10: Monsters, Inc.
Directed by: Pete Docter
So many people would hate me for placing Monsters, Inc. all the way at number 10 (they’d flat out form an angry mob with the next couple of entries). But this is where this list got really hard to rank. Here we enter Pixar’s ten “great” films, and ordering them was no easy feat. So just bear with me.
Monsters, Inc. is a fun, funny, and heartwarming film. It tells the story of the world of closet monsters, who scare children as a profession, as children’s screams work as an energy source in the monster world. Two employees at Monsters, Inc., James P. Sullivan (AKA “Sully”) and his manager/best friend Mike Wazowski end up in a whirlwind adventure when a little girl from the human world wanders into Monsters, Inc.
The movie has a good sense of humor, with a recurring joke being that the monsters are just as afraid of children as children are of monsters (in the monster world, it is believed that human children are riddled in disease). But as the story progresses it becomes something more complex and, ultimately, touching.
If there’s any notable misstep with Monsters, Inc., it’s that the film fails to give Mike and Sully proper introductions. The movie is quick to run into the concept of the world and plot, but the audience is just expected to know and understand Mike and Sully from the get-go. Granted, they’re charming and likable characters, so it’s easy to forgive. But Pixar movies have such a strong sense of character, and usually do a great job with introductions. So the abrupt start is kind of noticeable when compared to the other Pixar films.
However, Monsters, Inc. is still a great movie that showcases a lot of heart, and may even bring viewers to tears (this would become a trademark of director Pete Docter’s work). The animation is lively and colorful, and holds up better than you might think. The story and characters are memorable, and it has a fun concept.
Only with a resume like Pixar’s could a movie like Monsters, Inc. be ranked at number 10.
9: Finding Nemo
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
I may as well write my will right now, because placing Finding Nemo at number 9 on this list will surely get me killed. Finding Nemo is probably Pixar’s most beloved film, and it was probably the most popular animated film in history until Frozen showed up.
Please understand that this list was just so difficult to compile, and Pixar’s movies are just so good, that even some great ones would end up relatively low. If it makes you feel any better, this is where things really take a huge leap into cinematic greatness, and in all honesty if you ask me tomorrow, numbers 9, 8 and 7 might swap places. Just as numbers 6, 5 and 4 might (the top 3 are pretty secure for me though…I think). Again, this list was difficult.
Anyway, Finding Nemo is a wonderful movie, plain and simple. The story of a father searching the world for his lost son. Only the father and son are clownfish, the world is the ocean, the son is trapped in the fish tank of a dentist’s office, and the father is joined on his adventure by a fish with short-term memory loss.
If that brief synopsis doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will. Finding Nemo is a charming, wildly entertaining film for both children and adults. The story is full of heart, the characters are among Pixar’s most memorable, it’s surprisingly quotable (“P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney”), and the beautiful animation has held up (dare I say it?) swimmingly.
Finding Nemo, I feel, was the moment where Pixar became, well, Pixar. They made a few great movies before it, but I think Finding Nemo was the moment when it became clear that Pixar were the kings of CG animation, and they were going to stay on their throne. It, along with the likes of Spirited Away and even Shrek, was one of the films that really began to open audiences eyes to animation during the early 2000s. No longer were animated films simply for kids. Finding Nemo is one of the films largely responsible for the broader appreciation the medium receives today.
To put it simply, Finding Nemo is an absolute delight. And I’m going to hate myself for some time for only placing it at number 9…
8: Toy Story 3
Directed by: Lee Unkrich
Speaking of getting killed for ranking a Pixar movie too low, here’s Toy Story 3 at number 8! Look, this list was hard, okay! I’m going to stop defending my placements now. Maybe.
Toy Story 3 served as a fitting end for the series that made Pixar famous (or at least it did until Toy Story 4 was announced). It’s a bittersweet film that’s sure to bring on both the laughs and the waterworks.
