EDITORIAL: I Watch All 22 Pixar Films Once A Year And Here’s What I Think Of Each One – Part 2 (Including a Final Movie Ranking)
Hello again! I hope everyone is safe and healthy, and maybe watching some of their favorite movies on Disney+. This is the second in a two-part series about the marathon of Pixar movies my friend Nicole and I do at the beginning of every year. To read my thoughts on the first 11 Pixar films, check out Part 1!
Now let’s continue onward with the next, and possibly more interesting 11 movies.
Cars 2 (2011)
Dir. John Lasseter
Do you remember when you realized for the first time that Pixar could make a bad movie? That they were not necessarily the height of animated feature films? That they were fallible?
Yes, I think that’s how many of us felt after Cars 2.
It’s not that Cars 2 doesn’t have good moments, it’s just that I can’t remember what any of those good moments are. Mater makes for a fun sidekick, but he’s an embarrassing and frustrating protagonist. The plot is driven by misunderstandings and miscommunications. The character development is spotty at best. The cast of characters we grew to love in the first film are sidelined. I don’t care about racing and I still would have preferred a movie that’s just about the World Grand Prix. That would’ve more closely followed the tone and style of the first film. The spy plot feels out-of-place in this universe. Cars 2 is not a film I feel the need to ever watch again.
Dir. Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
I love Brave, and Merida is without a doubt my favorite Disney Princess. But the film could have been better. First of all, the name makes zero sense. The original title was The Bear and the Bow, which is catchy and actually connects to the story of the film.
Secondly, why did Merida ask the witch to “change my mum” instead of asking her to call off the wedding tradition? I know the wording needed to be vague to justify turning the mom into a bear, but this would have at least made more sense had Merida asked the witch to “change my mum’s mind.” It’s a weird detail that throws me off every time.
Thirdly, the behind-the-scenes of this movie is a mess. The story came from the heart and mind of Brenda Chapman, and was inspired by her own relationship with her daughter. She was Pixar’s first female director and this was Pixar’s first film with a female protagonist. Without getting too much into it, Brenda Chapman was essentially fired from the project partway through production due to “creative differences” and replaced with Mark Andrews. While Chapman says that her vision remains in the movie and she’s still proud of it, I believe that had she been kept on for the entire project, the film would have turned out much better. Maybe there would have been less focus on the male characters’ silly antics and an overall cleaner plot. While the mother-daughter relationship is still a strong main storyline, I think sometimes Brave finds itself led astray from its core message.
Monsters University (2013)
Dir. Dan Scanlon
Monsters University is one of Pixar’s best sequels. And sequels that are actually prequels are difficult to do right. But Pixar took the plunge and made something great. This is a movie with solid, believable character development. Despite being very different from their adult selves, at no point do I feel like Mike and Sulley are not the characters I already know. I love watching their friendship grow in this sequel just as much as I love watching it strengthen in the original film. The movie is a romp, has a boatload of funny new characters, and keeps you guessing about where the plot is going (even though you technically know where Mike and Sulley end up). The final outcome for Mike and Sulley being that they don’t get to finish college or get degrees, but still manage to work their way into successful careers is an amazing lesson! And it’s a relatable one for many young adults who grew up watching Monsters, Inc.
The film does have a few flaws. Some of its callbacks to the first movie are a little heavy-handed, particularly with Randall. They give him motivation for hating Sulley that I just didn’t need. It really feels like this movie should set it up for him to have more of a contentious history with Mike than Sulley. The Scare Games, while definitely fun, are outlandish. I don’t know about you guys, but there were never events like this at my school. Was I just missing out?
Inside Out (2015)
Dir. Pete Docter
Inside Out is one of the most emotional films for me, and that sounds like a joke because it’s about emotions, but it’s true! As someone who moved a lot as a kid and has mental health issues, I relate to Riley. It’s a great way to show kids how their emotions interact with each other, why the negative emotions are just as necessary as the positive, and how their personalities change as they grow–and that this change is okay! It’s also Pixar’s second film to be lead by female characters (Joy, Sadness, and Riley), and the entire voice cast is excellent. Inside Out is a bit more abstract than Pixar’s other movies, and I don’t think the concept is everyone’s cup of tea. Although a lot of people love Bing Bong, and I’m just not on that boat. Maybe I just didn’t have a lot of imaginary friends as a kid, but I didn’t cry when Bing Bong died, and while I get his importance to the plot, I could’ve done without him. Sorry.
