(this is also my sort of review for Toy Story 3)
Over at Big Hollywood, they’ve been doing a “We Love Pixar” week. Of course I’m not a contributor, but I too love Pixar and dare Brietbart to stop me from joining the chorus of Pixar praise.
It’s hard to believe, Pixar has released 11 movies to theaters. Every. Single. One of them are, without question: art. A venerable masterpiece factory conjured from a cauldron of pure awesome by Gandalf himself.
What is art? If you’ll allow me, I say that art is the opposite side of the same coin to pornography. Where porn elicits baser, more animinalistic desires in the audience, art elicits nobler, more divine emotions. The former draws us closer to beasts. Art lures us closer to angels.
Thus what I consider art vs… not. Avatar was a movie playing on the baser emotions of the audience, but Up (another contender for Movie of the Year) played on our love of the family, adventure and courage. Yet what truly makes every Pixar film a masterpiece is that they do not invoke these emotions easily. Great care and effort is put into every frame of the movie, nothing is wasted in telling us so much in so little time. Yes their designs might be a little manipulating and the voice acting top notch, but two hours later a perfectly crafted story has given us even more reasons to love the protagonists that have led us through.
The Toy Story trilogy has also demonstrated that Pixar has mastered what Disney’s direct-to-video (dtv) department never could figure out. Yes all three movies have the toys struggling to return to Andy’s house, yet the journey in each is unique, the challenges different. More importantly, previous character arcs and growth are not ignored, but built upon. In TS1, we watch as Woody learns to accept Buzz as a friend and Buzz realizing that there is still great purpose in being a toy (though there are still many more lessons layered throughout). By the next two films, we see that Buzz & Woody are old friends and even happy in their roles. There’s no need for them to have a falling out and rebuilding their friendship over and over. Instead, each movie takes what the previous ones established and builds further, until the end, where you have a trilogy like LotR that feels like 1 whole movie split into three parts. (So Toy Story 3: If you liked the first two (and if you didn’t, you have no soul), you’ll love this one.)
So now… my ranking of weakest Pixar movies to strongest.
Cars: Although as far as Pixar is concerned, there’s no shame in being at the bottom of the list as this tale of pure fun is still better than most films out there. What hurts this one the most is predictability. The script is filled with too many cliches, the hero’s journey one we’ve seen a dozen times before. Still, it has fantastic jokes and enough references layered throughout for race fans to make a drinking game from. It’s pretty much cinematic junk food, but Pixar makes it filling.
A Bug’s Life: Part of this is personal bias, I didn’t get a chance to watch it till it was on DVD (and Pixar films are ones you really need to see in theaters). Even then, it was before I really, truly became a Pixar fan. I’m also a big fan of the Three Amigos and in some ways a lot of the plot in a Bug’s Life mirrors the great SNL classic. But a noble effort and plenty of jokes still make this one a great film for everyone.
Monsters Inc: Watching the two main characters hide a piece of their work that comes home with them is a great ride. Memorable characters and a creative, entertaining alternate world really brings everything together. There’s not as many lessons to be drawn from this one as others (“laughter is more powerful than tears” is all I can think of) and it’s a little more shallow than the top films but it still deserves a bowl of popcorn to eat over family movie night.
Ratatouille: Making a movie about rats is going to be tough for anyone and this isn’t exactly a film you watch with your gal if she hates the rodents. Still, this is one of the few films of recent years to teach the important lesson that success is talent, hard work, and luck. It’s almost ironic how two characters who don’t belong in either of their worlds give each other an opportunity they wouldn’t normally have. Filled with challenging themes and much opportunity for discussion, it’s a movie that appeals more to older audiences but is worth the challenge it brings.
Wall-E: Featuring one of the greatest love stories of all time, this romance had a bit of bother when it released with everyone painting their politics over it. Ultimately, the politics are unimportant. What is important is the relationship of Wall-E and EVE and how that relationship affects more than just them. Touching… ambitious… this is one film that will probably grow in appreciation once it has distanced itself from the petty issues of the day and its true beauty and magnificence can be appreciated.
Toy Story 1,2,3: I refuse to separate these as they all work well together and ranking any of them as better than any other is impossible. Filled with numerous jokes, lovable characters and some of the best life lessons you can learn, is it any wonder we fell in love with Pixar at first sight? Down the street or in our own room, adventure awaits and these films transport us back so easily to the best days of our childhood.
Finding Nemo: The top 3 Pixar films are nearly a tie – ask me tomorrow and their order might shift around. Still, there is no denying that among the best of Pixar is a simple story of a father trying to rescue his son. Oh, and they happen to be fish. Every frame of this movie is gorgeous to look out and a joy to behold as characters we care about risk everything. The themes are just as dense and layered, ranging from never giving up to realizing that – no matter how much they screw up – our parents really do love us. By the end, we feel as breathless as Marlin and Nemo. In the end, you could write a whole book on just this movie, but none of it would do justice to just sitting down… and watching it.
Up: I remember when I first started seeing advertisements for this film, I thought it was going to be Pixar’s first flop, if not commercially, at least artistically. After hearing some encouragement from friends (and out of loyalty to the company), I went into the theater.
And saw a movie that moved me in ways few others have. From laughter to tears to tension to sweetness, it was an emotional roller-coaster that grabbed hold of me and didn’t let go until days later. No matter your age, race, religion, politics, gender, whatever, see this movie. Then go out and enjoy your adventure.
the Incredibles: What makes this film so great? It’s visually stunning, but not as much as Finding Nemo. It has some of the most touching moments on film, but not as powerful as Up or Wall-E. Maybe it’s the action, the tight plotting, the deep themes… It’s like your favorite dish. Other foods might be healthier or sweeter or whatever, but that one dish you love has everything in just the right dose to make you want it every time. Incredibles is a movie that does so much right, it really does belong among Pixar’s best.
Thank you, Pixar. Thanks for giving us some of the best movies of all time. For taking us to new places and introducing new friends. Thank you for 11 great adventures. Here’s hoping the next 11 are even better.