Intro by Gowdy Cannon
Up there with the giants of the film industry, Pixar has made an indelible impression on American culture. Moviegoers from 2 to 102 have been mesmerized by these animated stories for nearly 30 years now. What started with the innocence and intrigue of a normal boy playing with his toys that came alive when he left the room, has blossomed into a mushroom cloud of entertainment and influence. And Andy’s innocence is the one thing that seems to tie these diverse movies together. An overwhelming number of Pixar films are so pure of heart, we keep coming back to them, both with new releases and to watch the classics for the 50th time.
We at Rambling Ever On are as captivated as anyone else. And today we rank them, as we are so apt to do.
(Editor’s note: Today we are joined by three new contributors, Aidan Lytle, Caleb Creech, and Caleb Boivin. They were instrumental in getting this list across the finish line. We are hopeful this will not be the last time they contribute to Rambling Ever On.)
27. Turning Red
Turning Red depicts a cynical relationship between a mother and daughter, not as the problem that needs to be solved, but as the solution that brings about the happy ending.
Mae and her mother, Ming, disagree over how Mae ought to deal with her new ability to transform into a panda. Ming is worried that Mae does not care about maintaining the honor and dignity that her parents have worked hard for, and Mae is worried that her mother will never trust her with the chance to become her own person.
Rather than coming to a constructive solution, Mae throws her individuality in her mother’s face, ignoring the fact that she is still a child in need of parental guidance. The film teaches children that they know better than their parents and need not listen to them. Turning Red depicts and encourages behavior that is unhealthy and disrespectful and is a poor excuse of a family film. (Caleb Creech)
Lightyear was supposed to be Pixar’s triumphant return to dominating the box office following the pandemic. The 3 previous films, Soul, Luca, and Turning Red, were direct releases to Disney+. Disappointingly, Lightyear was a huge swing and a miss. It flopped at the box office, and it’s no surprise as to why. The decision to replace Tim Allen is baffling, and Chris Evans does not even come close to Allen’s original personality and life he brings Buzz. It’s not that Evans gives a bad performance, but the character never felt like Buzz Lightyear. The art style is incredibly boring. Although the animation itself looks great, the colors are dull and lifeless.
Initially, I liked how this is the movie that Andy from Toy Story first watched that made him obsessed with Buzz. That’s a creative tie-in to the Toy Story world without the movie being too connected. If this is Andy’s favorite movie (which would have been released in the 90s) what was with the boring and dull animation? Why not go for a hand-drawn and more colorful style? The story is perfectly mediocre, and the side characters are either boring or obnoxious. Lightyear had potential, but I was skeptical the moment Tim Allen wasn’t cast as his character. (Aidan Lytle)
25. Cars 2
Pixar’s Cars is a charming tale of a prideful star learning the wisdom and value of the rural community. The natural continuation of that story is the thrilling adventure of a small-town everyman forced to risk life and limb for Queen and country.
Cars 2 expertly balances the stakes of life-threatening danger with those of personal anguish. Its protagonist, Mater, is torn between his duty to his best friend and his duty to the world. The film pays homage to the best of the genre, from James Bond to Mission: Impossible, with the added benefit of a story rich in subtext.
Mater’s journey in this film demonstrates that success is not restricted to those with formal education, but that it can be held by anyone, so long as he or she has the courage and perseverance to achieve it. Cars 2 is a celebration of excitement, intrigue, and most importantly, appreciation for the common person. (Caleb Creech)
(Editor’s note: We almost banned Caleb Creech from ever writing again for the site after reading this review of Cars 2, but we decided to show grace to Caleb and leave this review “as is” for the humor it has provided.)
Luca is a movie that I keep going back and forth on. In terms of the quality of animation, I enjoyed the style change from the usual Pixar models, going with a more cartoony look. The actors themselves did a great job with the roles they were given, but story-wise, things get somewhat messy.
The concept is a neat one, but the plotlines themselves don’t entirely run together as smoothly as you’d think they would. There’s quite a lot of filler throughout the movie that doesn’t really work, but given that this is more aimed toward kids, it makes sense. Additionally, the end of the story is a bit rocky, with Luca not necessarily facing any real repercussions for leaving his family. Still, it does end on a sweet note with Luca and Alberto’s final goodbye. Overall, it had a lot of potential, but it didn’t quite achieve what they were going for. (Caleb Boivin)
23. Good Dinosaur
This is the most forgettable of Pixar’s filmography, which is a complete shame because there are some good elements here. For example, the animation is spectacular. What holds this back from being a memorable film is the story and characters involved. Most of the dinosaurs are written to be pretty one note, and the story plays out a predictable narrative that we’ve seen done many times before. It’s a cool concept to treat Spot like he’s a pet to the dinosaurs, but that alone doesn’t carry the film beyond the others in Pixar’s body of work.
