The Authoritative Ordering of Pixar Films

Pixar films, ranked correctly, from best to worst. Full list and some highlights of the reasoning below the jump.

The Great

The Incredibles
Toy Story 3
Toy Story 2

The Good
Toy Story
Monsters Inc.
A Bug’s Life
Finding Nemo
Monsters University
Inside Out

The Bad
Cars 2

There are 15 theatrically released Pixar films to date. I have purposefully sat myself down and watched 14. Cars 2 I saw while doing other things at the same time. It’s possible that there are subtle nuances there I missed which would cause me to revise its ranking. I doubt that very much, however. I shall explain myself below while refraining as far as possible from spoiling the films. If, however, we get into a wrangle in the comments, I will spoil without warning!

The best Pixar movie, without question, is The Incredibles. Excellent acting, excellent writing, excellent plot and a solid emotional core and good character arcs. The Super Teamwork Ending is a bit sappy, but not even “grown up” superhero movies can avoid it. (Cf. The Avengers) Plus, Pixar has enough credibility that when the villain threatens in the One Final Scare at the end, I’m ready to believe it. I mean, that would have been an amazing sequel, if a bit dark for the younger set.

Along with The Incredibles in the top tier are Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3. As an aside, I don’t know how I ought to feel about Toy Story 4 being planned for 2017. I didn’t think Toy Story 2 could be as good as the original. At that point, had Disney ever been associated with  an animated sequel that wasn’t a merchandising cash grab? Heck, any sequel at all? But it was better! Well, then obviously Toy Story 3 would regress to the mean. Nope! Better again. So I’m torn about 4. Trends are good, but they can’t last forever.

The first Toy Story dealt with the difficult realization that we don’t all get to be astronauts; quite literally in some cases. Buzz and Woody show us that we don’t always get what we want or get to be what we want. Despite this, perhaps even sometimes because of this, one can lead a good life and a virtuous one.

The second Toy Story took on a more clear-cut case of evil. What happens when we are betrayed by those we trust into the hands of those who wish us ill? More than this, however, what responsibilities do we retain even if we are betrayed by those we love? How could the third movie top that? But it did.

The third film not only considered betrayal, but also looked at the deliberate choice to do evil and the refusal to do right and accept redemption. That’s significant enough, but it also dealt with despair and the limits of one’s abilities to avert death. How to face death and the different responses to unmerited grace. The Incredibles also touched on these themes, even if they weren’t primary, and the real-life relationships of husband and wife, parent and child, and siblings made it a weightier film than one that anthropomorphises toys.

I won’t talk about the rest of the middle section in as much detail. Monsters, Inc. goes in below the Toy Story series being the most solid start-to-finish. A consistent and insightful look at friendship. A Bug’s Life is consistent also, but weaker and more of a clichéd Disney-style film. Ratatouille has some weaker points in the film, but some brilliant high points. Up has the most amazing ten minutes of any Pixar film (any animated film?), but the rest of the movie pales by comparison and even is flat-out weak at points. (Dogs flying airplanes?) Monsters University is more uneven throughout with no real high points other than a surprisingly scary and unconventional scene near the end. Inside Out has a heart-wrenching few moments, but it is bland most of the way through with a few laughs and barely makes it out of the third section.

Attentive readers have noted that I skipped over Finding Nemo. This movie is the one where I am most at variance usually with other people about the quality of Pixar movies. I am not saying it is a bad movie. It is not, as many people claim, the best. It is a good film about the lengths a parent will go to protect their children. It’s a good message done pretty well. But there are plenty of problems too. The jokes are just juvenile and simple most of the time. The plot doesn’t withstand much scrutiny and a lot of the supporting characters are little more than lazy stereotypes or stock clichés. Let me say again, it’s not a bad movie. But, like say, Frozen it is overrated by a significant number of people.

Now the poor films. The best of a bad lot is Brave. This is really just a standard Disney animated film dressed up in Pixar trappings. Only the women are allowed to be intelligent with all the men being oafs of one description or another. At least Pixar allows them names; Disney sometimes skips that part. And talk about juvenile. Kilt jokes, silly accents, and a half-backed plot make this a chore to sit through.

Cars is a giant merchandising ploy built of John Lasseter’s love of automobiles. Coherence is only waved at, the characters are two-dimensional and no one really has any motivations that make sense.

Cars 2 and Wall-E are dreary, left-wing, environmental propaganda films masquerading as children’s movies.Wall-E edges out Cars 2 because I did laugh pretty hard at the brief spoof of 2001: A Space Odyssey that’s hidden in the middle of the film.

If anyone disagrees, please feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to show you how you’re wrong in more detail.

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