Taking place eleven years after Toy Story 2 (the real gap of time between the films’ releases), Toy Story 3 sees Andy grown up and going off to college. Most of his toys are long gone, but the primary cast of favorites remain in a toy chest, having seen their last playtime long ago. Andy wishes to keep the toys in the attic of his house, but they inadvertently get sent off to a daycare center, which ends up being something closer to a prison for the Toy Story gang. The toys must plan a prison break if they’re ever to get back to Andy, but they’ll have to overcome a dictatorial teddy bear and his gang in order to do so.
Toy Story 3 is a great movie. The animation has been greatly improved over its predecessors (again, eleven years), the characters remain endearing (even the villain is given a tragic story), the story is strong, and when it pulls at the heart, it really pulls at the heart.
So why is it only number 8? Well, primarily for two reasons. The first being that Buzz Lightyear, who shared the spotlight with Woody for the first two films, has been relegated to little more than comic relief. The movie does so by reverting him back to his old delusional self. It both reduces the character and recycles a joke. And that just seems kind of lazy for how great the movie is overall.
The other reason is that some moments of the film are maybe trying a little too hard to top the emotional heights of Toy Story 2. Again, when Toy Story 3 gets you, it really gets you. But you can’t help but feel a small sense of desperation in trying to prove itself better than its immediate predecessor. The ending truly is worthy of a good cry, but threatening to burn all our beloved Toy Story characters alive? That’s maybe a tad manipulative.
Don’t think that these problems are too big, however, as Toy Story 3, as a whole, remains one of the most satisfying threequels in film history. That may not sound like much, but rest assured that Toy Story 3 remained every bit as charming and memorable as the two previous films, making Toy Story one of cinemas greatest series.
Plus, it gets like a million bonus points for having Totoro in it.
Directed by: Pete Docter
Up is arguably the poster child for the whole “Pixar movies make you cry” thing. And with good reason. Most audiences will be crying their eyes out in the first fifteen minutes!
Up tells the story of Carl Fredricksen, an elderly man who fell in love with an adventurous girl named Ellie during his youth. They grew up together, got married, grew old together, and Ellie eventually grew sick and passed away.
Carl and Ellie dreamed of big adventures and seeing the world, but the hardships of life often got in their way, and they kept postponing their dreams until it was too late for Ellie. But that doesn’t stop Carl from tying thousands of balloons to his house to fly away to the lost land of Paradise Falls and fulfill his late wife’s dream. Little does he know that a young scout named Russell has stowed away in his house, which leads Carl’s adventure to be quite different than expected.
Up is a charming and imaginative movie that finds a wonderful combination between whimsy and heartbreak. It’s a sad movie, but also funny and hopeful. It has a sympathetic hero, an interesting villain, and fun sidekicks.
What makes Up unique is that, while it’s a kids’ movie, it’s a kids’ movie who’s primary target audience is old people. The main character is an old man, the villain is an old man, and the story deals with subjects like loss and trying to find a new purpose in life after you’ve outlived the things that gave your life meaning.
It’s a surprisingly deep movie that’s entertaining for adults, while still being energetic and imaginative enough for younger audiences. And a movie about an old man, a kid and a dog who live in a flying house is the kind of movie that only Pixar would gamble with in the world of western animation.
Directed by: Brad Bird
If a movie as great as Ratatouille not being in the top 5 isn’t telling of how hard this list was to make, I don’t know what is.
Ratatouille is the story of Remy the rat, who dreams of becoming a chef. For obvious reasons, rats and kitchens aren’t exactly a popular mix, making Remy’s dreams a pretty far off bet. But Remy finds help through a man named Linguini, who works as a garbage boy in Remy’s favorite restaurant. Together, they may find a way for Remy to realize his dream.
During the mid-to-late 2000s, Pixar was at the top of their game. It was at this time that some of their films also developed a newfound sense of maturity, with some of the Pixar films at the time feeling like they were made more with the adult crowd in mind instead of kids.
Perhaps no Pixar film fits this bill better than Ratatouille. Sure, on the surface it’s the “unlikely hero fights the odds and lives his dream” scenario you often see in animation. But it only takes the first few minutes to understand that it’s a lot more than that.
