EDITORIAL: I Watch All 22 Pixar Films Once A Year And Here’s What I Think Of Each One – Part 1

pixar movies part 1
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We all have our New Year traditions. Watching Disney fireworks, kissing loved ones, drinking champagne, watching every single Pixar movie over the course of three days…

At least, that’s what my friend Nicole and I did the first year she suggested the tradition. This was 2016, going on ’17, and there were only 17 Pixar feature films at the time. And considering neither of us worked holidays at the time, we were able to knock out all 17 of those films in just a few days.

We’ve carried the tradition with us the past four years, and given the increasing number of Pixar movies, as well as our busy lives, the marathon now takes us about… three months. Which is perfect, when you have ten films left to watch in the middle of March, and nothing to do except self-isolate.

The rules of the marathon are simple. We have to watch every feature-length Pixar film, and we have to watch them in release order. Part of the point of the marathon is to watch how Pixar’s animation evolves.

Before our first marathon in 2016, we each ranked the existing Pixar films in order from best to worst. Here’s my original ranking:

  1. Finding Nemo
  2. Toy Story 2
  3. Toy Story
  4. Up
  5. Monsters, Inc.
  6. Inside Out
  7. The Incredibles
  8. Toy Story 3
  9. WALL-E
  10. A Bug’s Life
  11. Cars
  12. Brave
  13. Ratatouille
  14. Monsters University
  15. Finding Dory
  16. Cars 2
  17. The Good Dinosaur

After we finished our 2017 marathon, we re-ranked the films. This time we decided to combine the Toy Story trilogy into one slot.

  1. Finding Nemo
  2. Toy Story 1, 2, 3
  3. The Incredibles
  4. Monsters, Inc.
  5. Up
  6. Monsters University
  7. Inside Out
  8. WALL-E
  9. Brave
  10. Ratatouille
  11. A Bug’s Life
  12. Finding Dory
  13. Cars
  14. The Good Dinosaur
  15. Cars 2

Now that was 2017. We have had FIVE new Pixar films since them, and FOUR more marathons. As we reached the end of the films in 2020, we decided this year would be our last complete marathon. Because there are just some of these movies we don’t want to watch anymore.

So that being said, let’s talk about each of these movies, one-by-one, before re-ranking them one final time.

Toy Story (1995)

Dir. John Lasseter

Ah, Toy Story. Now this is a classic that stands the test of time. I’m not going to pretend Toy Story is a perfect film, but it’s not one I’ve gotten tired of. The plot is simple but it manages to balance lessons about friendship, one’s changing place in the world, and accepting those who are a little bit different from you. The animation of the more organic characters leaves something to be desired these days (especially Sid’s freaky-looking dog), but Pixar knew how to deal with their limited medium. All-in-all, Toy Story is still as solid today as it was when I first saw it as a kid.

A Bug’s Life (1998)

Dir. John Lasseter

A Bug’s Life is largely forgotten in Pixar’s legacy. Disney’s Animal Kingdom still has the It’s Tough to Be A Bug show, but you rarely see merchandise for the film anymore. It’s definitely still a cute movie. What isn’t there to love about the little guy enacting revolution against dictatorship? It’s still a solid, relevant plot.

That being said, it is the most offensive Disney film since Song of the South. Yes, this film has everything: a praying mantis with slanted eyes that performs magic tricks with a Chinese takeout container, a moth named G*psy, a pair of pillbugs that speak in Hungarian gibberish, a male ladybug surrounded by transphobic jokes, a caterpillar who can’t fly when he turns into a butterfly because he’s too fat, and the “ferocious beast” of the circus act who is actually a nearly nonverbal, mentally disabled rhinoceros beetle named Dim.

A lot of this film is hard to watch.

I still enjoy the main characters, the way Julia Louis-Dreyfus pronounces “warriors,” and the epic climactic sequence. In fact, Nicole and I have developed a saying based on this film’s climax: “rain and a bird.” “Rain and a bird” refers to when you think a story has come to an end, all the main plot points are tied up, and the villain has been caught, but then… something happens. In A Bug’s Life, that something is rain and a bird.

In short, I think I will watch A Bug’s Life again, but only with the most critical of eyes.

Toy Story 2 (1999)

Dir. John Lasseter

I don’t know if Toy Story 2 is the best Toy Story film, but it’s always going to be my favorite. Woody’s toy backstory, the introduction of Jessie, the twist villain, and Buzz’s independence all make this movie a romp. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Now there are two things about this movie that I will never forget, and never fail to point out to whomever I’m watching it with.

toy story 2 random building

The first of these things is this shot of a building. There is an obvious difference in animation quality between early and later Pixar films, I get that, but this shot of a building has no business being so bad in Toy Story 2.

