The following is a list I made, prior to this past summer's release of Cars 2, consisting of my ranking of Pixar's films released so far. Better late than never, but I hope you enjoy. Each title (again, prior to the release of Cars 2) is ranked from number 11 to number 1.
Often regarded as the weakest of Pixar’s films, it still manages to be an entertaining and fun ride, with wonderful characters (Mater steals the show), eye-popping animation (the reflections off the cars themselves is priceless), and a meaningful-though-conventional story. Oh, and it has made a fortune in toy marketing.
9. (tie) Monster's, Inc. (2001)
Another Pixar delight, this time playing with the idea of monsters who steal children’s screams as energy supplies. Billy Crystal and John Goodman are perfect as Mike and Sulley, and Boo is one of the studio’s most adorable characters. Great for kids, comedic for adults, and fun for everybody. Oh, can’t forget the emotion.
A Bug's Life (1998)
More technologically-complex and big than Toy Story, this film stands superb for its creativity and attention to detail, as well as its entertainment value. Not to mention a terrific cast of characters (Heimlich steals the show), action, and stunning places moviegoers have never been to before.
8. The Incredibles (2004)
Pixar’s most adult-oriented film at the time focuses on a family of superheroes who come out of hiding to save the world. Sounds conventional, but it goes deeper than that. Again, it’s more for adults and teens than for kids, but the action, visuals, and excitement pack a punch. Writer-director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant) began establishing himself as one of today's great animation directors, while also managing to push Pixar out of its comfort zone for more daring material.
7. Toy Story (1995)
The film that kicked off Pixar’s string of hits and timeless effect on Hollywood remains as relevant today as it was in 1995. For the record, when I watched it with my siblings a few years ago, I started to pick up on the adult-oriented jokes I never got as a kid. So that’s saying something.
6. Toy Story 2 (1999)
The rare sequel that’s as good as (and surpasses) the original, this film is stronger, funnier, and more emotionally resonant, especially in the case of Jessie’s character. (The song, “When She Loved Me,” moves me to tears.) Even more amazing, Pixar manage to rewrite the entire movie and finish it—all within nine months before its theatrical release!
5. Finding Nemo (2003)
The first animated feature that emotionally grabbed me, especially on a big screen. This underwater adventure about an overprotective clownfish (a perfect Albert Brooks) on a quest to find his son in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is breathtaking, funny, often scary, and exciting. Two of the film’s greatest strengths include casting Ellen DeGeneres in an unforgettable turn as the forgetful-but-lovable Dory, and Thomas Newman’s equally unforgettable and resonant score.
4. WALL*E (2008)
Pixar’s coolest character ever is a lonely robot who finds love in a post-apocalyptic world where technology has taken over human needs. (That notion actually takes place aboard a distant space craft, where the film slightly strays at times.) Nevertheless, this science-fiction/romance from Nemo director Andrew Stanton combines elements of Chaplin, Kubrick, and Star Wars in a breathtaking, photorealistic landscape where the soul message of the film is probably the most important of any film: love. Thomas Newman’s score hits all the right notes when it comes to emotion, intensity, and wonder. Did I mention there’s no dialogue for the first 40 minutes? Love it.
3. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Even more rare than a sequel that lives up to and tops the original (Toy Story 2) is a third film that lives up to and tops the first two. Leave it to director Lee Unkrich (an editor on the first film and co-director on the second) and his team to go deeper than they’ve gone before to deliver a story that involves not just Buzz and Woody (Tim Allen and Tom Hanks, in great vocal form) but the whole gang, as Andy leaves for college while the toys are sent to a daycare center. Surprises, hilarity (Spanish Buzz, anybody?), and drama pursue in the most intense, conflicting, and involved installment in the trilogy. No denying, it is entertaining, fun, and exceptional, for all the right reasons. A great ensemble piece as well, for reasons mentioned.
2. Ratatouille (2007)
The first animated feature I appreciated and admired as an adult, period. Brad Bird’s sophomoric effort (and arguably his best work to date) with Pixar established the studio’s reputation of taking essentially impossible ideas and making something wholesome, worthwhile, and entertaining out of them. Furthermore, it harkens back to the glory days of Walt Disney, when animated features actually meant something. Passion and pursuit for the things we love instead of doing it for profit: this is the kind of message we need in the movies.
And my number one choice . . .
My favorite Pixar film to date is the studio’s most surprising and emotional. Featuring a cast of some of the oddest characters ever assembled, as well as a transcendent and metaphorical story with Miyazaki-esque adventure and visuals that are brilliantly executed, Pixar maintains a magic touch that transcends the medium of animation and speaks to the human condition in a powerful, sophisticated, and entertaining way. Whoever thought that a curmudgeon, a boy scout, a neurotic dog, and a multicolored bird could mean so much?
What are your favorite Pixar films? What are your favorite characters? What are your favorite Pixar memories? Feel free to comment as you like.