With the opening of Toy Story 4 a few days ago, I thought it would be appropriate to go back and rank the top 10 PIXAR films thus far.
Very few studios have maintained such high quality for so long. Cars was the first movie that I thought was sub-par, but not bad. And there have been others like Brave that never met their full potential. Regardless, it is incredible to me that they are still able to make excellent films.
10. Toy Story 4
This latest epilogue to the Toy Story trilogy is as thrilling and fun and emotional as any in the franchise. Less of an ensemble, focusing mainly on Woody, this story explores what the hero does when they complete their mission.
9. A Bug's Life
This was the movie that made me realize that PIXAR could be profound. After Flick the Ant is beaten by Hopper and his hordes, he struggles to his feet and stands in defiance. The way that scene was visually rendered was incredibly powerful and it showcased foreshadowed the depths that PIXAR would explore in the future.
While the rest of the movie does not live up to the first act (with the exception of the finale), the opening to WALL-E is an amazing example of brave, confident storytelling through the visuals. We come to fall in love with our hero in this desolate world and are completely drawn in to his fascinating story.
7. Inside Out
No one does "high concept" like PIXAR. The fully-realized emotional world of this movie is not only incredibly funny, but has so much to say thematically about how our emotions get out of balance when as we grow up and why its okay to be sad. It also has what is maybe the best scene in all of PIXAR when we see into the mind of the young man who bumps into our main character at a hockey game.
6. The Incredibles
I've often said that this is the best Fantastic Four movie ever made. It is slick and stylish while at the same time being a strong message about the importance of intact families and strong marriages. Here, PIXAR shows us how to make real superhero films that are accessible to all ages.
5. Toy Story
The one that started it all is still one of the most re-watchable of the franchise. The premise is so simple: what if our toys came to life when we weren't looking? But more than that, it gave us a strong emotional thru-line with Woody's jealousy of Buzz and their inevitable friendship as they are forced to journey into danger together. And that score... magic!
4. Toy Story 2
This is superior to the first by adding the emotional complexities that will be the trademark of all the Toy Story movies going forward. This was also the movie that made beautiful melancholy a hallmark of PIXAR with Jessie's flashback of her old owner. That scene alone is so full of heartbreak that it is surprising that the movie is able to bring itself back. And the airport chase at the end is thrilling!
3. Toy Story 3
There are many people who say that this is the greatest of all the PIXAR films and I respect that decision. This movie takes us to the dark days forecast in the previous film, where Andy has grown up. What are the value of the toys now? The movie is an emotional wallop. First, the scene at the dump is harrowing. Watching Buzz's silent reaction when Jesse asks what they are going to do is so moving and tragic. But the final goodbye playtime at the movie's very end perfectly captures the inescapable sadness of growing up and moving on.
2. Monsters, Inc.
To this day there are gags in this movie that make me laugh out loud at the thought of them. Billy Crystal and John Goodman are a pitch-perfect duo in this wonderfully inventive film that was the most beautifully rendered up until that point. Exploring deep themes in accessible ways while nearly overdosing on cuteness with Boo, this movie is amazing up until the final perfect shot of the movie as it fades to credits.
I don't think they will ever top this film. It is quite amazing that they built a fantastic adventure around an old, hobbled widower. Most people remember the montage in the first act as the best part of the film. And it is truly one of the great movie montages of all time. But unlike WALL-E, the rest of the movie matches the excellence presented in that beginning. With one of the best movie scores of all time, the movie has PIXAR's most beautiful imagery. All the while the adventure touches on timeless truths about loss and relationships and letting go. But for me, the greatest message of all is that an ordinary life filled with love is the greatest adventure there is.