It’s a shame that the gorgeous visuals almost seem to be put to waste because of the quality of the rest of the film. It’s definitely not the worst thing the studio has produced, but Pixar has made far better movies. (Caleb Boivin)
22. Cars 3
Cars 3 is fine. It’s fine. It’s better than Cars 2, so that’s good. It’s fine. (Phill Lytle)
Elemental is a frustrating film. Pixar’s first true rom-com has several elements about it that work really well. The voice cast of several under-the-radar actors does a fantastic job, the father is loving and sacrificial, and Pixar’s animation is superb. However, Elemental falls short in several ways. The soundtrack is forgettable, and the random pop song is not very good at all. There are a few questionable lines of dialogue here and there that dive into the “follow your heart” mentality of modern kid’s movies.
Although the message of the film is far more nuanced than Turning Red, there are still moments that make me scratch my head. Ember’s father gave up his entire life working for a future for his daughter, and Ember recognizes this, and in the most emotionally powerful scene of the movie, she breaks down afraid that she’ll not be able to repay her dad’s sacrifice.
At this point in the movie, I really thought Pixar was gonna deliver a beautiful message about the love and respect that exists between parents and their children. But, Ember decides to leave their home and shop in order to pursue her artistic dreams. Hidden within Elemental is a great movie, but they just barely missed the mark with the ending. (Aidan Lytle)
20. Finding Dory
You can read our full review of this film right here. Spoiler alert: Gowdy loved it.
Cars was the first Pixar film that left me feeling underwhelmed. My very young boys (at the time) loved it, though. That meant we watched it a lot once it came to home video. (That’s what we called it back then before the age of streaming.) Slowly, I began to find a deeper appreciation for the movie. The animation is fantastic, particularly the landscapes and the driving sequences. The voice actors, including Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy, do good work. The film is a lot funnier than I originally gave it credit for. Overall, Cars is a solid, if a little unspectacular Pixar movie. (Phill Lytle)
Despite its short box office stint due to Covid shutdowns, 2020’s Onward captures the essence of Pixar better than any of the more recent films. Onward provides a very creative world. The fantasy world full of unicorns, fairies, and more in which we find the characters is modern, and all things magical are a thing of the past.
Onward follows two brothers as they travel in order to find the spell to spend one last day with their late father. The final act is what sets this movie over the top for me. The brothers Ian and Barley find out that only one of them can spend a few minutes with their dad. Ian, the younger brother, in a powerful series of flashbacks and memories sees that Barley has been his father figure his entire life. Ian decides Barley should be the one to see their dad since he was never able to say goodbye.
At the center of this adventurous quest is the relationship between two brothers. Although the film struggles with the pacing at times, at its core is a powerful message, one which Pixar hasn’t recaptured in the 5 movies following Onward. (Aidan Lytle)
The bond between parent and child is a complex one. On the one hand, it can be strong and lively, able to withstand life’s fiercest tempests. On the other, it can be strained and fraught, able to be broken at the slightest pressure. In either case, it runs deep in both parties and directly informs the character of each individual.
In Brave, Merida and her mother, Elinor, struggle to understand one another. Elinor wants the best for her daughter, and Merida wants to become a person her mother can be proud of. Their dynamic is the bedrock of this film, and it is portrayed with nuance and excellence.
The story is effective because both Elinor and Merida are willing to listen and maintain a mutual respect for one another. Their reconciliation is inspiring and reflects a proper familial relationship, one where the willingness to concede is shown as a sign of maturity. Brave is an emotionally intelligent and enjoyable film, one fit for parents and children alike. (Caleb Creech)
16. Incredibles 2
Incredibles 2 could have buckled under the weight of fourteen years of anticipation. Thankfully, it carries on as if no time at all had passed, with as much vibrancy and creativity as its predecessor. The strength of the film is once again its family dynamic. The contrast between the life of a superhero and the life of an ordinary family lends itself well to both comedy and drama, elements which Incredibles 2 balances well. Couple this with the clear passion for the 1960s spy-craze aesthetic, and the result is an entertaining and refreshing action story.