Though Ratatouille would appeal to kids with all the cute animal characters (even if they are rats), the movie has a lot of themes that are aimed at grownup viewers. There’s an underlying theme that art shouldn’t have to be pretentious in order to be art, and that an artist’s yearn to create is a beautiful thing in itself. There’s also a theme of exceptionalism (a recurring element in Brad Bird films). One which claims that, although not just anyone can find greatness in art, there’s no specific background or origin to define an artist. Greatness is an exceptional thing, but it can come from any source. Not exactly simple kids’ messages.
Ratatouille is a captivating story that provides some thought-provoking insights into the world of artists. It’s wonderfully directed, animated, and acted. And is there an animated film out there that makes you more hungry? The food looks more real than real food!
4 thoughts on “Ranking the Pixar Films”
1- Inside Out – Your final sentence says everything that needs to be said about it. It is indeed Pixar’s best movie.
2- The Incredibles – An absolute masterpiece that takes a very unique look into the overly explored world of superheroes. I would place it exactly where you did. I am desperately looking forward to the sequel.
3- Toy Story 2 – I agree that it is better than the first, and the emotiona weight it carries is astounding.
4- Toy Story – A fantastic start, but Pixar has done better since then. The sheer creativity in creating the world the toys live in is just mesmerizing with all the details and references, and so is the plot and character development.
5- WALL-E – Also one of my favorites. I am always blown away when I remember the first thirty minutes of this thing are almost mute cinema, and it works incredibly well. When the adventure grows bigger, busier, and crazier it also hits the nail on the head with the beauty, drama, and action. It is like two perfectly done movies in one.
6- Ratatouille – It is one of my favorites for sure. It takes a simple and crazy concept and does amazing things with it, and it is also – like you said – a great look inside the artistic world. It has what I consider to be Pixar’s best finale; Ego’s final piece always moves me. Whoever wrote that deserves an award.
7- Up – My problem with Up is that I feel once the house lands on its destination, the movie steps on some very cliched stones (I have a serious problem with the army of talking dogs, for example). I feel its first half is far better than what comes next.
8- Toy Story 3 – Now here is one I would have ranked much higher. It is so powerfully emotional and touching, hilarious, and shows masterful character development.
9- Finding Nemo – I love it as well. I just don’t love it as much as I love other Pixar movies.
10- Monsters Inc. – From here it does get harder to rank the movies, but I think I would put it ahead of both Finding Nemo and Up. I just love the world and the whole concept of the flick, and it never stops being fun, something which the aforementioned pair of movies is not able to achieve in my book.
11- Monsters University – I love how lighthearted and unpretentious it is, and it works exactly because of that; it is a simple and fun prequel story, but it never really had enough to reach a higher degree of greatness. It is just perfect for what it is, though.
12- Cars – Yes, it actually has heart, something it sequel does not possess, and as far as having cars as characters goes I think Pixar did as well as they could.
13- A Bug’s Life – It is a good movie, but forgettable. I agree.
14- Brave – It is much better than Cars 2, but I agree with its placement. It was supposed to be a reinvention, and it had the setting and ideas to do so, but once her mother turns into a bear it all becomes one fat cliche.
15- Cars 2 – Yeah, I fully agree. It was a movie whose production started pushed by the goal to sell merchanside (even if Lasseter says otherwise, I just don’t buy it). It is not a surprise it turned out the way it did.
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I agree with pretty much every point you made. And like I said, numbers 7, 8 and 9 are basically interchangeable for me, as are 4, 5 and 6. So don’t read too much into which ones I placed over the others there.
I totally understand your complaints with Up. I feel the same way about a lot of it. The earlier parts completely outshine the rest in terms of narrative and whimsy (talking dogs aren’t exactly a new concept in animation). And I flip-flopped with it, TS3 and Nemo up until I published this. Had I made this a couple of months ago, I definitely would have placed Up lower, but a few months back I had the opportunity to see it again on the big screen with my grandparents, and seeing their reaction to it I more understood what Up was going for. It’s a kids’ movie for old people, and that in itself is kind of sweet. It’s flawed to be sure, but I gained a revitalized appreciation for it.
Glad to see we agree on the top two Pixar films. They are essentially two perfect movies.
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It is impossible not to flip-flop a lot when making one of those lists. You did a great job!
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