Sunday, 18 June 2017

Pixar - From Best To Worst



To coincide with the release of Cars 3, I've thrown together this list of Pixar movies, arranging them from best to worst. Why? Because it says here in my copy of The Film Reviewer's Guide To Being A Know-It-All Jerk that I'm supposed to do regular film lists, thus creating debate, disgust, and angry anonymous comments from people with poor grammar and their caps lock key stuck in the 'on' position.

In actual fact I love movie lists (and there's going to be a lot more of these happening on this site in the future because woooooo party time!).

But I really love Pixar. They get movie-making. They regularly make other animation studios look like a bunch of monkeys hurling faeces at a screen. I mean, have you seen the Ice Age movies?

Not pictured: faeces.
As a production house, Pixar are the pinnacle in any kind of film-making because their strike rate is incredible - in fact, I'd go so far as to say there is only one bad film on this list. The rest, from #14 up, range from good to perfect. In fact, I love Pixar so much that despite the one bad film being Cars 2, I'm still super-pumped for Cars 3 because, godsdammit, it's Pixar.

UPDATE: Cars 3 sucks.

Why are they so good? On top of the fact they have great characters doing interesting stuff and saying wonderful things, Pixar make films that are endlessly rewarding. Watch almost any of these films once every year from the age of 5 to 50 and you will get something new out of it every time. Plus you will be entertained. Even more importantly, you will be moved - just about all of these films have a tearjerker moment in them that hits you right in the feels (which I'm led to believe is somewhere near the large intestine).

Without further ado, I present to you the definitive ranking of Pixar movies from best to least best. Ready your caps lock key, internet.

1. Inside Out


Is this a controversial selection for #1? I'm not sure. I think you're supposed to have controversial selections when making "best movies of ever blah blah" lists. Either way, who cares, this is the best Pixar movie hands down. The script for this is one of the most remarkable I have ever seen. How they managed to set a film inside a young girl's brain and have her emotions be the main characters while simultaneously telling one of the ultimate coming-of-age stories ... well, that blows my mind. It's incredibly deep yet hilarious, realistic yet fantastic, thoughtful but told simply. It is as appealing to young uns (with its bright moving zaniness and wacky characters like Bing Bong) as it is to grown-ups - in fact, this is a grown-ups movie dressed up as a kiddie cartoon. Never has a film expressed the scariness and uncertainty of leaving childhood and entering young adulthood so poignantly or precisely.

Read my full review here.

2. Wall-E


One of the fundamentals of screenwriting is the adage "Show, don't tell". Pixar take this idea to pre-talkie extremes in this tale of a robot with a heart of gold, giving us what is effectively a silent movie with a prescient, quasi-satirical view of humanity. It's Chaplin does CG-sci-fi. The layers in this are incredible. It's a love story, a ramshackle space-capade, and a chilling warning about where we're heading as a species. And, as with all Pixar films, it's abundantly hilarious and heartwarming. Like Inside Out, this is one of the key Pixar movies that unfurls new nuances as you get older, making it the gift that keeps on giving. Its charms are abundant, no matter what age you are. And at its centre lies Wall-E, the greatest robot ever committed to celluloid. He has more character in one worn-out track tread than most modern movie creations. He's adorable, witless and incredibly sympathetic as he goes about his soul-crushingly pointless job in between falling in love and re-watching his favourite movie ad infinitum. Wall-E is all of us.

3. Toy Story trilogy


I'm cheating here because I can't/don't wanna separate the Toy Story films. It's a line-call as to which is the best (it's Toy Story 3), because all of them are astoundingly good. As a whole, they comprise one of the greatest trilogies of all time. The original set the benchmark for Pixar's storytelling, and they haven't let up since. Again, it's that mixture of emotion and humour, but the understanding of character is at its peak here. Even the villains are well-rounded - Stinky Pete and Lots-o'-Huggin' are wonderful creations that in lesser hands would be, well, cartoonish. But check out the way Woody and Buzz grow across the series yet remain true to their roots. It's always perfect and honest for the character, and it makes them real and it makes us care about them, so when they appear to be sliding slowly towards their dooms and they hold hands, well, only some kind of inhuman monster would be devoid of tears. Each film is layered and thematically rich - case in point being part 3's letting-go-of-childhood substory. Pair it with Inside Out and it's almost as if Pixar is trying to help kids grow up, learn, and become well-rounded humans. What a bunch of swells.

4. The Incredibles


I've banged on a lot about character and emotion and all that crap in the first three entries of this list, so let's take them for granted for now, leave them to one side, and examine a couple of other film-making things that can make movies exemplary. Like say the score and the production design. Of all the Pixar films, The Incredibles has the best of both these things (which is saying something). Michael Giacchino's retro-futuristic soundtrack perfectly matches the retro-futurism of the costumes, sets and colour palette, which are also perfect, and, well, the whole damn thing is perfect. The Incredibles happens to be one of the greatest superhero movies of all time, bundling together a lot of great super-ideas into one super-film - the banning of superheros from Watchmen, the family's power set mirroring The Fantastic Four, a whole lot of early 007 vibes, in particular Syndrome's volcano lair. It's a loving tribute, silly send-up, and spot-on satire of superheroes, all rolled into one wonderful film about the importance of family, honesty, and not wearing capes. 

