatedly watching the same things, Pixar has ensured that, at worst, my son’s animated obsessions will be fairly entertaining.

So, as a favor to any parents who haven’t yet reached the movie-watching stage, or to anyone unfamiliar with the Pixar canon, or to fellow Pixar aficionados looking for someone else’s taste to criticize, I present the Parents’ Guide to Pixar. I’m ranking the movies from worst (a relative term, considering the generally excellent quality of Pixar’s output) to best.

12 (tie): Brave and A Bug’s Life – Not really a fair place for either of these, and they end up at the bottom of the list only because I haven’t seen either of them. Feel free to leave your take on either of these in the comments and tell me where they really deserve to be.

11: Cars 2 – Mostly enjoyable, although it focuses way too much on a character I never really cared for (Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) because of how often they used him for Shrek-like lowest common denominator humor. 

10: Cars – Better than its sequel by a fair stretch, Cars is funnier, more nuanced, and makes better use of its side characters (Paul Newman does great work as Doc Hudson). Unfortunately, the two Cars movies have ended up being among my son’s very favorites, mostly, I think, because they capitalize on a boy’s seemingly inborn love of car toys. (Benjamin’s birthday party theme this year was Cars. I can state with no small degree of confidence that Disney/Pixar have not yet found the trinket to which they can not affix Lightning McQueen’s smiling face.)

9: Up – I know. Sacrilege, you’re thinking. I’ll grant you that the first twenty-five of Up is not just the best thing Pixar has ever made, but one of the more well executed stretches I’ve seen in any movie as far as clarity, tone, and emotional resonance go. But once Carl’s house lands at Paradise Falls, the movie devolves pretty quickly into a by-the-numbers, animal-centric (the dogs flying airplanes make no sense in a movie that spends its first half being so grounded in the real world) Disney adventure.

8: Toy Story 2 – Often maligned for falling short of its predecessor’s considerable heights, Toy Story 2 actually continues to explore some of the most mature themes in Pixar’s canon (more about that later), examining the emotional scars left by abandonment and, through Woody’s story line, the half-truths we’re sometimes willing to tell ourselves to soften the blows dealt by aging. Plus, it has my favorite Buzz Lightyear line: after Ham (the piggy bank) asks an imposter Buzz where he got his new utility belt, and he says, “Well, slotted pig, they’re standard issue.” Slotted pig. Haha. Gets me every time.

At this point, we’ve entered the territory of the unimpeachable. From here on up, basically every one of these movies is flawless, it’s just a matter of preference.

7: Ratatouille – Aside from the disconcerting thought of a rat preparing luxury cuisine, Ratatouille hits every right note, offering some outstanding insights into the insecurity that anyone who pursues their passions has to deal with, whether internal (Linguini’s fear of failure) or external (Remy’s unsupportive family). Inventive visuals to represent the flavors of Remy’s kitchen and Peter O’ Toole’s turn as the food critic make the movie with one of Pixar’s best endings.

6. The Incredibles – Probably the most “grown up” Pixar movie, The Incredibles is really a complex meditation of self-doubt and the limits we put on our own abilities, and how those limitations often result in the degradation not just of our personal gifts, but our passion for exercising those gifts.

5. Monsters, Inc. – For my money, the most underrated movie in Pixar’s catalogue. Monsters, Inc. is genuinely hilarious, features a couple of great villains, and represents maybe the most creative storyline Pixar has ever come up with. I like when Pixar pushes the envelope and comes up with original ideas, but I like the original so much that I’m actually happy their revisiting the well with next year’s Monsters University.

4. Toy Story – Still holds up after seventeen (yep, SEVENTEEN) years. Great one-liners, layers of humor that I’m still peeling off, and every character is a home run. But the thing that makes the Toy Story series so resonant with me is that it’s really a metaphor for parenthood. We are desperate for our children’s love and affection, something that becomes less of a given as they age and find new people and interests with which we are made to share their time. This frightens us, just like Buzz’s arrival frightens Woody. He feels his kid (Andy) slipping away from him and he panics. I’m sure I’ll end up relating to that even more than I know.

3. Toy Story 3 – What happens to us when the thing in which we’ve found our identity is slowly taken away from us? The third (and, as much as I love them, I hope the last) installment of this series brings the parenthood theme front and center and shows all the toys struggling to adapt to a life apart from the one they’ve known for so long as Andy’s toys. If the first twenty-five minutes of Up is the emotional high point of Pixar’s reign, the last fifteen of Toy Story 3 is a close second.

