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Ten2One: Ranking My Pixar Favorites

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Welcome to the first installment of yet another new ongoing series I just now thought up:  Ten2One, which is, in all honesty, just a fancy handle for a fairly standard Top 10 list.  To kick things off, in honor of the opening of Pixar’s tenth animated feature, Up, I present to you my ordering, from worst to first, of my favorite Pixar movies.

10. A Bug’s Life (1997)

While A Bug’s Life might be my least favorite Pixar movie, I want to note that I don’t at all think it’s bad.  It’s still perfectly entertaining, and the leap in technology from Toy Story, their first film, to this, their second one, was immense – just look at that model bird in the big climax.  But A Bug’s Life also featured their most annoying lead character, and most of the secondary cast, while funny, didn’t have any of the emotional connection that the great Pixar movies have.  This one gets a solid B from me, which is still damn good for being in the bottom slot on this list.

9. Cars (2006)

pixar-cars-largeI know John Lasseter’s The Man at Pixar and all, but this labor of love from him was…underwhelming.  Again, certainly not bad – and it’s held up surprisingly well to the several thousand of viewings of it I’ve endured thanks to my two daughters.  But I think the fundamental problem with Cars was much the same as with A Bug’s Life:  its lead character simply wasn’t compelling enough (Owen Wilson‘s voice just didn’t connect with me) and the supporting cast was colorful but not especially engaging (Paul Newman‘s Doc Hudson aside).  Maybe that’s a problem which will get rectified in the sequel.

(Side note: I have a separate post brewing about that difference between these two “lower tier” Pixar movies and all the ones above it; I hope to get that written sometime this week.)

8. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

And now we enter the solid A-minus-and-up range with the movie which has bumped farthest down the list simply because all the films released after it have been better.  And that “emotional connection” thing I mentioned was missing from numbers nine and ten above?  Yeah, totally present here.  There’s more pure emotion in the closing shot of Sully than in those last two flicks put together.  (Pixar Show-Off Shot:  Sully’s fur, especially when blowing in the wind and covered in snow.)

7. Toy Story 2 (1999)

In many ways, probably a superior film to the original Toy Story, but this list is rating my favorite Pixar movies, not necessarily the best, and that’s a small but important distinction to make.  Story goes that Toy Story 2 was supposed to be a straight-to-video release (banging out straight-to-video sequels was pretty much standard practice with Disney’s animated features then), but when Disney realized just how good it was, they had Pixar finish it up for theatrical release instead.  And good thing, too:  it went on to gross $245 million, making it the third-highest-grossing film of ‘99.

6. Up (2009)

My full review’s coming very soon, but for now I’ll say that Up is the first animated movie since The Iron Giant to make me cry.  (Yes, I know that’s more knocks against my Jason Statham-like Tough Guy image.)

5. Ratatouille (2007)

One of the things I absolutely adore about this movie – even aside from the gorgeous renderings of Paris and the celebrations of both cooking and eating – is the fact that lead characters are so flawed.  Remy is petty, obstinate, defensive and rash; Linguini is weak (to begin with, anyway), cowardly, willing to take credit not due him, and equally rash.  Yet together, they manage to lift themselves above their “humblest beginnings” (so says the critic Anton Ego) to incredible successes – and they lift Ratatouille up, too.

4. Toy Story (1995)

toy-story1I first discovered Pixar in 1992 when I saw their short film “Knick Knack” as part of an animation festival in Tampa.  I immediately fell in love with the company — while they certainly weren’t the first company to produce computer-generated animation, they were far and away the best I’d seen yet — and I desperately looked forward to seeing more work from them.  Then two years later, I heard they were producing a feature-length animated film to be released by Disney.  I saw Toy Story the weekend it opened in theaters — a tradition I’ve continued to follow with all nine of their subsequent releases — and loved it even more than I’d been expecting to.  The technology obviously doesn’t hold up as well as one might hope, but hey, it’s fifteen years old; that’s lifetimes in terms of software development.  The story craft was already there, though, and (here’s a little secret for you) that’s just as important to me as the actual animation.  (Toy Story also sparked some of my earliest love for Joss Whedon, before I even knew who the hell he was!)

