It’s time to dive back into our comprehensive rankings of the Disney/Pixar animated films. Last week, we went over the bottom 6 movies in the Pixar roster. These weren’t all bad films by any means, but the remaining 12 are simply better.
Until Coco is released, Pixar’s movie list stands at 18, which means this portion will reveal the middle of the pack. These six films are all quality entertainment, but they simply cannot stack up to the ones to follow. Let’s start with a couple sequels.
12. Toy Story 2
Returning to the world of toys four years after the original, Toy Story 2 was highly acclaimed then and now. It produces much of the same feel as the first movie, but it avoids the pitfall of simply recreating the original story. Toy Story 2 expands nicely on some of the main characters, presents a somewhat new conflict, and provides another round of laughs for the whole family.
Why couldn’t it crack the top 10, then? First, I tend to give more credit to original films, especially in Pixar’s case. The world concepts are the coolest part of Pixar movies to me. “What if toys were alive? What if rats cooked? What if emotions had emotions?” No matter how good it is, a sequel that simply builds on another film’s concept will be at a slight disadvantage in my book.
More importantly, some of the new characters in Toy Story 2 just didn’t work for me. Al from Al’s Toy Barn is supposed to be funny, but he just annoyed me. The gang from Woody’s Roundup is a mixed bag. Jessie is a good addition, Bullseye just takes up space, and Stinky Pete was a really weird villain. I think Toy Story 3 presented a better version of the same villain in Lotso the bear.
Toy Story 2 is a successful sequel in a stellar series, but it is ultimately overshadowed by the remainder of the quality Pixar lineup.
11. Finding Dory
I never really wanted a sequel to Finding Nemo. The film’s concepts, execution, and pacing were close to perfect. I never felt like something was missing when I finished watching it. Still, Finding Dory managed to fill a meaningful role in the story of the original while still providing laughs and tender moments.
Finding Dory is probably even more emotionally charged than the original, and every tear from the audience is well-earned. Still, it had some pacing issues compared to its predecessor, and its new characters were hit-and-miss. Finding Nemo depicted each type of marine life with perfect wit and charm. I could take or leave some of Finding Dory‘s characters, such as Hank the octopus.
As much as I didn’t want a sequel, I’m glad Finding Dory exists. It’s a home run for kids and still watchable for many adults. Even so, this movie was far from an improvement on the concept, and as such it lands just outside the top 10.
Even though it began probably the most disliked series in Pixar history, I like the original Cars quite a lot. It boasts memorable funny moments, a killer soundtrack, and some insightful commentary on the nature of sports.
I know, the idea anthropomorphic automobiles is a really weird concept. The existence of vehicles doesn’t really make sense without humans to operate them. However, the characters and scenarios of Cars are still useful for the ideas they represent.
In abstract terms, Cars tells the story of a hotshot rookie whose ego is as big as his win streak. When reality finally sets in, this rookie must learn to slow down and appreciate life before he truly finds a reason to compete. Along the way, he interacts with other symbolic sports figures like the rival, the retiree, and the veteran.
While talking cars may be a strange vehicle (heh heh) to deliver insights on sports, the message still resonated with me. And seriously, this movie’s soundtrack is one of the best in the business. Check it out.
9. Toy Story 3
Revisiting the world that started it all 11 years after the last film, Toy Story 3 is still limited compared to the original, but it fixes a few of the problems from the last attempt.
Unlike Stinky Pete, Lotso the bear is a wonderfully compelling villain. He’s one of those “secret bad guys” whom you suspect the whole time, but it’s still chilling when he finally reveals his true nature. The conflict of this film is perhaps one of the darkest in the Pixar lineup, and in this case, that’s a good thing.
Much like Toy Story 2, the core characters are developed even further, but this time the new faces are also worthwhile. Ken, Big Baby, and Daisy’s improv-acting toys are all enjoyable in their own way. Also, Spanish-mode Buzz Lightyear is one of my favorite gags in Pixar history.
I’m very partial to this film. When I first drew up my rankings, I had Ratatouille a few slots higher, but I forced myself to look at it objectively.
Remy the rat is an engaging and thought-provoking lead character, and his interactions with bumbling trash boy Linguini are humorous and touching in equal measure. The side characters are entertaining (I killed a man… with this thumb!), and the pacing leaves viewers with no time to get distracted.
I loved this movie growing up, but I can now recognize a few problems in it. Stories are usually at their best when the plot is molded by the lead character’s choices. Other than Remy’s general dream of becoming a cook and his decision to get revenge on Linguini, most of the plot simply happens to the leading rat. A passive lead that simply reacts to circumstances is hardly ever the best way to go. Plus, it can be hard to get past the whole rats-in-the-kitchen thing.
Nevertheless, Ratatouille‘s charm, characters, and poignant moments place this 2007 film securely in the top half of the Pixar roster.
Up is the first movie I remember seeing in 3D. This was back when films were actually designed with 3D in mind, rather than simply haphazardly slapping the technology onto a finished product. Up was a gorgeous sight to behold in theaters, with vibrant colors and settings that popped out of the screen.
As the premise of the story suggests, watching Up feels like going on vacation. You forget the circumstances of your life for 90 minutes and go on an adventure in strange new lands. Up was one of the best theater experiences a Pixar film has provided for me.
The movie broke ground for Pixar by starring an Asian American and an elderly man in the two lead roles. The dynamic formed between Carl Frederickson and young Russell translated well to audiences, and the backstory of Carl and his wife is one of the most heart-wrenching aspects of any Disney film.
The villain of the story is just passable since the focus was much more on the protagonists and the environment around them. Up lost a little watch value when transitioning from theaters to DVD, but we’re getting to the point in the rankings in which I really don’t have many negative things to say. Up is a fantastic film, and it fell to seventh mostly on the strength of the other films rather than its tiny shortcomings.
That’s it for the middle section of the Pixar film rankings! This list was extremely hard to make, as we’re entering the territory in which every movie is stellar. Come back next week to see the top six, and let us know on social media what you think of the list so far.