The emotional touchstone for the viewer is the depiction of a healthy and loving family. When conflict arises, they address it together, using each other’s strengths to complement one another. This makes for an engaging adventure that can be enjoyed both as an individual and as a family, an accomplishment worthy of being called, ‘Incredible.’ (Caleb Creech)
15. A Bug’s Life
Looking at A Bug’s Life now, the animation feels almost ancient, yet at the time of its release, it felt awe-inspiring and cutting edge. In spite of some of the visual limitations, the film is still a ton of fun. No, the plot is not very original. Yes, it’s basically a full lift of the plot of The Three Amigos. None of that matters. The film is funny, with a very high percentage of jokes landing. Helping it all work is a large group of oddballs and quirky characters. A Bug’s Life is a film that rewards repeat viewings. (Phill Lytle)
Soul is one of Pixar’s most mature films. It follows Joe, a middle school band teacher, whose love for Jazz is the web that artistically ties this movie together. The music of this film is almost entirely Jazz themed, and it’s a creative breath of fresh air compared to other less ambitious Pixar movies. Joe dies early in the film, and the rest of the movie follows his journey as he helps out Soul number 22, who seems hopeless. Scenes in the Soul World are incredibly well animated and inventive.
Soul deals with themes of purpose and identity in a far less problematic manner than some of Pixar’s weaker films. It’s a shame that Soul was exclusively released on Disney+ because it would have been a refreshing theater experience. (Aidan Lytle)
13. Toy Story 4
When I heard that Pixar would be making a fourth Toy Story, I was very skeptical since at the time, I thought that the third was a great conclusion to the story. Thankfully, the fourth film subverted my expectations and ended up continuing the near-perfect legacy the previous ones had built.
While there are a lot of positives, there are two main things that stand out to me, the story and the animation. The story becomes centralized on Woody, giving him the conclusion that we were missing from the third in what was ultimately the right move to make. In addition to this, the animation is absolutely stunning and is probably the best-looking Pixar film to date. While there aren’t a ton of negatives, one problem the film made is how they handled Buzz Lightyear’s character; the film seemed to make him a lot dumber than he used to be. (Caleb Boivin)
12. Monsters University
At the heart of Monsters University lies a simple yet painful truth: You cannot do anything you set your mind to. This directly opposes the notion that with enough hard work and determination, you can achieve anything, as is the case with Mike in his journey.
Mike has devoted his entire life to becoming a scarer, ignoring the countless people who have told him it is not possible. He is hurt deeply by his new friend, Sully, who cheats in order to make Mike believe that his countless hours of work have paid off. Mike charges into the human world only to be hurt even further: Not only is he not scary, his attempt to be so is found funny.
Mike is crushed, and though he is in extreme danger, all he can do is sit in defeat. This moment in the film is brutal. There is no music to mitigate the emotion, but rather silence to further emphasize the point. It is here where Mike and Sully reconcile and are forced to find a different approach to their problem. Mike is not scary, but he understands fear and how to evoke it, and with Sully’s natural ability to scare, they are able to work together and escape back home.
This film is significant because it recognizes objective truth. Despite our best efforts, we all have limitations that we cannot overcome. We can, however, play to our strengths and flourish in different areas, areas which we may have never explored before. This is an important message for children and adults alike because it teaches us to engage with reality. We cannot change truth, but we can and ought to let it change us. Good art, as well as good entertainment, reflects truth, and it is a pleasure to say that Monsters University can be counted among both. (Caleb Creech)
11. Toy Story 2
I would argue that this was the most difficult movie to make in Pixar history. I am not referring to getting the voice talent on track or dealing with a difficult animator. The difficulty was in following up a beloved classic like the original Toy Story. I am glad they went for it and even though TS2 is not the best Toy Story movie it is a worthy addition to the series.
Getting Woody’s backstory was a treat. New characters like Jessie and Bullseye became staples in the Toy Story world. The evil turn by Stinky Pete the prospector was shocking, at least for me. Sure, having a toy horse keep up with an airplane taxiing down a runway is not totally realistic, but this is a movie about toys coming alive so let’s not get hung up on minor details. (Mike Lytle)
Final Thoughts about our Pixar list
That’s the end of Part One. If you want to know what Pixar films landed in our Top Ten, check back tomorrow to read Part Two. Let us know how we did in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!