3. WALL-E (2008)

WALL-E has to be one of the most engaging, sympathetic leads in any movie in recent history; the fact that director Andrew Stanton and his crew managed to convey those qualities with such limited dialogue really is amazing.  Yes, OK, fine — the environmental message can come across a little preachy.  Or a lot preachy.  But it’s a good message, so it doesn’t much bother me, especially in the service of such an excellent movie.

2. Finding Nemo (2003)

One of the most finely-tuned scripts of any movie I’ve seen, animated or otherwise.  Not a scene or line feels wasted to me:  the Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay director Stanton received for this movie was very well justified.  Nemo features one of the strongest supporting casts of any of the Pixar flicks, and the interplay between Ellen DeGeneres‘ Dory and Albert Brooks‘ Marlin still makes me laugh (and care) every time I watch it.  Unsurprisingly, the bit about the overprotective father learning to let go gets to me, too.  (Also, Nemo was the first of four Pixar movies to date to take home the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.)

1. The Incredibles (2004)

incrediblesHonestly?  The Incredibles is my favorite movie, period.  Here’s the thing:  when I first saw the teaser trailer for this one before Finding Nemo and found out what it was about and who was behind it, my mind was already blown.  It’s Pixar?  And superheroes?  And it’s written and directed by Brad Bird, the genius behind The Iron Giant, my favorite non-Pixar animated movie?  My expectations were so high that I was convinced there was no way this movie could possibly live up to them.

But it did.  To make a bad Pixar joke:  if my expectations were infinite, then The Incredibles went to infinity and beyond.  The characters are richly nuanced and believable, the animation and design are stunning, the script respected its audience’s intelligence, the heroic action scenes are, well, incredible…honestly, The Incredibles is pretty much my platonic ideal of a movie.  I sincerely hope they never make a sequel, because I don’t think it could do the original justice.

Of course, Pixar’s blown away my expectations before…

Written by Allen

June 2nd, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Review: WALL-E

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Wall-EFor all of the usual Pixar brand of amazing technical virtuosity on display in WALL-E (and believe me, there’s plenty of it), it’s the wonderful characterization which makes the movie such a joy to watch. That director Andrew Stanton and his wizards at Pixar were able to draw such well-developed characters with such little dialogue is testament to the skill of their animation and story departments. I have trouble imagining a more human movie about robots.

If you’ve seen director Stanton’s previous masterpiece, Finding Nemo — and really, if you haven’t by now, you really should — that depth of character won’t surprise you in the least. WALL-E himself shows himself to be one of the more appealing leads of any of the Pixar films; on retrospect, this big-hearted, curious, noble, romantic little waste-collection robot is probably the most likable lead Pixar’s ever created. All of the film’s robot characters have distinct, well-crafted personalities, and almost none of them have much dialogue to speak of (pun intended). I think WALL-E and Eve spoke ten different words between them, yet there was never any problem communicating with each other or with the audience.

During the early parts of the movie, the audience is expected to piece together for themselves what happened to Earth, but once the setting changes, the Kid Gloves of Subtlety come off in favor of the Brass Knuckles of In Your Face. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; the less-subtle bits also provided a good deal of the movie’s comic relief. WALL-E might be a love story between two robots, but it also falls cleanly in the Science Fiction Film With a Message mold. The same segments of the population which allowed themselves to get lathered up about the environmental message in Happy Feet will be thoroughly pissed off by WALL-E, which amplifies the green message and throws in several helpings of condemnation of our consumerist society to boot. The two other main themes I took from the movie — Open Your Eyes to the World Around You and Follow Your Own Directive — likely won’t go over any better with the crowd who’d be upset with the Take Care of the Planet one. But I think all of these points are valid ones to teach our kids (and adults). More than valid, really. Essential.

Anyway , it’s nice to see that Pixar has next year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar wrapped up early. One critic mentioned that he thought WALL-E could be up for Best Picture, but now that the Academy Awards have a separate animation category, I’m not sure any animated flick will ever get a Best Picture nomination again. I’ll be curious to see if it gets a Best Original Screenplay nomination for Andrew Stanton, especially given the paucity of dialogue; my suspicion is not, though my hope is yes. I guess we’ll find out in February.

Grade: A.

(Related side note: the short feature before the movie is one of the best they’ve done yet. Hysterical, and also dialogue-free, as most of their shorts are. Do not arrive to the movie late.)

Written by Allen

June 30th, 2008 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Movies,Reviews

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