My second singular takeaway from this film is the line “I’m a rare Sheriff Woody doll.” That one just cracks me up.

Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Dir. Pete Doctor

This is the first Pixar film not directed by John Lasseter, and it definitely marks a turning point in style. Monsters, Inc. is when Pixar started to take a few more chances. First of all, animation came a long way from Toy Story when they couldn’t properly animate a baby, much less an animal, and now they’re animating a giant “kitty” and his toddler human friend.

Second of all, while Buzz and Woody in Toy Story and Flik and Atta in A Bug’s Life are undeniably played as adults, their stories are not adult stories. The characters are a little more child-like: Buzz and Flik are naive, while Woody and Atta are stubborn. In Monsters, Inc., we get two adult main characters who are living in an adult world. That’s not to say the film is inappropriate for children, it’s great for children! But the maturity of Mike and Sulley’s story is what makes it more compelling for kids and parents to watch together. And it’s what keeps me enjoying the film well into my twenties.

Finding Nemo (2003)

Dir. Andrew Stanton

The most recent time I watched Finding Nemo, I spotted one major change in my feelings about the movie:

I hate Gill. I don’t trust that guy as far as I can throw him. And that’s saying something, because he’s a fish, and I could throw him pretty far.

gill finding nemo

This guy gives me the heebie-jeebies. He’s over-dramatic, he lives in a skull, and he manipulates a little boy into risking his life for everyone else. Oh, so Nemo’s small and is the only one of them who can get into the filter? Are you sure about that? Because Jacques is pretty small and he can crawl around. Gurgle’s about as skinny as Nemo, why can’t he do it?

If you think Gill hasn’t sent a few other disposable fish up into that tube who didn’t come back out, then you’re lying to yourself.

This guy doesn’t even participate in group activities! The other fish enjoy studying dentistry, while Gill swims around moodily. The only thing he does with everyone else is lead Nemo’s creepy orientation, and that was his idea.

Anyway, Finding Nemo is a good movie, and the musical at Animal Kingdom is my favorite Disney attraction. Still holds up.

The Incredibles (2004)

Dir. Brad Bird

the incredibles

Both Incredibles films and Ratatouille are the only Pixar films that are written and directed by one guy. Most Pixar films have one or two directors, and a handful of writers, but not these three. The genius behind our favorite superheroes and talking rat?

Brad Bird.

(And his team at Pixar who forced him to give Elastigirl more agency.)

He’s the same genius behind The Iron Giant (1999), but we’re not here to talk about beloved Warner Bros. movies. We’re here to talk about The Incredibles, Pixar’s first film entirely led by human characters.

That’s right, folks, not only do they know how to animate humans now, they’re doing a whole film about them! And it’s a good film!

Honestly, I didn’t appreciate The Incredibles enough when these marathons started. It was Nicole’s favorite Pixar movie, and I didn’t get it. But after four years of watching it side-by-side with her, I’m sold. The Incredibles is the definition of a family movie. It has adult themes, mixed properly with a child’s wonder. The characters are interesting and three-dimensional and the stakes are real. Syndrome’s motivation is a little iffy (okay, so your favorite superhero wouldn’t let you, a literal child, be his sidekick… get over it…), but he makes a compelling, sinister villain all the same. This is a movie I could watch at any time of the year.

Cars (2006)

Dir. John Lasseter

Hey, remember Cars? Like the original film, Cars? Don’t think about Cars 2, we’re not there yet, we’re talking about Cars. A movie I dreaded watching back in 2017 but then I remembered… it’s actually… good. Sure, it’s not Pixar’s best, and it’s a little insufferable to keep watching Lightning McQueen learn not to be a jerk every year, and if you think too hard about the logistics of the Cars universe, you might just break your brain, but it’s an enjoyable film.

Radiator Springs has a kooky cast of characters that make you really feel for the town. Mater is funny when he’s not the leading man. The races are compelling even if you don’t know a single thing about racing. And trust me, I’ve watched this movie once a year for four years, and I don’t know anything about racing. Cars will never be a movie I pick up just to watch on a Saturday afternoon, but it is a movie I can appreciate.

Ratatouille (2007)

Dir. Brad Bird

Brad Bird is BACK, and he’s got one of the weirdest Pixar movies up his sleeve. If you thought Brad was Pixar’s exception to their formulaic Thing-That-Talks-But-Shouldn’t rule, then you were wrong. Brad just likes to have his talking things interact with real humans. So that’s how we got this homage to French cinema about a rat that can control a boy’s body using his hair.

remy linguini ratatouille

Like the Cars franchise, Ratatouille asks us for some forgiveness in regards to the rules of the universe.

