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From Toy Story to Finding Dory: Ranking Every Pixar Film

“Finding Dory,” the sequel to Pixar Animation Studio’s 2003 classic, “Finding Nemo,” swam into theaters on Friday. The film earned $136 million in North America its opening weekend, a record for a Pixar film. Reviews from critics have also been very kind. But is “Finding Dory” better than its predecessor? Or even “Toy Story?” Find out where it falls in our ranking of Pixar’s filmography below.

17. Cars 2, John Lasseter (2011)

The one bad egg in the Pixar carton. “Cars 2” is more in line with the flashy commercial aesthetics of today’s mainstream market than with the exquisite storytelling for which Pixar is known. It’s as entertaining as a “Fast and Furious” movie, but without the thrill of seeing actual cars parachute out of planes.

16. A Bug’s Life, John Lasseter (1998)

Another rather simplistic effort that never rose above its cute but well-trodden conceit. That it came out at the same time as another excursion into bug world, the far more entertaining “Antz,” didn’t help. I’m as big a fan as anyone would be of Kevin Spacey as the villainous grasshopper, and there are visual treats abound, but “A Bug’s Life” grows tedious on repeat viewings.  

15. Cars, John Lasseter (2006)

Pixar’s seventh feature allowed Disney to milk Pixar products for more kids merchandise, but “Cars” had a rather surprising message at its center. Reminding us of America’s fading industrial landscape proved bold and timely, but a predictable narrative and the insufferable babbling of Larry the Cable Guy swallows the idea whole.

14. Monsters University, Dan Scanlon (2013)

Dan Scanlon’s prequel to “Monster’s Inc.” gets an unfair rap. “Monsters University” granted our favorite monsters some wonderful context. As a comedic riff on making your way through college, its notes sound far more accurate than in something like “Animal House.” Finding the right group, registering for class, not wanting to disappoint your parents, annoying roommates, anyone who attended college will recognise at least one moment from this minor but smart comedy.

13. The Good Dinosaur, Peter Sohn (2015)

Pixar’s sixteenth film went through many production delays before it saw the light of day Thanksgiving of 2015. Set on an Earth that never got hit by a meteor and dinosaurs still roam the land, you follow a young dinosaur separated from his family who must find his way home. This journey brings few surprises, but it’s breathtaking to behold, like a painting come to life. And the film’s contemplative silences and often harsh vision of nature make for a welcome alternative to the often superficial hysterics of other animated films.

12. Brave, Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman (2012)

Pixar’s first foray into a female-driven narrative depends on fairy-tale formula to weave a tender and engaging yarn on identity, family and communication. Its central mother-daughter dynamic works as a lovely response to the father-son relationship in “Finding Nemo.” Add to that beautiful animation in which every strand of that carrot-colored hair looks alive, and you have a high-spirited entertainment that fans of “Frozen” should revisit.

11. Finding Dory, Andrew Stanton (2016)

I felt a sequel to “Finding Nemo” could only tarnish such pearly perfection. But thirteen years later, the ocean is still a lovely place to explore, particularly if you have characters like Ellen Degeneres’s wonderful Dory to follow. Dory is doing the finding this time (she’s lost her parents), but she’s also finding her sense of self-sufficiency, and the journey provides emotional and hilarious entertainment with Pixar’s customarily exceptional touch. It expands on some of the ideas in the original (dealing with loss and overcoming disabilities) and offers wonderful newcomers, most especially Ed O’Neill as a grumpy octopus.

10. The Incredibles, Brad Bird (2004)

A favorite for many Pixar fans, “The Incredibles” zigs and zags with such jazzy flavor that you hardly realize how thematically heavy it is. Director Brad Bird’s great superhero flick examined suburban angst with bite and wit while also condemning a society wallowing in mediocrity. In the oppressive age of Marvel, the evil Syndrome’s wicked line “And when everyone’s super, no one will be” proved prophetic. The brilliant cast (Sam Jackson needs to do more voice work) doesn’t just play their characters for laughs; they live their characters’ wants, indignities and aspirations. They sound like real people. Bird, always the writing stylist (he penned many of “The Simpsons’s” funniest episodes), has an ear for dialogue both in the superhero and suburban realm that would make the film work just as easily as an audiobook. And let’s not forget: Edna. A slam-bang final two-thirds almost buries the rich subtext, but this thing still zips right along. We all await that sequel.

9. Monsters, Inc., Pete Docter (2001)

Pixar started off the millennium with one of their funniest and most touching efforts. This tale of a community of monsters who scare kids for a living offers wonderful satire about our over reliance on energy sources and even manages to include a tribute to the power of laughter. Even without these varied themes, you’ll be hard pressed not to enjoy what’s there on the surface. Billy Crystal, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi give wonderful vocal performances, and the surrogate father-daughter relationship between Goodman’s Sully and the little human girl (he calls her Boo) who enters his life is as sweet as anything Pixar’s yet created. That final shot is simple and pure.