2. Wall-E – The insidious side of technological progress, the human penchant for laziness, the threat of poor environmental stewardship, the indefatigable power of love. Most movies struggle to competently grapple with one theme. Wall-E develops four without breaking a sweat. The first thirty minutes play out like an extended version of Pixar’s often wordless short films, showcasing a staggering degree of expressiveness and emotional range entirely through action. Filmmakers – live-action, animated, or otherwise – would do well to take note.

1. Finding Nemo – The best combination of story, wit, emotional power, and harrowing action that Pixar’s ever put together. Finding Nemo captures the complex relationship between loving, wanting desperately to protect, and trying to acknowledge the independence of a child from a parent’s perspective. Every character (even the lobsters with the Bostonian accents) are memorable, and the plot never sags or hits a false note.

There you have it. Feel free to give me your take in the comments or on twitter @onelessrib.

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12 Comments on “A Dad’s Ranking of Pixar’s Movies”

  1. Kevin
    July 2, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    Love it! Well done. I might put Wall-E at number 1 though. The emotion that they were able to convey through that little machine, who only said a handfull of words, was absolutely perfect. I also like the self-sacrifice that Wall-E was able to display when E-V-E wasn’t even able to interact with him during their time together. What a GREAT movie.

  2. July 3, 2012 at 12:10 am #

    Nicely done! Disney/Pixar movies are some of my favorites. I completely agree that 1-7 are flawless and are a matter of preference. Can’t wait to see what they roll out next!

  3. July 3, 2012 at 1:18 am #

    Im cool with the whole list with two exceptions, or one really. UP! and Finding Nemo I feel should swap places. Up! was filled with very important themes and I think the movie did a great job of developing them, I will admit that there is quite a few weak parts, especially the flying dogs, but the movie is better in regards the the depth of the narrative and the issues it tackles that Nemo. You should check out the review of Up! on cinemagogue, this guy really peels back the layers of the film and it makes you look at it in a whole new way. here’s a link… http://cinemagogue.com/2010/04/26/going-up/

  4. joshacorman
    July 3, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    Keith, the Cinemagogue thing was great, and I agree with everything he says about the IDEAS of UP, which are fantastic. My view is that the film itself too often gets distracted from those ideas and doesn’t live up to the movie’s larger ambition. UP was the hardest movie to place, because as I mentioned it features some of the greatest MOMENTS in the Pixar canon, but has moments of distraction (the incessant “Squirrel!” gag, for example) that don’t hold up against the consistency of most of Pixar’s work.

  5. July 3, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    I think the listing is pretty close to dead on. Finding Nemo – by far my favorite. I do think Up should move ‘up’ the list a bit (horrible pun) but agree the last act is the bit that falls down a bit for me. I would move Up ahead of Wall-E. Again, loved the film but actually enjoyed the first act (Wall-e on Earth) the best. I feel the film falters a touch when the humans are introducted. I really can’t find fault with any of Finding Nemo. Simply love the film. On a side note, one of the writers at Pixar has been tweeting about the writing process at Pixar. I put the tweets to visuals in the following deck (yes, a bit of self promotion but come-on, it’s Pixar). http://www.slideshare.net/llamallama/storytips

  6. July 7, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    I’m a grown-ass man and I teared up at Toy Story 3. There is no way – in my book – that TS3 isn’t the best movie Pixar has made (admittedly I haven’t seen Wall-E or Up yet, because, well like I said: grown-ass man). I only liked Finding Nemo, I didn’t think it was great. Comparable with Ratatouille, but would get the edge for those Boston accents (Affleck could learn a thing or two).

    • joshacorman
      July 8, 2012 at 9:10 am #

      You can probably guess from the list what I’ll say about needing to see Wall-E. Do it. TS3 is fantastic (try watching it with your child(ren) and we can talk about tearing up). I wouldn’t have an argument against any movie in the top 7 being anybody’s favorite.

      • July 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

        I don’t have kids – hence the glaring gaps in my Pixar knowledge – but I can imagine they would exacerbate the situation. I was 9 when the first Toy Story came out, so I grew up with the franchise, only a few years older than Andy. So I probably relate best to that series of movies.

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