The Good Dinosaur (2015)
Dir. Peter Sohn
This is the worst movie Pixar has ever made. What’s the plot of this movie? Because I don’t know.
Is it about a boy learning to let go of his father who passed away? Is it about him growing up? Is it about him facing his fears? Is it about him and his dog/human pet? Is it about family or found family? Is it about the wilds of nature? Is it about the American West?
Yes…? To all of those? Maybe. I don’t know, and that’s the problem. This was advertised as a story about “a boy and his dog” where the boy is a dinosaur and the dog is a human. And while that storyline is, roughly, in the movie, that’s now how it pans out. At the end of the film, Spot (the dog/human) leaves Arlo (the dinosaur), for a random family of humans that they come across. Unlike Spot, who does act like a dog, these humans walk on two feet and act entirely humanlike. And Arlo insists that Spot needs to go with them. Because… dogs should stay with dogs? I thought this was about a boy and his dog, but now it’s about a boy and his wild pet that must be released back to his clan? Or is about species needing to stay with their own kind?
Anyway, I’m never going to watch this movie again, but I will say the animation, especially the lighting, is beautiful. Fun fact, the scene where Arlo almost drowns in the river has more data than the entirety of Cars 2, which I think says a lot about both films.
Finding Dory (2016)
Dir. Andrew Stanton
Finding Dory falls even further into the mistakes of Monsters University, in that it tries to explain EVERYTHING about Dory in one movie. All of her little quirks from Finding Nemo stop being just quirks and start being part of her intricate backstory. Dory can speak to whales because she had a whale friend. She can read English because she’s from an aquarium. “Just Keep Swimming” is a song made up by her parents. Again, these are explanations we did not need. It was like they were trying to make us think everything about Dory in Finding Nemo was set up for this sequel that they weren’t planning.
But Finding Dory is still a cute film. It has one of the craziest, funniest climactic sequences of any Pixar film. Baby Dory is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. And the movie has an underlying theme of disability that’s great for kids to see. Almost all of the new characters in the film are disabled, just like Dory is. Hank is an octopus with only seven tentacles. Bailey is a beluga whale with a concussion. Destiny is a near-sighted whale shark. While Bailey is able to recover from his injury, all of the other characters embrace their differences as part of who they are. It’s a theme that’s touched upon in Finding Nemo with Nemo’s bad fin, and it’s expanded on in this film.
Although there’s one point that messes with this message: the sea lions. There’s two sea lions who won’t let another, clearly disabled, sea lion named Gerald onto their rock. Gerald does get a chance to sit on the rock, but the other two sea lions never face repercussions for being mean to him. It’s something small that really sours the rest of the great messaging in the movie.
Cars 3 (2017)
Dir. Brian Free
Cars 2 doesn’t exist. That’s what the first five minutes of Cars 3 tells you. In fact, there is not one mention of the events of Cars 2 in this film, and I think that’s beautiful.
Cars 3 is actually really good! I don’t know if it’s just because I went into it with such low expectations, but now it’s a movie I look forward to watching every year. Cruz Ramirez, in particular, is a ray of sunshine. She’s a great foil for Lightning McQueen, their friendship/mentorship is predictable but sweet. The callbacks to Doc Hudson in the first film are nostalgic and tie-in to this movie beautifully.
There are a few problems. This movie kind of implies there’s car racism and sexism, which is weird because… they’re cars. How do you tell a car’s race or gender? I guess race is their make and model, but the more I think about this, the deeper I get into the whole “How are car babies made?”
Like I said, the callbacks to Doc Hudson, and the new flashbacks to his racing career are great, but the movie has excessive flashbacks to things that happened earlier in this movie, and it’s like. I get it. Lightning’s realizing Cruz can race. We all knew that.
Dir. Lee Unkrich
Best movie! Best Pixar movie, best Disney movie, best animated movie! Honestly, what is there more to say? This movie has serious moments, it has funny moments, it has musical numbers, it has literal murder. A man throws a child off a building. I’m not denying Disney and Pixar have their darker moments, but this movie gets dark. But they find a balance with the light-hearted scenes. The characters are all well-rounded and believable. The animation is beautiful, and the music rocks. I’m not Mexican––I’m extremely white––but I feel like I learned a lot about Mexican culture from this film! I could watch this movie any day of the year. That’s all I have to say. 10/10.