5. Up


Have said before, will say again - the opening four-minute montage of Up, in which we see Carl and Ellie's marriage through the ages, is a minor miracle of film and one of the greatest sequences in the history of cinema. Like love itself, it is beautiful and bittersweet, empowering and disheartening, and it never fails to make me get something in both eyes simultaneously. It's so good, it almost overshadows the rest of the film, which is a wonderfully wacky and absurd adventure. I have no idea how this film was pitched - it has the feel of about a dozen half-baked ideas thrown into one pot, stirred and seasoned until holy-crap-this-actually-tastes-incredible. A balloon-house, a talking dog, a grumpy widower, an annoying bird, an overzealous boy scout, the golden age of adventuring, unfinished business, the power of grief, the need to let go .... it's all smooshed together into something that really shouldn't work. But it does. Up is the cinematic equivalent of the nightcap you make at the end of the party from the leftover bits of alcohol in every bottle that somehow hits the spot. And it's a remarkable thing to behold.

6. Monsters, Inc.


All Pixar movies are funny, but Monsters, Inc. is the funniest. Why is that? Two words - Billy fricking Crystal. No one could have voiced Mike Wazowki better, so we should be weirdly thankful for that fact Crystal turned down the role of Buzz Lightyear and instead took on the part of Sully's one-eyed tennis ball-shaped buddy in Pixar's fourth outing some six years later. Another thing Monsters, Inc. does better than its Pixar cohorts is worldbuild. All of the films exist in worlds that are fully realised, but none are as inventive as the Monsters, Inc. world. It's a simple mirror to our own in a lot of ways, and largely played for laughs, but it has such a natural flow and feel to it that you forget how wickedly clever it is. The doors, Boo, the scare energy, the toxicity of humans - all these things make sense in such a short period of time thanks to a sharp script, making it easier to relax into the humour and story. And once again, it has heart. Sully and Mike are great as a pair, but it's the connection between Boo and Sully that will have you getting something in both eyes simultaneously.

7. Finding Nemo


I know, I know - this is a long way down the list. But look at the quality above it. And we're still most definitely in five-star territory here - numbers 1-8 are bona fide five-star films in my book. So don't take Finding Nemo's appearance at #7 as any kind of slight. This is a great movie. It's damn near perfect. What's interesting about Nemo is that it feels deceptively simple when stacked up against its cohorts on this list - it's a straightforward road movie, except the road is actually an ocean and the travellers just happen to be fish. But, like I said, deceptively simple. In reality this is about ability (Nemo's special flipper), letting go (Marlin's neurosis), and a very powerful connection between father and son. Let's not forget this is a comedy though, coming close second to Monsters, Inc. in the laughter stakes, but for all its whale impersonations and hilarious recovering-addict sharks, once again, it's the emotion in Marlin's journey that makes this work. As much as it's called Finding Nemo, really it's about Marlin finding himself and who he needs to be as a dad. And that's deep. Like an ocean. Whoa.

8. Ratatouille


I gotta come clean - I didn't like Ratatouille the first time I saw it. Maybe it caught me on an off night. Maybe it was the sight of a kitchen teeming with rats. Maybe it was the fact a lot of the main characters have American accents despite it being set in France. Whatever it was, it didn't sit right with me. The second time I saw it though, I got it. It hit home in a big way and I berated myself for not appreciating this mini-masterpiece about dreaming the impossible dream. It's not quite Up-crazy but its oddball premise - a rat wants to be a chef and he marionettes a human to achieve his goal - is endearing, goofy and bizarrely inspiring. It's a strange film, but it works because of its humour and its passion and its precise tone. Remy (wonderfully voiced by funnyman Patton Oswalt) is an incredible character too - he's the perfect straight man (or rat as it were) in a funny world. He just ploughs through life as though he's running in mid-air and if he looks down, he'll fall, so he doesnt. Ratatouille also boasts one of the most amazing scenes in any Pixar film. It's the moment when the critic Ego tastes the make-or-break dish and is transported back to his youth. It speaks to the power of food, art, nostalgia and the innocence of childhood (and shows that critics aren't entirely inhuman monsters), and it all comes about via a scene in which a man eats a bowl of food. This is just one example of the Pixar brains trust's supreme gifts as master storytellers. 

9. Finding Dory


The most mind-blowing aspect of this 13-years-later sequel is the way it re-examines Dory's memory problems, flipping them from being a running joke in the first film to the debilitating disability they would actually be in real life. And thus the title of Finding Dory becomes not just about Marlin and Nemo's quest to locate their lost friend, but representative of the film's attempt to understand Dory's character and how she finds her way in the world. She becomes a kind of tragic hero - the fish with a sad past and a disability, overcoming incredible odds to save the day and herself. It's not a new thing for Pixar - this is Nemo's special flipper all over again, but writ larger and with more gravitas. Much of the kudos for this must go to Ellen DeGeneres. Her voicing of Dory is nothing short of magnificent, wringing every possible bit of humour and pathos out of a character that blossoms from hilarious one-note gag to satisfying full-realisation in her own film. The only downside is the feelings of deja vu from first film to sequel, and an OTT ending that is fun but, well, OTT.