8. Toy Story 2, John Lasseter (1999)

“Toy Story 2” is one of the greatest of all sequels. It expands on the original in glorious and exciting ways; a simple rescue film becomes a rumination on mortality and the importance of putting others before yourself. At the time of its release, it pointed to Pixar’s growing maturity. No longer just films of charms and laughs, Pixar’s work could be thoughtful, complex and even dark. It was a sign of great things to come. And I still have my Emperor Zurg toy.

7. Toy Story, John Lasseter (1995)

Where it all began. It speaks to the heights Pixar would later reach that this first effort, so original and endearing, finds itself out of the top tier. It’s nothing more than the relationship between a young kid and his toys. Yet “Toy Story” is a landmark, simple as that, influencing animated film from here to eternity (or infinity). Woody and Buzz are two of the most iconic characters in modern movies. They, and this film, will live on forever.

6. Up, Pete Docter (2009)

Pixar closed out the past decade with an emotional powerhouse of a set-piece in their tenth feature: a four-minute montage (caressed by Michael Giacchino’s lovely score) depicting the peaks and valleys of marriage. The sequence was in the first 15 minutes of the film, and its emotional truth and poetry blindsided us. The rest of the film wouldn’t quite match it (a poor villain and excess of frivolity weigh it down), but “Up’s” delightful characters hold it aloft, not the least of which being the lovable dog Dug. Ultimately, “Up” reminds us that life’s great adventures are often the moments we share with others. ‘Tis a lesson worth remembering.

5. Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich (2010)

“Toy Story 3” gets the edge over its predecessors for putting such a beautiful and poignant bow on what must be one of the great film trilogies. It supplies laughs, emotion and thrills in equal measure, while also providing a climax that will reduce any normal human to mush. That image of our beloved toys facing oblivion — first with fear and desperation until, finally, with brave finality — works on our emotions the way the best films do; we realize these characters have become like family. Like family, things change, people move on and toys are passed on, but the memories and the feelings remain. A “Toy Story 4” is pointless. There could be no finer send-off for these characters than this film.

4. Inside Out, Pete Docter (2015)

Their most ambitious concept yet, “Inside Out” brilliantly and elegantly makes literal the tumultuous emotions that run budding adolescence; parents will nod in recognition. Children will marvel at the creativity hidden in every part of the frame and delight in the stellar cast and visuals. But with age and repeat viewings, they will better appreciate the profound, magical empathy Pixar has conjured. It’s sweet and knowing in ways live-action films about kids rarely approach.  

3. WALL-E, Andrew Stanton (2008)

Pixar’s ninth feature entered the cinematic space of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Charlie Chaplin. It was a grand, visual navigation of human folly and invention centered around a protagonist of effortless charm and expressivity. The first half hour or so is nearly wordless sublimity. The stark and arresting depiction of a ravaged earth set against the innocence and curiosity of WALL-E was beautiful to behold. The final hour is more formulaic, but with time has revealed itself as a rather savage satire of technology as our life support and the inevitable numbing of human sensation. It’s more than just mankind becoming fat. Formula or no formula, when you have the scene of WALL-E and his love interest EVE performing a romantic waltz in space, you can’t help but feel like you’re flying right along with them.

2. Finding Nemo, Andrew Stanton (2003)

“Finding Nemo” is perfect. There is not a false scene or beat. The stunningly life-like underwater visuals still have the power to wash over you and send you into movie bliss, and Thomas Newman’s score seems to swish and sway to the rhythms of the ocean. When you first see it, the powerful current of its father-son story carries you off. While Dory, played by Ellen Degeneres in truly Oscar worthy work, gives you a childhood’s worth of life lessons in just one line. But subsequent viewings reveal a deeper appeal. Each character must deal with a handicap, either mental, physical or emotional. Everyone we meet on that epic journey to 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney — whether it’s the vegetarian sharks, the fish in the dentist’s office, or the surfer-turtle Crush — is just trying to get by. “Finding Nemo” reminds us that there’s life being lived everywhere you look, and it isn’t easy for anyone, and that sometimes we all need a reason to just keep swimming. That it can say all this so effortlessly and poignantly while keeping kids of all ages enthralled the whole way through solidifies its status as a treasure.

1.Ratatouille, Brad Bird (2007)

Pixar’s eighth feature works like the best popular fiction, meaning more to you as you grow older. It is first a celebration of the senses. It is not only a sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears, food and taste are as vividly depicted as they’ve ever been in a visual medium. You get hungry watching “Ratatouille.” Bird also knows how taste or touch can travel a path directly to our deepest and most important memories. But the film also celebrates the joie de vivre, buoyantly evoking that feeling of taking life’s next great step, of entering worlds you never knew existed. Finally, it is one of the great, impassioned films about the artist’s pursuit of excellence. And it is the defense of that pursuit that, in an age when what qualifies as exceptional grows more and more dubious, resonates so deeply.

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1 comments

  1. digitalbeachbum 1 year ago

    Since Good Dinosaur isn’t last on this list, the list is invalidated. Yeah, Cars2 sucked, but Good Dino sucked even more. InsideOut doesn’t deserve such a high ranking above stuff like The Incredibles and WALL-E has a terrible script filled with tons of plot holes.

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