While I enjoy Ratatouille and its crazy concept, it’s a movie that I’ve become increasingly frustrated with. France’s favorite “little chef” is the world’s biggest hypocrite. One scene, Remy is doing everything in his power to stop Linguini from revealing he has a rat controlling him, but soon after he’s upset when Linguini isn’t revealing Remy to reporters. What is it you want, dude?

Not to mention, when he stops Linguini from telling Colette about him, he forces Linguini to kiss Colette and she almost hits the poor guy with pepper spray before deciding that she likes it. Um. Are we supposed to be cool with this plot? Because there is a lot of iffy body autonomy going on here. I might need a few more re-watches before I decide exactly how much I like Ratatouille.

WALL-E (2008)

Dir. Andrew Stanton

People love WALL-E. People tell me WALL-E is, objectively, the best Pixar film. People praise WALL-E‘s characters and messages and animation. And I used to be with these people. I never thought it was the best Pixar movie, but I knew it was up there in quality.

And yet… year after year… I grow tired.

The first half of WALL-E is a short film about a boy robot following around a girl robot while she’s trying to do her job. When she goes unconscious, he ties her up with Christmas lights and drags her around with him. When her ride comes to get her, he follows.

You might be able to tell that WALL-E is not my favorite love story.

WALL-E and Eve are cute. I won’t deny that. But a movie about heterosexual robots is just no longer appealing to me.

And that’s just the love story of the film! Don’t get me started on how boring and heavy-handed it is. WALL-E presents a future where the monopolizing corporation of BnL has pretty much destroyed the planet through mostly plastic pollution. Yes, you can thank Disney’s Pixar for teaching us how evil corporations can be, and selling us those plastic WALL-E toys at the same time.

What happens to the human race after pollution makes Earth unsustainable? They all get onto a spaceship and become fat and reliant on technology. Because not enough of the world tells us how being fat and staring at our phones is bad.

But yeah okay, it’s a pretty movie. It does have that going for it.

Up (2009)

Dir. Pete Doctor

I used to rank Up 4 or 5 on my list, but it doesn’t hit quite the same as it used to. It’s still a great film, and the first 20 minutes or so are absolutely solid, but it has some hit-or-miss moments.

It is, as most Pixar films are, another film about men. Admittedly, an old man and a young boy of color, but there are no women apart from Ellie, and she dies. The idea that Charles Muntz is still successfully living in the wilderness with a bunch of dogs that each look like an individual breed and is killing every other human who shows up is a little far-fetched. Although I disagree with Nicole’s assertion that the film has “too many dogs.” The dogs should just look more alike.

up dogs dug

Up does have some of Pixar’s best visual and editorial humor. When young Carl falls off the plank of wood and the film jump cuts to an ambulance. When old Carl extremely slowly descends the stairs in his chair. When Russell gets dragged across the window. There’s tons of stuff like that, where the movie pauses for just long enough or cuts at just the right moment to give you a good laugh.

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Dir. Lee Unkrich

toy story 3

I think we can all agree, Toy Story 3 was the perfect finale to the Toy Story franchise. It showed how dedicated the toys are to each other and that they don’t believe in leaving any toys behind.

Toy Story 3 is also Pixar’s first and last successful spy movie. Not just a spy movie, a prison break spy movie. The first half lures you into thinking this is a regular toys-being-toys film, but once we know the truth about Sunnyside, it’s all sepia flashbacks, poker games, and brainwashing. It gives every toy a moment to shine and it keeps me hooked even ten years later.

And that’s the first ten Pixar films! I’ll continue my breakdown of the next eleven films in part 2.

About the author

Shannen Michaelsen

Shannen has been a Disney Parks fan and lover of dogs since childhood, despite Pluto's attempt to eat Shannen's Minnie Mouse doll the first time they met. They've made up now. You can email Shannen at [email protected]

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Melanie B
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Melanie B

I agree that Toy Story 2 is the best of the bunch. Interesting to hear the perspective of someone who has had so much time to think about these movies in depth.

papa tom
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papa tom

Interesting to see how our tastes are different. I rank Dinosaurs easily in the top 3. It has incredible detail and gives me the closest feeling of reality. I did not last past the 15 min mark with the Incredibles–just couldn’t take the silly humor any longer. My #1 favorite is Inside Out because of the humor and play on words–it’s a classic comedy that you have to really pay attention to in order to catch it all.

Bob Moriarty
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Bob Moriarty

Wow. I stopped reading in the middle of your wall e review. A heterosexual relationship between two robots doesn’t interest you anymore? This is a movie made primarily to entertain children. Just shut up and stop trying to be so woke.

Than
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Than

I thought the love story added another layer to the message of the movie. Wall-E was lonely for centuries and now he has a life partner. The humans in the movie are so isolated from each other and the robots show the humans how to have an intimate connection again. Kind of ironic, but it works.