Studio Ghibli runs them close, and even Dreamworks can come out with some crackers, but it’s hard to argue that Pixar isn’t the world’s greatest animation studio. We all have our own idea of what the best Pixar movie is, of course, but for me it was a case of asking myself a tough question: how do I pick between at least seven perfect films?
Well, I’ve attempted to do just that, but believe me when say this was difficult.
14. Cars 2 (2011)
Cars 2 isn’t terrible (Pixar are virtually incapable of making a terrible film), but it is awfully generic and unnecessary. It turns out there’s a reason Cars was the first film Pixar chose to sequelize: merchandise. They made more from the toy cars than the film itself, so Cars 2 was basically just a way of creating more characters to sell to kids.
13. A Bug’s Life (1998)
Until quite recently, I hadn’t watched A Bug’s Life for at least ten years. Despite that it had always held a prestigious spot in my head for being one of Pixar’s best, but sadly, those memories quickly faded. Like Cars, A Bug’s Life is harmless enough, but there’s nothing really special about it by most standards, let alone Pixar. It was always going to be tough to follow Toy Story.
12. Cars (2006)
Pixar can be their own worst enemy at times. Cars is harmless fun: it looks beautiful, has entertaining characters and there’s a nice story, but in comparison to the rest of the studio’s output it falls below standard.
11. The Good Dinosaur (2015)
The Good Dinosaur was probably a little unfortunate to come out the same year as Inside Out, one of the studio’s most accomplished pictures. It’s a sweet little film that’s utterly breathtaking to look at; the vast backdrops are gorgeously rendered and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen animated water look so real; but the script does feel like it could have done with a bit of a brush up – and this is after the entire thing was already dropped and re-written.
10. Monsters University (2013)
Similar to Cars in being fun but lacking anything extraordinary. With the exception of Toy Story, Pixar’s sequels (well, prequel in this case) so far have been somewhat underwhelming. In the case of Monsters University, it’s a bit of fun and it’s nice to see Mike and Sully back together, but it can’t claim to be anything like as unique or compelling as Monsters Inc.
9. Brave (2012)
Brave sees Pixar delving into the wilds of a magical, medieval Scotland Its strength lies in the touching relationship between Merida and her mother; independent and unwilling to be married off to some lord, Merida accidentally turns her stubborn mother into a bear with a magical pie she acquired from a witch (for who that witch supposedly is, see the Pixar Theory), after which she faces a race against time to turn her back or be lost forever.
It’s very sweet and beautiful to look at, while also nice to see something a little bit different (which basically for Pixar is a story with humans as the main characters.)
8. Finding Nemo (2004)
“Fish are friends, not food.”
Before Finding Dory, there was this tale about a little Clown fish wandering the vast, treacherous ocean for his lost son (the titular Nemo), which was as beautiful as it was funny. Visually beautiful, of course, but also emotionally. Sort of on the other end of the scale from Brave, Finding Nemo is about the bond between a father and a son; about growing up and learning that it’s okay to leave the nest and make friends, as long as you remember that family is always one of the most important things.
Then there’s Thomas Newman’s title track.
7. Ratatouille (2007)
Somehow this seems like one of Pixar’s more unbelievable ideas: a rat who loves food cooking at a famous Parisian restaurant by hiding under the hat of a novice cook. Yet they pull it off. Ratatouille is so much fun; so much silly, mad, adorable fun.
Also, did you ever notice that Linguini looks exactly like this guy from Friday The 13th Part 2?
6. Monsters Inc. (2001)
Monsters Inc. is such a brilliant idea: explaining the myth of monsters under the bed, in a universe where monsters rule, power is acquired through children’s screams. Enter ‘Scarers’, monsters whose job it is to enter children’s rooms at night via door portals and get them to scream. The louder the scream, the more energy produced.
It’s wonderfully bonkers at times (it would have to be with a plot like that), and Mike and Sully (Billy Crystal and John Goodman) are such a great duo – but it’s Sully’s relationship with Boo, the little girl who finds her way into the monster world, that makes Monsters Inc. so endearing. If Oscars went to movie endings, this would surely get it.
5. Inside Out (2015)
Finally some reaffirmation that Pixar aren’t completely disappearing into a sequel-shaped hole of normality.
Inside Out is their most profound and grown-up film yet – and yes, I think it’s more for grown-ups than kids. I mean, it opens with the birth of human consciousness and deals with the chaotic emotions of an adolescent mind entering puberty, before demonstrating the considerably mature concept that we must appreciate sadness in order to appreciate our joy.
It’s also totally joyous and tear-inducing. I’m still getting over Bing Bong.
4. Up (2009)
Just as Monsters Inc. has the best ending, Up has the best opening – not even just of Pixar’s, but of cinema’s long history. We care more for two characters in the opening ten minutes than a lot of movies manage in two hours. It’s the perfect short film, and it will make you cry.
Then in comes Dug the dog, who’s a great tracker and hides under the porch because he loves you, to steal the show as he joins in on the adventure with Carl, Russell and Kevin the bird. If my house could float away with a thousand helium balloons, I’d probably fly off for an adventure, too.
3. The Incredibles (2004)
When we’re asked to think of our favourite superhero movies, we immediately go to the likes of Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy or The Avengers – but Pixar actually gave us one of the best back in 2004. It’s the one top-end movie in the studio’s cannon that doesn’t have any particular emotional heft – it’s just really, really fun.
We’re finally getting a sequel (in 2019) – it always felt like the Pixar movie that actually deserves one.
2. Wall-E (2008)
Pixar’s answer to the silent movie. Wall-E is a truly a magnificent achievement in storytelling; for the majority of the running time we see nothing but a little waste-compacting robot buzzing around an abandoned Earth, gazing longingly at the stars and holding his own hand out of loneliness. Try not to cry at that.
When mysterious robot, EVE, lands nearby, it becomes a beautiful story of friendship and love, with really quiet apt allegorical undertones about the direction humanity could be heading if we’re not careful.
Beautiful, majestic and moving.
1. Toy Story 1-3 (1995, 1999, 2010)
Individually I might choose another film as #1, so it’s perhaps unfair to lump all three Toy Story films in together since there’s no possible way it won’t come out on top. But the reality is, as a trilogy, there’s nothing else quite like it. It’s the film that began Pixar’s incredible story, after all, and until the announcement of Toy Story 4, gave its characters the perfect send-off.
The characters have been ingrained in our conscience since 1995. We’ve been through a journey with them, which explains why it was so emotional to let them go. I’m sure the next one will be great, but it shouldn’t really be happening. Toy Story is one of the greatest trilogies of all time – we should leave it that way.
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