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The Incredibles (#110 of 13)

Every Pixar Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best

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Every Pixar Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Every Pixar Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best

Heavy on training montages and intergenerational torch passing, Cars 3 is an old-fashioned sports film at heart. Swap out the talking cars for boxers or baseball pitchers and Pixar’s latest would sit comfortably next to such films as Rocky Balboa and Trouble with the Curve, twilit dramas about a fading athlete struggling with age-old conundrums: how to know when to retire and how to do it with dignity. It’s the sort of counterintuitively mature theme that’s marked Pixar’s best output, but while Cars 3 may be the least objectionable entry in this series to date, it never hits the bittersweet emotional highs of films like Up and Toy Story 3. On the occasion of the film’s release, join us in revisiting the Pixar canon, ranked from worst to best.

Finding Nemo: Pixar’s Quiet Masterpiece

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Finding Nemo: Pixar’s Quiet Masterpiece
Finding Nemo: Pixar’s Quiet Masterpiece

Of all the feature films in Pixar’s impressive repertoire, Finding Nemo has arguably proven the most durable. The movie, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last month, is held in high favor critically and with audiences, but to some extent it’s also underappreciated, commonly regarded as an admirable, stalwart entry from the animation house. And yet, though it’s not a film that’s inspired the kind of rapturous following that The Incredibles or WALL-E have cultivated, Finding Nemo remains the heart and soul of the Pixar family of movies. It showcases a number of hallmarks for which the studio has become renowned, such as stunning technical bravura and smoothly elegant storytelling. But what distinguishes Finding Nemo from its studio brethren—and what makes it Pixar’s enduring classic to date—is its narrative accessibility and emotional directness.

At the time of its release, Finding Nemo was primarily heralded for its unparalleled pictorial beauty. Digital animation was still somewhat fresh at the time; just two years before, Shrek had introduced brand new possibilities in digital animation with its crisply rendered environments and characters that had scale and weight. Finding Nemo, by turn, was possibly the first full realization of those possibilities. I still remember seeing it in the theater and feeling completely engulfed by the colors, layers, and textures of the underwater world it fashions. Ten years later, the film still exudes an ethereal quality that’s seldom seen in today’s animation (which is a credit, also, to the deep musical and overall soundscape). But the abounding detail of the film’s visual design, from the scales on Nemo’s body to the speckles dancing in the foreground and background of every frame, is all the more astounding for how subtly it’s deployed.

Critical Distance: Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol

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Critical Distance: <em>Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol</em>
Critical Distance: <em>Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol</em>

As commercial cinema goes, animation and live action are seen as divergent modes of filmmaking sharing the mutual goal of aesthetic cohesiveness; they only achieve it by different means. While Avatar and The Adventures of Tintin achieve a melding of live-action and animation techniques, other examples suggest that the sensibilities of animation and live action are more disparate and incompatible. If the static shots and deadened rhythms of the big-budget fantasy films John Carter and the first two Chronicles of Narnia entries are any indication, the qualities of animation may not so easily translate to live action. These films were directed by animation veterans—Andrew Stanton and Andrew Adamson, respectively—whose authorial voices evaporated under the conditions of live-action filmmaking.

You Gotta Be Kidding: Peet’s 25 Films of the Decade

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You Gotta Be Kidding: Peet’s 25 Films of the Decade
You Gotta Be Kidding: Peet’s 25 Films of the Decade

[Editor’s Note: This article is cross-published at Directorama.]

People who know me realize I’m not much of a list-maker. My peculiar taste is suspiciously mood-specific and based on private obsessions that are ever-evolving (just like everyone else’s, for that matter), so numbering favorites is about as pointless to me as, say, a Stephen Sommers remake of Howard the Duck to mankind. Then again… what is life but a string of silly exercises?

I started making this list just to see if I could. I do not claim to have seen every worthwhile film this decade. I do not claim to have the authority to tell you what you should like. I do not believe in objective valuation and it doesn’t think highly of me either. But I might be the guy to convince you to see something you may have dismissed or overlooked. In any case, beware of superlatives.

Focus on the Family: Pixar’s Small-c Conservatism

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Focus on the Family: Pixar’s Small-c Conservatism
Focus on the Family: Pixar’s Small-c Conservatism

Earlier this year, the National Review published a list of the top 25 conservative movies. Number two on this list was Pixar’s The Incredibles:

This animated film skips pop-culture references and gross jokes in favor of a story that celebrates marriage, courage, responsibility, and high achievement. A family of superheroes—Mr. Incredible, his wife Elastigirl, and their children—are living an anonymous life in the suburbs, thanks to a society that doesn’t appreciate their unique talents. Then it comes to need them. In one scene, son Dash, a super-speedy runner, wants to try out for track. Mom claims it wouldn’t be fair. “Dad says our powers make us special!” Dash objects. “Everyone is special,” Mom demurs, to which Dash mutters, “Which means nobody is.”

Pushing at Boundaries: The Two-Faced Ideology of Pixar

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Pushing at Boundaries: The Two-Faced Ideology of Pixar
Pushing at Boundaries: The Two-Faced Ideology of Pixar

“YOU. ARE. A. TOY! You aren’t the real Buzz Lightyear! You’re… You’re an action figure! You are a child’s plaything!”

“You piece of dirt! No, I’m wrong. You’re lower then dirt. You’re an ant!”

