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Every Pixar Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best

15

Cars 3 (2017)

Cars 3 is content to explore the end of Lightning McQueen’s (Owen Wilson) career with a series of pre-packaged sports-film clichés—an old dog trying to learn new tricks, struggling with a sport that seems to have passed him by, and facing, for the first time in his career, a sense of vulnerability. The template turns out to be a natural fit for the Cars universe, organically integrating racing into the fabric of the film and rendering it with a visceral sense of speed, excitement, and struggle. Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) is a welcome addition, a plucky foil to McQueen who’s also a three-dimensional presence in her own right, much more richly developed than one-joke characters like Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and Luigi (Tony Shalhoub). Cruz’s presence also allows the filmmakers to bring some social conscience to this sometimes backward-looking franchise, exploring the discouraging pressures placed on young female athletes while also nodding toward the historical exclusion of women and racial minorities from racing. Watson

Every Pixar Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best

14

A Bug’s Life (1998)

The gentle counterpart to Dreamworks Animation’s Antz, A Bug’s Life deals in a wealth of familiar themes and narratives, peddling the importance of community inherent to ant populations, positioning unlikely hero Flik as a fish out of water when he seeks help for the colony, and reinforcing the tyke-targeted notion that “being small isn’t so bad” (a maxim preached to young ant Dot, voiced by a very young Hayden Panettiere). But when Flik, a “country bug,” goes searching for warriors to combat the ants’ oppressive grasshopper nemeses, and instead returns with a ragtag troupe of circus insects (think the gang from James and the Giant Peach performing amid the carnival debris of Charlotte’s Web), a more intriguing theme emerges. As the actors and acrobats help the ants to craft a massive bird (a salvation-bringing idol that will hopefully scare off the enemy), they also introduce art as an alternative to fear and violence, and the film presents entertainment as something not just diverting, but heroic. Osenlund

Every Pixar Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best

13

Brave (2012)

For those who waited patiently for the first Pixar film to be led by a female protagonist, it’s understandable that Brave might have been a disappointment, arriving after the studio hit its artistic peak, and suffering from a handful of authorship woes. But the feminist fable remains the most underrated of this revered brand’s lot, not least because of Princess Merida’s eye-popping head full of aptly unruly hair. The movie may enchant with its focus on Scottish lore (an element arguably explored better in How to Train Your Dragon), and it may deserve a hand for its girl-power, who-needs-a-husband trajectory, but the distincitve bit that puts the lump in your throat is the mother-daughter story. From Aladdin to The Little Mermaid, Cinderella to Tangled, princess tales almost always deal with the heroine’s link to a father or an evil mother surrogate, never an actual mom who imposes relatable, resonant rules. This far more interesting dichotomy gives Brave an especially fresh and expressly female perspective. And while Merida’s mother’s transformation into a bear may seem gonzo and random, it’s actually perfectly appropriate: Together, mother and daughter must fight to undo a beast of a burden, one that’s historically, symbolically masculine in nature. Osenlund

Every Pixar Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best

12

Coco (2017)

Focused on the tradition of the Day of the Dead, in which families gather to celebrate their deceased ancestors, Coco offers a festive, reverent, and wide-ranging pastiche of Mexican culture, touching on everything from Frida Kahlo to luchadores to the golden age of Mexican cinema. With the possible exception of WALL-E's depiction of our planet as a depopulated trash heap, this is perhaps Pixar's bleakest vision, a world in which one dies not once but twice, the second time from a collective disregard for a person's very existence. But as the script begins to unravel the secrets of 12-year-old Miguel's (Anthony Gonzalez) ancestors, the film gets bogged down in its over-plotted family melodrama, with the last third in particular feeling like the filmmakers are running down a narrative to-do list. With so much information to plow through, the film too often bolts from one plot point to the next when it should be simply sitting back and enjoying the moment. Because when it turns down the volume on its cacophonous narrative and turns up the music, Coco achieves moments as powerful as anything in the Pixar canon. Watson

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