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Every Pixar Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best

15

Monsters University (2013)

It’s perfectly fair to walk into Monsters University with a wince, wondering what Toy Story 3 hath wrought, and lamenting the fact that even Pixar has fallen into Hollywood’s post-recession safe zone of sequel mania and brand identification. What’s ostensibly worse, Monsters University jumps on the prequel, origin-story bandwagon, suggesting our sacred CGI dream machine has even been touched by—gulp—the superhero phenomenon. But, while admittedly low on the Pixar totem pole, Monsters University proves a vibrant and compassionate precursor to Monsters, Inc., the kid-friendly film that, to boot, helped to quell bedroom fears. Tracing Mike and Sulley’s paths from ill-matched peers to super scarers, MU boasts Pixar’s trademark attention to detail (right down to abstract modern sculptures on the quad), and it manages to bring freshness to the underdog tale, which is next to impossible these days. Osenlund

Every Pixar Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best

14

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. Keith Watson

Every Pixar Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best

13

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

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