As with the Disney Animated Classics rankings that I am currently working on, I always thought it would be a nice idea to give myself another impossible challenge of ranking the amazing films from Disney Pixar. Founded in 1986 to pave the way for computer animation, Pixar has since become an icon in the world of film and has made its name in animation. After making a small collection of short films, includings the iconic Luxo Jr, director John Lasseter thought it would be a great idea to translate this new animation into a feature and thus Toy Story was created and a new phenomena was formed. Since then Pixar has been completely acquired by Disney and its global popularity is attributed to the quality writing, memorable characters and the stunning aesthetic.
It’s only natural then to task myself with the challenge of ranking their brilliant offerings. Of course this shouldn’t take as long as they have 20 features in their repertoire (excluding Toy Story 4 which is released later this month). I will discuss 5 films per blog and if I have seen it in time, I will also include Toy Story 4 in the ranking.
Here we go with Pixar films 1-5:
1) Toy Story (1995)
The film that revolutionised animation and sparked wonder for many generations, Toy Story really is a film like no other. The plot is fairly simple, what would happen if your toys could come to life. When Andy receives a Buzz Lightyear for his birthday, leader of toys Woody becomes threatened as he isn’t the favourite toy anymore. Aside from becoming the Pixar aesthetic, computer animation has proven to be the popular animation among audiences and therefore all major animation studios have tended to follow in Pixar’s footsteps. Even Disney Studio ceased production on hand-drawn animation after the release of 2011’s Winnie the Pooh. Although hugely expensive at the time of Toy Story’s release, computer animation has turned into the cheaper and less time-consuming of animation and tends to be the familiar style that audiences today expect. There are a lot of scenes in this film that standout so I’ll go through a couple. First there is the scene when the toys and the audience are introduced to Buzz as he stands on the bed with confidence. The toys are perplexed by this stranger but immediately take to him as he shows off his actions and moves (not to mention to important backstory of Star Command). It’s a scene that immediately reveals Woody’s jealousy and inability to really control the other toys, who he sees as lesser beings. The conflict between the two characters is immediate but communicated through body language and the toy’s abilities themselves. Comparing Woody’s old-school string pull on his back to Buzz’s abundance of buttons and wings shows no contest as Woody must face this new era in Andy’s life and the toys follow suit. Later on in the film when Woody and Buzz are kidnapped by Sid, a kid who likes to destroy his toys and lives across the street from Andy, Buzz realises that he just a toy and not a spaceman. When he says those famous words “to infinity and beyond…” and jumps to fly, falling down and landing at the foot of the stairs, Buzz is physically and emotionally broken. His realisation sends him into a breakdown (cue Mrs. Nesbitt) and the friendship develops between himself and Woody as they respect each other as equals. The film is simple in plot but the importance of this film cannot be understated for its contributions to animation (and rightly received an Honorary Oscar for this) and complexities within the plot allow the characters to truly develop and bring the characters to life from this perspective.
2) A Bug’s Life (1998)
If Pixar’s first offering was all about bringing life to inanimate objects then the second offering is all about bringing the Pixar DNA to nature. Following clumsy inventor, Flik, A Bug’s Life explores how one ant has the courage to face off an oppressive group of grasshoppers who threaten to destroy the ant colony if they don’t provide enough food. A Bug’s Life provides one of my favourite characters in the Pixar universe in the form of hilarious caterpillar, Heimlich (voiced by the late Joe Ranft). This German legend just wants to gain his wings and the payoff at the end of the film is golden. Although not as well-received as its predecessor, A Bug’s Life has its charm and is still a brilliant film. It also challenged Pixar to create different textures as the setting is in nature so they had to consider how the weather affects the environment and the insects themselves. The lead grasshopper, Hopper (voiced by Kevin Spacey) is cruel and relentless in his approach to ruling the colony, gas-lighting the ants into believing that they need the grasshopper’s protection when in fact, they outnumber the grasshoppers at least 100 to 1. The number of ants was an impressive feat to animate as well as the animators had never attempted to create so many characters onscreen at any one time before. This is only a small detail and only for a couple of seconds in a scene but it’s important to acknowledge these seemingly little challenges have helped make computer animation as flawless and progressive as it is today.