In Pixar’s first two feature length films, Toy Story (1995) and A Bug’s Life (1998), after a violent confrontation, two of the main characters are face to face. One of them berates the other in defense of an age-old system of master and servant, a system that the other character actively denounces because this system gets in the way of his lofty ambitions. In both films, the plot centers on this conflict of those who wish to uphold boundaries and those who wish to break through them.

However, there’s one main difference. In the film’s ideologies, Buzz Lightyear is wrong, and Flik is right.

Meeting Mid-life with Maturity: American Beauty, Fight Club and The Incredibles

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Meeting Mid-life with Maturity: <em>American Beauty</em>, <em>Fight Club</em> and <em>The Incredibles</em>
Meeting Mid-life with Maturity: <em>American Beauty</em>, <em>Fight Club</em> and <em>The Incredibles</em>

Between the ages of 17 and 18, still with so much growing up to do, I saw a slew of films that would redefine what the medium was capable of and completely change my world perspective. Some people read books about inspirational, anti-authoritarian figures that became a rallying cry for a generation; I saw The Big Lebowski. Shortly after, a simple laid-back attitude wasn’t enough, for I had witnessed Fight Club and American Beauty. Suddenly, I came to understand that getting good grades never really made me any happier—a temporary ego boost, perhaps, but never anything lasting. Further, I realized that getting Cs had never bothered me for more than a few weeks; by the end of a semester, I’d forgotten it ever happened. In fact, it seemed all of a sudden as though everything my Catholic college-prep high school was teaching me about life, outside of the spiritual realm, didn’t really fit into the kind of person I saw myself as, and more importantly, the kind of person I wanted to be.

Pixar’s Peaks: Toy Story 2 and The Incredibles

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Pixar’s Peaks: <em>Toy Story 2</em> and <em>The Incredibles</em>
Pixar’s Peaks: <em>Toy Story 2</em> and <em>The Incredibles</em>

It is telling that Pixar’s least-discussed movies, A Bug’s Life and Cars, are the only two in its oeuvre completely divested of the presence of humans. Or, to be precise, bug species and car models provide visually striking designs for otherwise totally human personalities in these two movies: a typical strategy of American animation to enliven its stories. At its most distinctive, though, Pixar is a stalwart champion of the pathetic fallacy, centering its narratives on anthropomorphized “others” whose gains we take for granted (toys, supermen, ornamental fish, rubbish compactors) or whom we treat with disdain (rats, old grumps, bedside monsters). The studio’s preferred medium of CGI is the ideal conduit for this reversed perspective: more uncanny and spatial than yet traditional 2D, brighter and more fantastical than live-action—as though we’re seeing our world heightened in another’s eyes. By aligning our empathies with its protagonists against the onscreen humans who mistreat them, Pixar’s narratives stoke a wondrously complicated guilt rarely seen in other family films—and nowhere have they demonstrated this better than with Toy Story 2 and The Incredibles.

The Studio as Author: An Introduction to Pixar Week

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The Studio as Author: An Introduction to Pixar Week
The Studio as Author: An Introduction to Pixar Week

Among the certainties in the world of film criticism—there will be a series of pieces bemoaning critics’ inability to stop a terrible summer film from becoming a blockbuster; Armond White will often stake out a position in opposition to many of his fellow critics; movies about middle-aged men having their mid-life crises sorted out by women well out of their league will always receive mostly kind notices; etc.—there’s one that stands above all others. Every year, Pixar will release a new film, and every year, it will garner exceedingly kind reviews, often competing to be the best-reviewed wide release of the year on review aggregating sites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. The reviews will contain some variation on the phrase, “Pixar does it again!” and champion the studio’s ability to come up with children’s films that also hold appeal for adults and tackle bigger themes than your usual computer-animated monstrosity. At the end of the year, said critics will often pen a few words about how Pixar can never get any love at the big races at the Oscars, even when their films win big critics prizes (as did Wall-E). And then the topic of Pixar as reliable geniuses, practitioners of a kind of ruddily American innovation, will be put back in the box until it is dragged out all over again the next time a Pixar film is released, to be repeated with much the same series of beats.

The House Next Door Presents Pixar Week: October 4 - 10, 2009

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<em>The House Next Door</em> Presents Pixar Week: October 4 - 10, 2009
<em>The House Next Door</em> Presents Pixar Week: October 4 - 10, 2009

In the nearly fourteen years since it first released Toy Story, the first completely computer-animated film in history, Pixar has somehow gone from a well-liked animation studio to the last, best hope of the Hollywood studio system, the final piece of proof many critics can point to and say, “See? The old system can work if you know what you’re doing.” Since the release of Toy Story, Pixar has gone through A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up, and nearly all of these have die-hard defenders who proclaim their film of choice to be a modern classic (well, maybe not Cars). The release of each new Pixar film in the summer can be rather predictably greeted with a spate of critical hosannas, but with a few exceptions, reviews of Pixar’s work often boil down to the following: “Pixar makes great films that both parents and their kids can enjoy!” And true though that may be, the studio has provoked surprisingly little solid critical discussion in mainstream outlets, outside of the annual attempts to rank Pixar’s latest effort against their former films.

Enter Pixar Week at The House Next Door, running Oct. 4-10, 2009, to coincide with the re-release of Toy Story and its sequel in theaters on Oct. 2.

What sorts of pieces are we looking for? Follow us after the jump for more.