Read my full review here.

10. Brave


In a world severely lacking in bold and inspiring cinematic heroines, Brave was a breath of fresh air. It still is. Merida remains one of the most compelling characters in the Pixar catalogue. She's a bundle of contradictions, flaws and annoyances, but that's what makes her great - she's a real person, fully formed in all her frustrating and furiously driven glory. Ditto for her mother Queen Elinor, and together they make a great pairing as the film explores the trials and tribulations many mother-daughter combos can surely relate to. But beyond that, Brave is an exhilarating ride, despite its weird structure (it's more a film of two halves as opposed to three acts, which throws the pacing off, plus there is no villain because all Merida's problems are of her own creation, but hey, I can live with that). It's also strangely familiar, yet utterly fresh. It's not in the five-star league, but it's not far off.

Read my full review here.

11. A Bug’s Life


Pixar's second film feels like the forgotten puppy in the litter, but its one that deserves a re-examination. It's a simple, well-worn story - the pretend heroes save the village and become real heroes (see also Galaxy Quest and Three Amigos) - but it wears its tropes well, feeling like some subtle new variation on one of Aesop's fable (possibly called The Grasshopper and The Octopus or something, I don't know). Whatever - this is classic, if unambitious, storytelling done right. Flick is a solid hero, his sidekicks are great (it's hard to go past Heimlich the caterpillar for comedy value), and the film boasts one of Pixar's greatest villains in Kevin Spacey's Hopper. A Bug's Life is traditional, old-timey tale-telling, but it does everything right.

12. Cars


Unlike most of the rest of the Pixar catalogue, Cars feels like solid kids entertainment, as opposed to something for the whole family. Yes, there is a certain appeal in seeing Paul Newman as a car, and us old-timers can get a kick out of the "listen to the old-timers" subtext, but so much of Cars feels like good clean kiddie fun and not much else (except a licence to sell a truckload of merch). That's not to say Cars is bad - it's really quite good at what it does, and achieves what it sets out to do, which is to be entertaining in a fast, funny, and friendly way. Its layers are fewer and its story is somewhat simpler and unambitious, but there's nothing wrong with that.

13. The Good Dinosaur


There's nothing exactly wrong with The Good Dinosaur (expect for the fact the dinosaurs look weird and cartoonish against a photoreal world) it's just that like Cars and, to a certain extent, Finding Nemo, it's so damned simple. This is boy-and-dog (except it's dinosaur-and-boy) do Homeward Bound and it's funny and heartwarming and slightly offbeat, but it never feels like anything truly special. It labours its message about the need to be brave to make your mark in the world and flies perilously close to being cliched. The film still works and features a few killer scenes, but it's good without being Pixar good.

Read my full review here.

14. Monsters University


Pixar does a college movie, but who are they aiming it at? Sure, the kids that grew up on Monsters, Inc. were probably in university by the time this prequel rolled around, but this G-rated cliched college mash-up felt like a swing and miss. Little kids won't get half it, it's not edgy enough for the collegiate crew, and even the grown-ups might have been stretching to love it. Packed with tired tropes that it's never able to subvert or do anything other than "monsterise", Monsters University only gets a pass mark thanks to nostalgic goodwill, some pretty good gags, and surprisingly strong ending. 

Read my full review here.

15. Cars 3


A kids film about getting older and knowing when to retire? Who thought that was a good idea? In fact a lot of this film doesn't work - it just idles along being as boring as NASCAR racing. Except for the crash scene. So yeah, pretty much exactly like NASCAR racing. It finally finds the right gears by the third act, but its too late and no one cares. It's best character - Cruz - almost saves the film, and its throwbacks to the first movie are welcome, but Cars 3 is evidence its time to take this franchise to the wreckers.

16. Cars 2


Here we are. The bottom of the list. We all knew this was coming. Cars 2 is the only genuinely bad Pixar movie. A soulless spy movie spoof, its crimes are many. It's unfunny and uninspired, but worst of all, it takes one of the most annoying characters to ever grace a Pixar movie - Mater - and puts him front and centre in a dumb mistaken identity espionage plot. It's like North By Northwest, but with the automotive equivalent of Joe Dirt in the starring role. No one wants to see that. What few good ideas there are in the film are subsumed by a lack of laughs and heart.

Read my full review here.

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The plan is to update this list as new Pixar movies are released. Here's what's coming up:

June 16, 2017 - Cars 3

November 22, 2017 - Coco

June 15, 2018 - The Incredibles 2

June 21, 2019 - Toy Story 4

March 13, 2020 - Untitled film

June 19, 2020 - Untitled film

June 18, 2021 - Untitled film








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