3) Toy Story 2 (1999)
Toy Story 2 is one of those rare sequels that, in my opinion, surpasses the original. Woody is stolen by a toy collector who plans to ship him off to a museum in Japan. Flipping the situation around so Woody becomes disillusioned with his own legacy as part of “Woody’s Roundup”, a television show in which he is the star, it is up to Buzz and co to save him and bring him back before Andy comes home from summer camp. This film introduces us to a variety of new iconic toys, particularly cowgirl Jessie and loyal steed Bullseye. Everything in this installment is sharper from the animation to the character development to the scores and songs (who doesn’t cry at “When She Loved Me”?). It’s my favourite of the Toy Story films so far and I don’t think Toy Story 4 will usurp it (not because it will be bad but because Toy Story 2 is genius in every way). What makes this film as brilliant as it is is Pixar’s ability to identify what worked well in the original and to elaborate on that so incorporating more branded toys as a way to create familiarity with the audience and creating a villain who is even more unsympathetic than the original. There are two antagonists in this film with the first being Al, owner of Al’s Toy Barn and mad toy collector who kidnaps Woody at the start of the film. He lives alone opposite his shop surrounded by his extensive Woody’s Roundup toy collection. The little we see of him shows that he doesn’t have any friends and he is rude and aggressive to everyone he meets. The idea that he is a collector should suggest passion which could have been a redeeming feature but he only plans to sell it showing that he only sees the toys as money rather than sentimental in the way that Andy does. The second villain is Stinky Pete, the Prospector who has been kept in his box in mint condition for years as the toys have waited for Woody. Voiced by Kelsey Grammer, Stinky Pete is kind and paternal on the surface but underneath he is mean and controlling, much like Al. I think it was smart to incorporate a toy villain as it is someone the characters can actually exchange conversation with and build that conflict fully.
4) Monsters, Inc. (2001)
The next step Pixar took was to create an entirely new universe altogether for this film about a world populated by monsters. Pete Docter’s feature length directorial debut, Monsters, Inc. follows Sulley (voiced by John Goodman), the best “scarer” at the titular place where children’s screams fuel the city’s energy supply and his assistant, Mike (Billy Crystal) as they encounter a toddler who has wandered into the monster world. This film allowed the animators to push the bar as far as they could and the result is a brilliantly original burst of colour. The writing is superb as expected from Pixar and casting Crystal was a great choice as it appeared that his quick wit and ability to spontaneously burst into song was perfect for the role of Mike. Another highlight in this film for me is the textures given to the monsters, in particular the fur. The detail is impeccable and the city looks just like a regular city to make the concept of this monster universe believable to the audience. It’s a film that elevated my imagination as a kid, especially the scene with all the doors as Mike and Sulley venture through different worlds. The scene with the abominable snowman is fantastic as it’s set in the snowy mountains but despite the lack of props on the screen, the detail in the snow and rocks is groundbreaking. It seems that at this point, Pixar are seeing how big they can go with their universe creation and the details and characters shown in Monsters, Inc. are created so impeccably that this easily could have turned into a franchise with numerous sequels and reboots rather than just one prequel, Monsters University which was released in 2013.
5) Finding Nemo (2003)
The fifth film in Pixar’s catalogue is a heart-warming tale of Marlin the clown-fish and his journey across the ocean to find his missing son, Nemo. Accompanied by the lovable and forgetful, Dory, they venture into the unknown encountering sharks, jellyfish and turtles to name a few in a bid to bring Nemo back home after he is captured by a scuba diver. With Andrew Stanton in the director’s chair, the film has one of the most heartbreaking opening scenes that always leaves me in tears. The first Pixar film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (Monster’s, Inc. was the first film that could have won but it lost to Shrek), Finding Nemo is about the importance of family but equally the importance of freedom and allowing kids to have the space to explore. The big seller of this film is Dory, a John Dory with short-term memory loss and her unrelenting optimism as she helps Marlin search for Nemo which helps keep the film light for the younger audience but there are so many mature undertones to this film that makes it a thrill to watch as an adult. It isn’t afraid to show vulnerability and flaws in its protagonist and the script allows for real growth in both Marlin and Nemo as both realise the importance the other has in their life. On another level, the Pixar studio also raised the importance of preserving marine wildlife which although subtle in this film, is made all the more clearer in its sequel, Finding Dory. Directed by Andrew Stanton, Finding Nemo is a beautiful adventure under the sea that brings even more colour and imagination than the previous films made by the studio.
So that’s it for the first bunch of Pixar films. Now since Pixar’s catalogue is a lot shorter than the Disney Studio’s, this series will only consist of four posts but that doesn’t mean it won’t be hard to rank. I found it difficult with this post alone because Pixar have such a strong repertoire of films that show off just how far the imagination can be stretched; however, after (literally) hours of deciding, I have managed to rank them.
Here is my ranking:
1) Toy Story 2 (1999)
2) Monsters, Inc. (2001)
3) Finding Nemo (2003)
4) Toy Story (1995)
5) A Bug’s Life (1998)
My next post will look at what I believe to be the best offerings from Pixar as we delve into more Oscar winners and even the second animation ever to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture (even more of an achievement than Beauty and the Beast as there is now the Best Animated Feature category as well so it even exceeded that!).
In the meantime, what do you think of my ranking so far? What would you put as number one? Let me know in the comments below!