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Ratatouille (#110 of 14)

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.
 

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.

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.

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.

Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

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Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

In all the hubbub about Kevin O’Connell’s 20th nomination (well, actually, more like the residual hubbub about his 19th nomination last year that many presumed wouldn’t have to carry over to this year), no one has brought up the fact that the sound mixer’s co-nominee for Transformers, Greg P. Russell, has 12 winless nominations under his belt as well, and has in fact been nominated nearly every year since his work on 1996’s The Rock. That no one ever brings up Russell’s name when discussing what has been sold as the greatest Oscar injustice since Richard Burton or Peter O’Toole lost on their respective seventh and eighth times at bat suggests what the O’Connell buzz really boils down to: PR. If the Sound Editing category is more forgiving of bluster, Sound Mixing favors subtler textures—or at least a surfeit of musical numbers. In the absence of the live instruments that helped Dreamgirls hand O’Connell his 19th loss, we have to admit O’Connell’s odds likely haven’t been this good since the year his nominations for both The Rock and Twister were edged by, um, the tasteful, subtle, Best Picture-nominated textures of The English Patient. Déjà vu. This year’s slate also contains a sole Best Picture nominee, one whose spare but surprisingly inventive sound (inspired by Robert Bresson, not that I imagine most voters would give a shit) also just won the award from the Cinema Audio Society. While it’s true the CAS-to-Oscar track record isn’t quite as solid as either the DGA or SAG, it should be noted that O’Connell hasn’t won a CAS either. And with some of the action-addict votes undoubtedly being siphoned away by The Bourne Ultimatum, we preemptively wish him the best with nomination number 21.

Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing

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Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing
Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing

Not every tech category where No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood are facing off will settle in either of their favor. Case in point, and waaay down on the totem pole for most Oscar pool voters, is Best Sound Editing. Because it’s the sister sound award, Best Sound Mixing, that gets the more tasteful shorthand designation of “Best Sound” over on IMDB, we have to assume many will take this award to mean Biggest, Brashest Boomage, even though it’s the other sound category where you’ll find Steven O’Donnell, the Susan Lucci of big, dumb action spectacles, nominated. (What? His name’s Kevin O’Connell? Oops, well there goes the notion that the PR behind his campaign has made him into a household name. We promise to get his name right in a couple days when we get around to his category.) Because There Will Be Blood’s textures are more apt to convey the ominous creaks of wooden oil derricks, and because the most tangible sonic effect is Daniel Day-Lewis’s roar, I doubt it’s much contest for No Country’s terrifying web of gunfire and ricochets. But even No Country’s sonic tour de force might read more as a coup in sound mixing. This is the category where shattering panes of glass, screeching tires, and flying knives tend to stake their claim of the territory, meaning cunning Oscar pool voters might want to use this category as an opportunity to deviate from the “vote for the Best Picture nominee” ethos that will probably decide more categories than usual this year. Pixar won this category three years back with The Incredibles, so Ratatouille may find similar success with the same recipe of sound-from-scratch. Transformers, all heavy-duty kazoos, is the traditionalist’s choice in this field. When in doubt, though, it’s never a bad idea to bet against the adult-contemporary action movie with a relatively strong critical pedigree. So, in the spirit of Speed, The Matrix, and Master and Commander (and, arguably, Saving Private Ryan and Letters from Iwo Jima), we see voters using this award to christen the Jason Bourne series as the great white hope for reasonably intelligent Hollywood actioneers.