Celebrating the geniuses at Pixar has practically become an annual event. After the release of each successive film, the company is hailed for its gargantuan imagination, its seemingly-endless ingenuity, its unparalleled ability to entertain children and adults alike, and, of course, for its reputation as not only the best set of storytellers in the field of animation, but in Hollywood itself. Judging by the reviews for the studio’s much-anticipated Toy Story 3, the company has struck creative and commercial gold once again. And at this point, what did we expect?
TS3 is the venerable studio’s 11th film, and stands to usher in a new era for the company. Two of its next three movies will be sequels (Cars 2 in 2011 and Monsters, Inc. 2), while 2012 will mark the first year the studio will release two films within the same calendar year (the other being its first fairy tale, Brave). Meanwhile, homegrown talent like Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird have started to veer off toward directing live-action films (Stanton with John Carter of Mars, Bird with Mission: Impossible IV). But, as Pixar has proven time and time again, the studio is unrivaled at promoting and developing talent from within. As the company looks ahead, it’s as good as time as any to look back at its (incredible) achievements. Here are, to our estimation, the 10 Pixar films ranked in order of quality. Disagree? Light up those comments, Pixar fans, to infinity and beyond. (Sorry…).
10. Cars (2006)
Directed by John Lasseter
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Cars, while certainly a cut above most animated films these days, is nonetheless Pixar’s weakest effort—one that’s hampered by an overlong, surprisingly old-fashioned Route 66-inspired story, and the plain miscalculation of building a film around talking cars. (Robots, bugs, monsters and fish? Sure! But cars? Just doesn’t work.) Still, it has a certain breezy charm and, true to form, enough memorable characters (like Mater) that make it a journey well worth taking.
9. A Bug’s Life (1998)
Directed by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton
A Bug’s Life tends to get lost in the shuffle when discussing Pixar films, which is a shame because it is, through and through, thoroughly delightful. While perhaps the company’s youngest-skewing film, it is never less than a boundlessly charming and vibrant adventure, featuring some of Pixar’s most distinctive (albeit pint-sized) characters. (Heimlich, anyone?)
8. Finding Nemo (2003)
Directed by Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
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Putting Finding Nemo—Pixar’s biggest box office success to date—this low on the list feels absurd, considering it contains one of its most signature characters (that’d be Dory, obviously) and some of the studio’s finest comedic moments. (Like the clip above. And this;;;;. And this.) But that’s just how good the Pixar library is. Nemo’s rousing, epic tale of father-and-son proved no world is too large (or vast, or endless, or blue) to capture the imaginations of the folks at Pixar.
7. Toy Story (1995)
Directed by John Lasseter
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The one that started it all. Still to this day, Toy Story is a remarkable technical achievement (the first computer-animated film) and a flawless blueprint for all of the Pixar films that followed: start with a litany of standout characters (Woody, Buzz, Potato Head, Slinkie, Rex, and more); add a decidedly-sinister villain (in this case, the skull-shirted bully Syd); and top it off with a well-rounded, awe-inspiring adventure, and you’ve got the makings of an enduring classic.
6. Up (2009)
Directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson
Anyone who doesn’t get a little misty-eyed at the loving montage of Carl and Ellie’s marriage in the 10 minutes of Up should probably be checked for a pulse. Or a heart. That emotional undercurrent—of love lost and of dreams and chances not taken—elevates (pun intended, clearly) this Hayao Miyazaki-like story that bursts with life, wonderment and the studio’s sublime brand of magical realism.
5. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Directed by Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich and David Silverman
Monsters, Inc. may very well be the most lovable film in the illustrious Pixar canon. And, based on everything from the exhilarating door-chase sequence to the brilliant decision of naming its colorful monsters run-of-the-mill things like Mike Wazowski, it might be its most inventive, encapsulating the spirit of childhood unlike any other of the company’s singular creations. And that ending? Perfection.
4. Toy Story 2 (1999)
Directed by John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon
Improving on the original in almost every way, Toy Story 2 took the characters we grew to love in the first film and separated them—usually a recipe for disaster. But in this case, with Woody discovering the rest of the round-up gang, the new characters are integrated impeccably, and the larger scale of the story allows the sequel to have more gravity. It will be hard for Toy Story 3 to top this.
3. WALL-E (2008)
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Ambitious. Daring. Incredible. A work of art. Pixar’s loftiest film yet happens to be all of those things and more. It also happens to be near-perfect, especially in its near-silent first half. Its deceptively-straightforward tale of two robots in love is shrewdly enmeshed in a environmentally-friendly story with a rather scathing critique of American consumerism and decadence. The pure sense of wonder and level of artistry in WALL-E continues to be nothing short of astonishing.
2. Ratatouille (2007)
Directed by Brad Bird
On paper, the story of a French rat who dreams of being a five-star chef sounds ridiculous. On screen, it’s still a little ridiculous. But, that’s part of Ratatouille’s delectable charm. There are some startlingly profound themes within Brad Bird’s Parisian romp—namely, that dreams are tenable no matter who you are or where you come from (and this even applies to rodents, too). Joyful and preternaturally wise, the film is Pixar’s smartest and best-written film to date.
1. The Incredibles (2004)
Directed by Brad Bird
It is no small coincidence Brad Bird dominates the top two slots. The man is incredibly gifted, trusting his audience enough to incorporate sophisticated, adult themes into his seemingly-simple stories. With the dizzyingly-inventive The Incredibles, Bird made that rare, elusive thing: an action movie with pathos. As it stands, the film is not just Pixar’s best, but also one of the best superhero movies ever made, animated or otherwise.