And now it’s that time again. This week’s entry of Pixar by Numbers features three of my all time favorite entries in the series. The early 2000’s were a good time for Pixar. It was after they had worked out the bugs on how to make a full length computer animated feature, but before they started taking themselves too seriously in later years.
Here’s last week’s entry in case you need to get caught up on where we stand so far.
We’ll start this week’s thing off with…
Monsters Inc (2001)
Overview: In the monster world where monsters scare children and then use their screams as a source of power, James P. “Sully” Sullivan (John Goodman) and his partner Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) are the envy of all other scarers. But when a little girl named Boo escapes into the monster world, it’s up to the two to get her back to the human world before a rival scarer, Randall (Steve Buscemi), uses her in his plot to revolutionize the whole scare-collecting system.
The Concept: 10/10
The idea is brilliant and the first example of Pixar’s gorgeous and quirky worldbuilding talents. Bugs and Toys have been done before, but a world based on the “monster in my closet” fear that all kids have is just wonderful. The mechanics of the scare factory and the many gags related to the various monsters themselves make this one of Pixar’s most original concepts out of their whole canon.
The Characters: 10/10
Mike and Sully are such a good pair. In a way they’re the opposite of Buzz and Woody in that they start out as friends and then their friendship is tested, pulling them apart. John Goodman’s wonderful performance as Sully feels so real and genuine that you have to remind yourself that he’s not actually a blue fuzzy monster. Billy Crystal is hysterical and neurotic and when he finds himself caught between the old status quo and the new, he is forced to grow the most of any character in the story. I also like how the villain, Randall, isn’t really the main villain at all. The reveal of who is actually behind it all is nicely done. Plus, Boo is hopelessly adorable. I just love them all, villains and side characters included.
The Story: 9/10
The plot is fairly standard–“put that thing back where it came from or so help me”–but it’s filled with lots of twists and turns and some nice character arcs (simple though they may be). For the most part, it’s pretty swiftly paced, and though there are a few moments here and there where it slows a bit, overall, it’s wonderfully written.
The Humor: 10/10
It’s very funny, overall. At times, it’s almost a bit too quickly paced to get all the humor in one go, so it really rewards multiple viewings. Plus, I love how a lot of the humor is in just mumbled comments that people make in passing or to themselves. For example, I have no idea why the line, “Oh, that’s puce…” makes me giggle every time.
The Heart: 8/10
The friendship between Sully and Boo is really the most important aspect of the film, and it’s wonderful. I think the friendship between Mike and Sully could have been a bit deeper, though. The two of them fight a lot and have fun together, but they don’t really have any moments between them that really shows why these two are friends forever aside from the fact that they’ve got each other’s backs. It’s nice, but it doesn’t feel as deep as the Buzz/Woody friendship. However, I will add that this movie has the most beautiful final scene of any Pixar movie.
Overall Score: 47 = 94/100
Finding Nemo (2003)
Overview: After his son, Nemo (Alexander Gould) is kidnapped by divers, overprotective father Marlin (Albert Brooks) teams up with forgetful fish Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) to find him, overcoming trials and meeting colorful characters along the way.
The Concept: 9/10
Movies about fish are numerous, but I think the thing that sets this one apart from all the rest is that its characters are all wrestling with some sort of personal struggle (physical handicaps, short term memory loss, PTSD, addiction, etc.). And so it becomes less about fish, and more about people who we don’t really like to talk about that often. Sometimes it’s played for laughs (like the sharks in the 12 step program overcoming their addiction to eating fish), and other times, it’s handled with delicacy and verisimilitude, like Marlin’s overprotective behavior stemming from his anger at himself at not being able to protect his wife and children who all die in the film’s prologue.
The Characters: 10/10
Because they’re all wrestling with various handicaps, the central characters, Marlin, Dory, Nemo, and even Gil–Nemo’s mentor/fellow who helps him find his confidence–all feel so real and relatable. Even side characters like Crush stick with us because they are able to help Marlin work through his own demons. And, of course, Dory is such a wonderful character. She’s bright and cheerful and optimistic and makes friends at the drop of a hat, but those friends don’t often stick by her side because of her short-term memory loss, and so, though she’s strong, happy and carefree throughout the movie, when she loses Marlin at the end, Nemo finds her confused, distracted, and in need of someone else who can be strong for her, for once. I also adore the fish tank group which cover the spectrum from having their life together (Allison Janney’s starfish character,Peach) to the imbalanced and neurotic (Stephen Root’s frantically obsessive Bubbles). I also love Willem Dafoe and Geoffrey Rush’s characters.
The Story: 9/10
Much like Homer’s Odyssey or The Wizard of Oz, this story is very episodic, moving from challenge to challenge. Nemo’s story is the most fluid in that he spends most of the movie getting to know the residents of the fishtank in the dentist’s office, but Marlin’s story is very much the heroic quest. It’s paced beautifully, and even though such a layout adds a bit of artificiality to the story (in that each issue is resolved at the end of each “chapter”), its juxtaposition with Nemo’s story gives the whole thing a much more coherent sense of continuity.