Incredibles 2 (2018)
Dir. Brad Bird
Incredibles 2 is weird because the first half of the film is boring and not great. But the second half of the film is awesome! I find it really difficult to rank it on any sort of list because by the end of the movie, I’m having fun, but I spent the first half struggling.
All the new characters are great. The new supers are interesting, and I wish the movie had more of them. I’m glad we at least got quite a bit of focus on Karen/Voyd. The Deavors were interesting, although Evelyn’s villainous motivation was a little iffy. Also, here name was Evelyn Deavor. Evil…en…deavor. You’re not slick, Brad Bird.
The Jack Jack scenes were hilarious, and his interactions with Violet and Dash in the climax were perfect. Violet’s storyline was very cliche teenage girl, and was completely dropped partway through the movie, so really didn’t make an impact. Dash didn’t have a lot to do, but he’s always fun. Mr. Incredible seemed to backtrack on all of his character development from the first film. Elastigirl certainly got a lot of focus, but they tried to sell this movie as her movie and it really wasn’t.
I’m sure I’ll watch Incredibles 2 again, but it’s not one I would usually pick up.
Toy Story 4 (2019)
Dir. Josh Cooley
I can’t say how I really feel about this film because there are preschool toys present.
It is honestly upsetting for me to watch, and it’s upsetting for me to talk about, but we’re going to get through this together.
Let’s start with good things: the new characters. Bo Peep is awesome. Ducky and Bunny are cute. Forky is funny. But these new characters overshadow all of the old characters with no justification. Andy’s toys barely get a line each, Jesse only gets a couple scenes to shine. Buzz is completely mischaracterized as stupid. Woody throws away everything he ever cared about as a character.
Toy Story 3 was about how, if these friends stay together, everything will be okay.
Toy Story 4 told us that was wrong, and Woody needed to go with his ex-girlfriend.
This movie should’ve ended after Woody convinced Forky that staying with Bonnie was good, and then it could have been just a cute short film. But no, it kept going, and kept throwing new things at us, and making an embarrassment of everything that Toy Story ever stood for.
Dir. Dan Scanlon
When I saw the trailers for Onward, I thought it was going to be terrible, but I was pleasantly surprised! I loved the world-building, and the idea that magic would be cast aside for technology. As a Dungeons & Dragons player, I liked all of the references to the game. Barley and Ian’s relationship made for a great backbone of the movie, and I appreciated that they were both nerds but in different ways. I’m used to seeing the Cool Older Brother with his Geeky Little Brother, but instead they were just interested in different things. The mom’s subplot was great, and I’m glad she got some action during the final battle. The movie felt like a modern Odyssey, where the characters encountered different creatures and obstacles throughout their journey before finally getting back home.
There were moments that felt forced. Ian setting off Corey the Manticore’s rage seemed out of nowhere. Some of Ian and Barley’s fights just felt unrealistic. I was expecting more moments where the brothers accidentally taught other creatures how to use their old magical abilities (like they did with the pixies and flying). It was once again a movie about two white boys, Pixar’s favorite formula. The gay character was a nonentity, and I’m looking forward to the day Pixar and Disney take some bigger risks with inclusivity. Especially given how close Pixar has drifted to major gay characters before, given Miguel’s coming out story, Buzz and Woody’s relationship, Dory being played by a gay woman, Merida refusing to marry a man, and more.
We’ve come to the end of our journey, so it’s time to revisit my original ranking. Let’s take a look at how I ranked the movies after our first marathon…
Toy Story 1, 2, 3
A Bug’s Life
The Good Dinosaur
Like I said, my opinions have changed, and there’s 22 Pixar movies now. Because there’s so many, I decided that my new ranking would be a tiered system. So, here’s my definitive ranking of all 22 Pixar movies:
Tier 1 (best): Coco, Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Toy Story 2, The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc.
Tier 2: Toy Story 3, Up, Inside Out, Monsters University
Tier 5 (worst): Toy Story 4, Cars 2, The Good Dinosuar
Some movies have fallen in my ranking, while the newer movies are scattered throughout the list. It’s safe to say I will not be watching any Tier 5 movies again (at least not for a long, long time). Coco is definitely my favorite of the movies, but who knows if that will change in years to come!
What is your favorite Pixar movie? When was the last time you watched some of the older films? Now is the perfect time for a marathon!
You can also watch me and some other members of the WDWNT staff argue about ranking Pixar films below.