Ranking the Best & Worst Pixar Movies

Pixar returns to the well once more, somehow besting their previous outing by actively playing to their now college-aged audience (with Andy himself now getting ready for college, and ridding himself of old toys). Like Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3 is hitting a lot of the same notes again, both narratively and thematically, but Pixar does such a terrific job of bringing this franchise to a close that the redundancy is easy to forgive. Beyond simply turning into a massively fun prison escape movie in its third act, Pixar sees fit to bring the themes of the series to their logical conclusion, with the characters forced to face and accept their fears of loss and abandonment in a way that’s sure to leave kids reeling — and adults, too. Pixar knows how much we care about these characters, having grown up with them and come to love them more and more with time, and so they cleverly force us to confront those same fears right alongside them. But the important thing is, they had each other — and we had them. Toy Story 3 isn’t just an ode to growing up and accepting change like the first film was; it’s a poignant celebration of childhood imagination, embracing how much happiness we could derive from so little. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Monsters, Inc. is pretty lightweight compared to some of Pixar’s more emotionally harrowing fare, but what it lacks in dramatic weight it more than makes up for in charm, humor and inventiveness. The idea alone is ingenious, playing on children’s tried-and-true fears of monsters in the closet by realizing an entire world dedicated to scaring children as an industrial energy source. One could argue that the film’s ending has damning social implications, serving as a satirical allegory for abandoning alternative fuel sources in order to maintain a working business model, but the connection is largely superficial. Where Monsters, Inc. really impresses is its escalating comedic pacing, hilariously upending the lives of its lead duo, all at the hands of a little girl. The dynamic created by Billy Crystal and John Goodman (as Mike and Sully) is one of Pixar’s most memorable, deftly balancing the rapid-fire banter and screwball hijinks with loads of warmth and heart. The real highlight of the film though, is its climax — a whirling chase through seemingly endless sliding doors, each of which is its own portal to another world — which gets my vote for quite possibly the greatest thing to come out of Pixar.

The spirit of adventure is alive and well in just about all of Pixar’s films, but never has that spirit played so pivotal a role in a character’s arc as in Up. The movie is all about revitalizing the child inside us, learning to embrace the sensational weirdness of the world around us with open arms. It’s appropriate, then, that Up is by far Pixar’s strangest movie, combining flying houses and exotic birds and talking dogs and the wilds of South America — not to mention one of the most upsetting montages in cinematic history. But for all of its weirdness — and truth be told, I could’ve done without the dogs flying planes — the film still steadfastly adheres to all the expected plot machinations, never truly daring to deviate, as is true with pretty much all of Pixar’s films. This isn’t a negative, per se — obviously, the more you play with the rules of storytelling, the more likely you are to polarize your audience — but it does make clear the limitations of Pixar’s ambition.

No matter. Up dazzles all the same.

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