The Humor: 10/10
It takes a while to get funny (when Dory first shows up), but the movie as a whole is so consistently funny that it doesn’t feel like a flaw. Ellen DeGeneres’ character is by far the crowd favorite and any of her maxims or musical ditties would elicit a moment of delighted recognition if one were to run into a crowd and start singing “Just Keep Swimming.” The gags relating to the various fish don’t feel as obvious as those in Toy Story or Monsters Inc. and they really contribute to the overall world of the movie which is by far Pixar’s most colorful movie to date.
The Heart: 10/10
The moment where Dory pleads for Marlin not to go, saying that when she’s with him she feels like she’s “home” is absolutely gorgeous. Every character’s struggle forms a beautiful web of connections as the various characters all end up helping one another, giving them all the sense of completeness that they previously lacked. I also want to mention Thomas Newman’s gorgeous score, which really enhances the whole feel of the film, brightening the color of the happy scenes and really making the audience feel the sad scenes.
Overall Score: 48 = 96/100
The Incredibles (2004)
Overview: In a world where superheroes must live undercover and blend in, superhero couple Bob (Mr. Incredible; voiced by Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Elastigirl; voiced by Holly Hunter) are raising a family and doing their best to blend in. But when Mr. Incredible is approached by a mysterious woman named Mirage (Elizabeth Peña), he finds a way to relive the glory days and be a superhero again…but at what cost to his family?
The Concept: 7/10
Postmodern deconstructions of what life as a superhero would actually be like are common. And the idea that superheroes would eventually be met with mistrust and banned has already been dealt with in the graphic novel Watchmen. I think what makes this film so good is its optimism and its focus on family dynamics. Watchmen and Kick-Ass are probably more “realistic,” but The Incredibles has such wonderful characters that you don’t care than its a well-worn trope.
The Characters: 10/10
Coming from the beautiful ensemble of Finding Nemo, I’m glad Pixar upped the ante in terms of character. The cast is marvelous. Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl are such a convincing married couple that you forget they’re computer generated at times. And their children, Dash (Spencer Fox) and Violet (Sarah Vowell), are complex and likable (unlike so many child characters in big budget live-action films). The side characters like Frozone and Edna Mode aren’t just there for one-shot gags. They’re awesome and you wish you could get two more movies to focus more on them (I would watch a movie of Edna attending fashion shows and insulting everyone while secretly designing superhero outfits. Seriously, Pixar. That needs to happen). And the villain, Syndrome (Jason Lee), is fun, fairly believable, and genuinely feels like an actual threat in that he’s wielding weaponry he has no idea how to control.
The Story: 10/10
I love how this isn’t an origin story filled with angst and sadness (Syndrome sort of follows that model, but it works for him). The superheroes are already there and the issue is trying to blend in and “be normal.” I’m always shocked that this film clocks in at less than two hours. It covers so much, but never feels rushed or chaotic. The characters are all given time to develop and there are no lulls. The domestic scenes are perfectly balanced with the action scenes, and I love how it ends up being the wife and kids who come to save the father whose arrogance has gotten him into a tough spot, and while they’re fighting to get free, they all become a stronger family. It’s just fantastic.
The Humor: 9/10
This one relies on sight gags a lot less than previous Pixar ventures and instead focuses on the “It’s funny ‘cuz it’s true” brand of humor. The humor is more subtle and complex, and it’s still as satisfying and hilarious today as it was eleven years ago. And then, of course, there’s Edna, who is just glorious. We all should strive to be as glorious as Edna. I also die laughing at the line “Greater good? I am your wife! I am the greatest good you’re ever gonna get!” spoken by Frozone’s wife as he dashes to get his super suit so he can fight a giant rampaging robot. It’s much more mature humor (without being overtly crude), and I think it holds up very well.
The Heart: 10/10
Like Finding Nemo, I think this one works so well because the characters are so well-written. Some of the sources of conflict are a bit more mature than previous Pixar films (this one nabbed a PG rating) such as Helen fighting back tears as she wishes her husband a good day at work, all the while thinking that he’s having an affair with some younger woman. It’s not a depressing film, and so there are some potentially dark moments where the emotion is toned down a bit, but that works to keep the whole thing from slipping into Watchmen-level heaviness. The true source of the emotional resonance of this film comes from the family dynamic, which everyone can relate to. And so it’s not a sentimental film, but it is an emotionally grounded film.
Overall Score: 46 = 92/100 (I’m a bit surprised to see this one in third place. It’s my favorite Pixar film out of all of them).
The new ranking is as follows:
1. Finding Nemo (96)
2. Monsters Inc. (94)
3. The Incredibles (92)
4. Toy Story 2 (88)
5. Toy Story (86)
6. A Bug’s Life (64)
See you next week as we add three more films to the ranking!