So it seemed like, in the wake of Pixar releasing their latest feature film, everyone and their grandmother was ranking Pixar movies.
Hey, I like movies.
And I like Pixar.
And I like lists.
So … I wrote this about two months ago, then forget it and now I’m finally posting it. Stop looking at me like that.
Here is how IMDB ranks the Pixar movies, as of this morning:
Cars 2: 6.3
A Bug’s Life: 7.2
Monsters University: 7.4
Toy Story 2: 7.9
Monsters, Inc.: 8.1
The Incredibles: 8.0
Finding Nemo: 8.2
Toy Story: 8.3
Toy Story 3: 8.4
Inside Out: 8.6
That is … impressive. Even accounting for IMDB’s recency bias, you will be hard-pressed to find a studio with such an elite list of rankings. Only one movie is regarded as even mediocre and Toy Story, now twenty years old — seriously, 20 years old now — can be probably be regarded as a classic (it’s on the AFI list).
There are two Pixar movies I have not seen: Cars and Cars 2. I suspect I will see them eventually, once Ben is old enough to demand the remote. I’m told I’m not missing much.
The remaining 13 I rank thusly:
The 7’s: These are the movies I rank a seven on IMDB. They’re OK. I’ll watch the with the kids or if they’re on TV. But they’re not my favorite thing in the world and I don’t plan to buy the DVD.
13. Monsters University was a bit of a disappointment to me. It wasn’t bad but it just sort of plodded along and didn’t grab me emotionally, the way the best Pixar movies do. I can’t think of one particular scene that I loved or one particular line I quote endlessly. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t great. And I’ve come to expect great. IMDB’s ranking is a bit low for relatively recent release, so I’ not alone in this.
12. I think it tells you how far our expectations have come that a solid movie like A Bug’s Life is now so lightly regarded. This is a good movie, with some fun voice acting, some amusing jokes and memorable characters. At the time it was released, it was considered proof that Toy Story was not a fluke and Pixar was a studio to be reckoned with. But they have made so many great films since then, it now looks rather pedestrian.
11. Brave doesn’t quite work for me. It has all the elements of great Pixar film: a strong central character, some energetic action scenes, a few good jokes and some emotional punch. But the elements just don’t quite fit together perfectly. It does have some great scenes, my favorite of which is Merida shooting for her own hand in marriage. IMDB’s ranking ties it with Cars and Monsters University. It’s better than those two films.
10. Ratatouille is a source of some contention when it comes to Pixar movies. IMDB rates it a solid 8.0, good for 9th place. I rate it a high seven. It’s a good film but, somewhat like Brave, it didn’t quite gel for me into a great film. It does have more memorable sequences than the other 7’s. However, there are some people who just love Ratatouille (including the Animated Heroine, who has watched more animation than I ever will and rates it as her second favorite animated film of all time).
9. Toy Story 2: IMDB ranks this 10th at a solid 7.9. That sounds about right to me. It’s a fine film, no question. It showed that Pixar could go back to the well and still be original and exciting. But it is sandwiched between two great films.
The 8’s: This is where we start to transition from good films to really good films. Almost all of these are regarded as elite Oscar-worthy films. All have legitimately great scene and quote-worthy lines. And I own or would like to own all on DVD.
8. Up is regarded as one of Pixar’s top films and I know a number of people who regard it as the best. I’m not quite as enamored of it. The first 15 minutes is some of the best stuff Pixar has ever done. The rest is good, but doesn’t quite live up to that. I never quite liked the talking dog thing.
7. Inside Out: This may seem like faint praise for best reviewed movie of year, but it’s standing among giants. Inside Out is absolutely a return to form for Pixar, getting steadily better as the movie goes on and the stakes are raised. It has probably the most perfect voice-casting Pixar has put together. It’s imaginative and bold and touching. Right now it’s ranked #1 on IMDB among Pixar films but that rating will sink, as it always does. The passage of time and the fading of memory are subjects that are very close to my heart and so I found a lot in the movie that had a personal appeal. I tend to rank conservatively, so it’s likely this will move upward in the future as I watch it again (and I will watch it again). For right now, I’m comfortable with this ranking.
6. Monsters Inc: Ranking this against Toy Story was one of the hardest rankings and another day I might flip them. The best Pixar movies move with a manic energy at times and this does on many occasions.
5. Toy Story: This is tied with Up for 4th on IMDB with a rating of 8.3 and, given its age, that rating is legitimate. As I mentioned above, it was on the AFI list and is now regarded as a classic. It has earned this status. It’s hard to express, to younger audiences, just how revolutionary this movie was. It showed that a computer-animated film could be entertaining, touching, funny and mature. It set the stage for Pixar making movies that appealed to kids on one level and adults on another. And it has passed the test of time. My daughter, born 12 years after the movie was made, loves it. Very few studios make such a huge splash with their debut. I sometimes consider bumping this up to a 9, which would put it into the elite category.
The 9’s and 10’s: These are the best, movies I would argue belong in a conversation about truly great movies. The Animated Heroine ranked all four of these among her 25 best. IMDB ranks all of them as an 8.0 or higher. All four won “Best Animated Picture”. One was nominated for “Best Picture” and all four should have been. None are on the AFI list (although most post-date it) but all were regarded as instant classics. I’ve watched all of them multiple times.
4. Finding Nemo: One of things Pixar does very well is pacing. Their movies move quickly but, simultaneously, allow you to drink in the stunning visuals and feel the contours of the narrative. Nemo has an absolutely perfect pace. It never feels rushed; never feels slow. It made Ellen Degeneres a star — deservedly so. It’s funny, moving, exciting and just altogether wonderful.
3. Toy Story 3: Like Inside Out, this movie is more aimed at adults than kids. Oh, it has plenty of kid stuff: lots of humor and fast action and silliness and adventure. But the emotional punch will hit hardest with adults. I’m not sure what Pixar is going to do with Toy Story 4 because this was just about as perfect an ending to the saga as you could want.
2. WALL-E: If you remove Inside Out, this is the top-ranked Pixar movie on IMDB. It had a lot of hype on release and … I wasn’t disappointed. WALL-E is visually stunning and manages to make sympathetic characters out of two (almost) expressionless robots. It’s a layered film that puts down threads early on, only to pick them up later. For a science-fiction fan, it both homages and satirizes numerous classics (2001 in particular). It’s message about pollution is a bit much — the Earth is way cleaner than it was just twenty years ago. But everything else is perfect.
1. The Incredibles: This is — as of this moment — the only Pixar film that I give one of my very rare 10’s to. The thing about The Incredibles is that everything in it is done just right. There’s nothing to complain about. It’s a thrilling action movie, a hilarious comedy, a visual feast and emotionally strong. The characters are distinct, great and perfectly cast. The jazzy Bond-esque score is one of my all-time favorites. Every time I watch it, I’m just waiting for the next great scene. And any time I try to pick out a favorite seen — Bob and Helen arguing about out how to drive to the climactic action scene, for example — I think, “No no no. This scene is the best.” I’ve probably watched this ten times. I could watch it again right now.
Of course, I’ve left out Pixar’s shorts, which are also outstanding, particularly the mad genius that is Presto. Pixar has more films coming — The Good Dinosaur this year, plus a raft of sequels to come. So I’ll probably be updating this list sometimes around 2025.