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Toy Story (#110 of 11)

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.
 

15 Famous Movie Emperors

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15 Famous Movie Emperors
15 Famous Movie Emperors

This weekend, Tommy Lee Jones and Matthew Fox team up in Peter Webber’s Emperor, a rather listless historical war flick, which charts the investigation of Emperor Hirohito and his role in WWII. The film got us thinking about other movie emperors, who’ve varied in race, gender, and even planet of origin. From the animated to the animalistic, the perfect to the perverse, this list is one royally diverse bunch.

A Movie a Day, Day Nine: Micmacs

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A Movie a Day, Day Nine: <em>Micmacs</em>
A Movie a Day, Day Nine: <em>Micmacs</em>

If Terry Gilliam and Charlie Chaplin had had a love child in France, he might have grown up to be Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The director’s latest film, Micmacs, is another Gilliamesque mishmash of complicated but retro gadgets, stylized environments, sight gags, and fey little stories-within-stories, all acted in an exaggerated style that hasn’t been seen—or missed—much since the silent era. I liked that combination in Amélie, a piquant little piece about making the most of your life, and I loved it in A Very Long Engagement, where the antic tone was leavened by the gravity of the war scenes and the emotional heft of the love story. But it doesn’t do it for me in Micmacs, a clunkily connected series of whimsical set pieces intended to convey a serious anti-warmongering message.

It starts well. A beautifully executed montage introduces our hero, Bazil (Dany Boon), without a word. Here and throughout the film, artfully orchestrated sounds do a lot to establish context and convey meaning, as Jeunet and his crew play with the full box of tools available to them like an overgrown Talented and Gifted class. After an accident loses him his job and leaves him homeless, Bazil befriends a cheerily communal band of losers and loners who live under an overpass, in a cave-like dwelling made of scrap metal. As soon as they learn that Bazil is out to take revenge on a pair of arms dealers (one of the dealers manufactured a landmine that killed his father, and the other made a bullet that almost killed him), they’re in. And we’re off, heading for a series of elaborate set pieces as the motley misfits outsmart the bad guys.

Lost in a World of Play: A Doll’s House and Toy Story

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Lost in a World of Play: <em>A Doll’s House</em> and <em>Toy Story</em>
Lost in a World of Play: <em>A Doll’s House</em> and <em>Toy Story</em>

I would be the first to grant that the similarity in the titles—A Doll’s House and Toy Story—is unintentionally suggestive, and that not only would it be anachronistic and overreaching to suggest that Henrik Ibsen was somehow attempting to articulate the themes later explored in Pixar’s film, but that it is moreover equally intellectually dishonest to argue that anyone at Pixar had Ibsen in mind when telling their story. The roots of Toy Story are public knowledge, discussed in the commentaries on both Toy Story films, viewable in the Tin Toy short, further elaborated in the excellent book by David Price. There’s nothing to suggest that Ibsen had anything to do with it.

Love and Loss in John Lasseter’s America

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Love and Loss in John Lasseter’s America
Love and Loss in John Lasseter’s America

One of Pixar’s greatest accomplishments is that their movies are more than just terrific mass entertainments—they’re personal statements from the directors that made them. Their filmmakers each have their own set of reoccurring themes and characters, and one of the most interesting examples to me is that director and Pixar head honcho John Lasseter keeps returning to the same subject matter. He’s fascinated with relics of Americana from the past, and three of the four films he’s directed thus far—Toy Story, Toy Story 2 and Cars—have focused on trends and lifestyles that have been tossed aside by our culture in favor of something newer and shinier. There’s an element of poignancy and regret in his movies at how much things have changed, but Lasseter is also astute enough to know that American pop culture has been always been a little junky and disposable, and yet at the same time it’s something that we can imbue with personal meaning.

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 Conversations: Pixar

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The Conversations: Pixar
The Conversations: Pixar

Jason Bellamy: Aggregate movie review sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes are never more predictable than when compiling the reviews of a Pixar release. Through almost fifteen years Pixar has been a cinematic goose laying digitally animated golden eggs. Not all of Pixar’s ten features have been universally beloved, but even the studio’s disappointing efforts, like 2006’s Cars, have been treated by critics as mostly worthwhile. Generally speaking, to read reviews of Pixar movies isn’t to see critics wrestling with the question of “Is it good?” but rather “How good is it?” The result creates something of a critical paradox. When a Pixar movie earns a rare pan, the studio’s previous successes seem to work against it. Pixar becomes the A-plus student who suffers a C-minus grade for turning in B-plus work. It becomes the victim of a masterpiece-or-else set of expectations, thus making critical takedowns seem annoyingly nitpicky or pathetically contrarian (yep, that’s an Armond White reference). At the same time, however, when Pixar delivers something that’s truly and utterly magnificent, any praise heaped upon it seems empty. Gushing reviews of a Pixar movie come off like testimonials on the joys of army life written by soldiers in the North Korean military.

I mention all of this because it helps to illustrate how troubling it can be to have critical conversations about Pixar movies. When someone tells me Finding Nemo is “great,” do they mean “It’s a great piece of family entertainment with something for everyone,” or do they mean “It’s on my short list of the greatest cinematic experiences of all time, tied with Taxi Driver”? I can never tell if I’m supposed to be grading on a curve, if I’m supposed to be comparing Monsters, Inc. to just Dreamworks’ Shrek or instead to There Will Be Blood and anything else. If I tell you that I found Cars to be tedious when I saw it on DVD at the age of 30, is that a valid assessment, or am I supposed to analyze the movie through the eyes of the 10-year-old for which it is intended? Why is it that if I tell people I found Toy Story cute but not special, I get wide-eyed looks like I’ve just insulted the 9-year-old in the school play for not being Meryl Streep?

These are issues we can cover over the course of our conversation, but for now all of that is setup for this: I absolutely adore Ratatouille and I have a fondness for A Bug’s Life and Up, but at the top of the Pixar heap is WALL-E. This is the one Pixar movie that, while by no means flawless, I can call great without any hesitation or qualifiers. To me, it is a masterpiece, and not just of its genre. Of all the films I saw last year, there was a small handful that shared its company, but not a single one that was better. Ed, you hadn’t seen WALL-E prior to this conversation, citing little interest in the Pixar series. My question to you now isn’t if WALL-E is as good as I just described. Instead it’s this: Is WALL-E better than you expected, a notable Pixar achievement, or is it just more of the same?

Watching Movies: You’ve Got a Friend in 3-D

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Watching Movies: You’ve Got a Friend in 3-D
Watching Movies: You’ve Got a Friend in 3-D

Despite the outrageous prices and rude patrons, I still prefer to watch movies where they were intended to be seen: in the movie theater. The prices are offset by the occasional critic’s pass or my penchant for sneaking into other movies, and the talkative patrons are nothing new to someone who cut his movie-loving teeth on the ghetto theaters of the Garden State. Sometimes, the audience experience is the best thing about a movie. Other times, it can elevate the experience by creating the perfect mise-en-scène for the feature. I love the community experience the googolplex provides. The problem is, most moviegoers today don’t know their talk-back-to-the-screen etiquette. Murmuring with your friends and screaming commands at projected images works well at Snakes on a Plane or The Far from Fantastic Miss Fox, but not at The Remains of The Day. As a result, people stay home in droves.

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.