Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ranking the Pixar Films

In Friday’s Austin American-Statesman, a Joe Gross tried to rank all the Pixar films (in honor of Friday’s release of Finding Dory). Although, for the most part, he was not that far off the mark, I was absolutely astonished, amazed, baffled, bewildered — whatever adverb best fits — to see that out of the 16 films he ranked, he had what is not only Pixar’s ultimate masterpiece (and also the best film of that year) 11th? 11th??? And his top-ranked Pixar film is not really among the studio’s five best. It left me wondering what film school this clown graduated from. So, to set the record straight, here is the ultimate ranking of the Pixar films. (The number in parenthesis is Gross’ ranking).

16. (16) Cars 2 **½ The plot of this entry is both overly convoluted and thin, and it folds in so much unvarnished toddler-instruction that it almost feels like an educational film. It is the only Pixar film that could be called "ordinary."

15. (14) Monster’s University *** Though colorful and sweet-natured and occasionally capable of producing the mild chuckle, this is a safe, predictable, edge-free, nearly bland effort from the studio that rarely hedges its bets. This is not a bad movie, and to small children it will be a very good one. But it is closer to average than one would wish from Pixar.

14. (15) The Good Dinosaur *** While the story attempts the moves that a Pixar film typically makes — nonverbal storytelling, death, a bittersweet ending — most of this film’s punches land soft, made worse by the disconnect that exists between the overly cartoonish style of the characters and the photorealistic landscapes.

13. (10) Brave *** Something that feels like it was put together from a jumble of Disney clichés tacked onto the skeleton of Beauty and the Beast. The conflicts, magic spells, chase sequences and reconciliations feel strangely by-the-book for the studio so well known for throwing the book out entirely. Eventually it straightens out into a fast, funny, emotionally resonant story about mothers and daughters, but it takes a while to get there and it's never less than weird.

12. (13) Cars ***½ The movie wins you over through crack comic timing and an awareness that the point of driving isn't how fast you get there but what you see on the way.

11. (12) A Bug’s Life ***½ The story is amusing and the animation is first-rate, but there's less sparkling originality than in Pixar’s best.

10. (7) Monsters Inc. ***½ Funny and sweet enough to delight kids and inventive enough to satisfy adults. The movie's cutest twist is that the monsters are more scared of kids than kids are of them, because they think human children are toxic.

9. (9) Toy Story 2 **** A technologically marvelous movie that's just as funny and inventive as the original Toy Story, but also more emotionally engaging than most live-action films. The story is just as funny and touching as the first one. The only problem is the inevitable one: The freshness — the novel delight — is a little faded.

8. (6) Up **** Challenging, emotionally and narratively, but it trusts viewers to keep up; but then, Pixar has never been interested in talking down to children or their parents. Each character has their own story, and Pixar never sacrifices their development just for a happy ending.

7. (1) Finding Nemo ****½ The humor bubbling through Finding Nemo is so fresh, sure of itself and devoid of the cutesy, saccharine condescension that drips through so many family comedies that you have to wonder what it is about the Pixar technology that inspires the creators to be so endlessly inventive.

6. (8) The Incredibles ****½ The vocal performances are a blast, Holly Hunter's and Jason Lee's in particular. The animation of the villain's tropical isle is stunning. It’s beautiful to look at, but even more lovely beneath the computer-generated surfaces.

5. (5) Toy Story 3 ****½ A sequel made with care and integrity, just moving enough: It winds its way gently toward its big themes instead of grabbing desperately at them, and because its plot is so beautifully worked out, getting there is almost all of the fun. It becomes the kind of love note to movies we want and need.

4. (3) Toy Story ****½ The movie that started it all, this wry, rippingly paced buddy movie is as delightful in its own way as any of Walt Disney's traditional fairy tales. In addition to what in 1995 was its stylistic innovation, the film sports a provocative and appealing story that's every bit the equal of this technical achievement.

3. (4) WALL-E ****½ The story line is probably too convoluted for small kids (which is not a criticism), and sometimes it suffers from techie overload, but it's more heartfelt than anything on the screens these days featuring humans. I rank this one this high simply because its first hour is a crazily inventive, deliriously engaging and almost wordless silent comedy of the sort that Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton used to make.

2. (2) Inside Out ****½ On the inventiveness scale, this one is hard to top. As so often with Pixar, you feel that you are visiting a laboratory crossed with a rainbow. It’s an audacious concept, and its imagination is adventurous and genially daft enough to put it over.

1. (11) Ratatouille ***** This movie is courageous (Would you have invested money in the concept of a "feel-good movie" about rats making the meals in a five-star French restuarant?) as well as delicious. In this satisfying, souffle-light tale of a plucky French rodent with a passion for cooking, the master chefs at Pixar have blended all the right ingredients — abundant verbal and visual wit, genius slapstick timing, a soupcon of Gallic sophistication — to produce a warm and irresistible concoction that's appealing to everyone. A nearly flawless piece of popular art, as well as one of the most persuasive portraits of an artist ever committed to film. It provides the kind of deep, transporting pleasure, at once simple and sophisticated, that movies at their best have always promised.

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