Pixar By Numbers – Part 7


It’s been a while, but Pixar By Numbers is back!

Alright, first up we have…

Cars 3 (2017)

cars 3Overview: After a devastating crash, Lightning McQueen has to decide if it’s time to retire or keep racing. His situation is complicated when Rust-eze is bought out by a wealthy businessman who doubts McQueen’s ability to get into racing shape by the next season.

The Concept: 8/10

I actually like the back-to-basics approach this one takes. It feels much more of a sequel to the first one than the second one. The clash of old and new is cliche, but it makes for an entertaining film.

The Characters: 7/10

McQueen’s arc is great, and ties in really well with his growth in the first movie, but I was surprised how all the secondary characters become SO secondary that the focus is basically JUST McQueen and Ramirez. And that’s fine, but I would have liked to see more Sally. She and Lightning are a thing and yet she’s so far on the sidelines, we don’t even get any hints that they’re in a relationship at all. I would have liked at least one scene where he gets to talk through some of his insecurities and issues with her.

I felt like Nathan Filion was sorely underused. He’s a delight, but his character became more of a catalyst to move things along rather than a genuinely interesting antagonist.

I will say, I LOVED how Paul Newman’s Doc Hudson got to be an integral part of the film. I guess they used deleted scenes from the first movie for his flashback scenes, but it was really awesome to hear him again.

The Story: 7/10

The plot is super predictable, but it’s got a soul. Even though you can see the twists coming miiiiles away, you don’t mind, because it moves along with a fun pace that never feels draggy or rocky. McQueen’s overall arc is actually really poignant, a sort of more mature progression from his arc in the first movie. I was pretty impressed.

The Humor: 7/10

I actually liked that this one wasn’t as funny as the previous ones. There’s still a lot of amusing moments, but it wasn’t as wacky or bizarre as the second one. There wasn’t really a lot of super memorable stuff (probably because the side characters have such small parts) but it served the story well. I feel like there could have been a better balance of humor in order to appeal to kids more, but I think the filmmakers were trying to play things safe. Not much stands out, but at the same times, nothing descends into ridiculous territory.

The Heart: 8/10

What Pixar is best at is presenting adult issues in situations that children can empathize with. No child anywhere is going to face issues of retirement/feeling obsolete and out of touch, but if they are faced with an adult in their family who IS dealing with such things, they can understand where they’re coming from. 

And even though it was obvious waaay in advance, Ramirez getting to be a racer like she’d always dreamed was a nice changing of the guard. I must admit to getting a bit gooey inside when McQueen came out with Hudson’s color scheme and number. If they do continue the franchise, I look forward to seeing how this new mentor/student relationship progresses. But if it doesn’t, this was a great way to end things.

Overall Score: 37= 74/100

And then we go to…

Coco (2017)

Coco-Family-Poster-PixarOverview: The story of a young boy who wants to be a musician like his idol, but his family has banned music because of Miguel’s ancestor who chose music over family. When he steals a guitar from the mausoleum of his idol, who he believes is his own relative, he’s cursed and sent to the land of the dead where he must obtain the blessing of a family member before sunset or he will stay there forever.

The Concept: 10/10

This movie is beautiful. The entire Day of the Dead art style is rendered to spectacular effect. Each Pixar film has focused on a different group of characters (superheroes, toys, monsters) but I think was the best possible treatment of ghosts/spirits that they could have done. The visuals are stunning.

The Characters: 8/10

Hector and Miguel are incredibly-written characters. I think Hector is one of Pixar’s most multi-layered and thoughtfully-written characters. I just adore both of their arcs. Miguel has such an infectious energy and enthusiasm, but also a resentment that pushes him to find answers and not trust anyone (except for the one person he shouldn’t trust).

I also loved Imelda. When we see her through Miguel’s eyes, she’s threatening, but once we get to know who she is, she very nearly steals the show. I LOVE her singing at the end. It’s just one of those moments that makes you want to get up and cheer.

My only complaint is the family back in the real world (except Coco because she’s adorbs). Their Footloose-esque ban of music seems very “plot point” as opposed to a decision consistent with their family’s lingering pain at Coco’s dad’s leaving.

The Story: 9/10

The Plot is a bit predictable, especially once we get to the reveal of the villain, but overall, everything moves with such a steady pace that you don’t mind. I think the whole focus is the characters, and their arcs are given enough space to breathe without things feeling rushed. Plus, there’s a great balance of the hilarious and the thoughtful.

I also like how the music is seamlessly integrated into the story. It’s allllmost a musical, but it blends everything together so well that everything feels like a logical progression from what came before. It’s intelligently crafted and a lot of fun.

The Humor: 9/10

When it’s funny, it’s hilarious. The humor doesn’t feel tacked on, nor does it feel forced. I love all the sight gags, and I think Diego is one of the most awkward hilarious sidekick characters ever. I could watch him fall over and be weird forever. Also, the relateable family moments are a delight, and it’s just wonderful. The comedy is balanced throughout, and I’m a fan.

The Heart: 9/10

This one’s really emotional, but not in an over-the-top manipulative way. It didn’t have me bawling the way other Pixar films have, but it’s still got a wonderful message. I think the central conflict is a bit heavy-handed, with music ultimately bridging the gap between the past and present, but the characters are so well-rounded and interesting that you don’t mind. I think this one is a good sign that Pixar is moving out of their slump and continuing to stay relevant.

I do think they need to try shaking up their story-telling methods, though, because the ending is very predictable, and I think that hurts its emotional impact a bit. When Pixar started blazing trails with more sentimental stories and making disappointment a recurring theme, it was great, but I think it’s time for them to go in new directions.

But overall, this is a wonderful movie and I can’t wait to get it. Definitely would recommend.

Overall Score: 45=90/100

Let’s see where the ranking stands:

  1. Finding Nemo (96)
  2. Wall-E (94)
  3. Monsters Inc. (94)
  4. Inside Out (92)
  5. The Incredibles (92)
  6. Coco (90) I’m pretty happy where this one ended up on the ranking.
  7. Toy Story 2 (88)
  8. Toy Story 3 (88)
  9. Up (88)
  10. Finding Dory (88)
  11. Toy Story (86)
  12. Ratatouille (86)
  13. Monsters University (80)
  14. Cars 3 (74) (I’m liking the steady progression of each Cars films as they go)
  15. Cars 2 (72)
  16. Cars (68)
  17. A Bug’s Life (64)
  18. Brave (64) 
  19. The Good Dinosaur (60)

Pixar By Numbers – Part 6

Pixar_WallpaperIt’s been about ten months since the last Pixar by Numbers post, but there have been two more entries since then and I wanted to add them into the list. So, welcome back! Let’s see how the new films stack up.

First up, we have… Continue reading

Pixar By Numbers – Part 5

And now we make it to the end. After a bunch of sequels, Pixar seems to be returning to form with the latest Inside Out. After we rate this week’s films, I’ll arrange the entire canon in order according to their scores. If there are any ties, I will use their scores on Rotten Tomatoes to break the tie. If they’re still tied, I’ll choose which one I personally like better of the two.

Alright, let’s wrap up this crazy show.

First we have…

Brave (2012)

Overview: Headstrong Scottish princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) finds herself at odds with her mother, regal Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) who wishes her to marry so as to secure her kingdom’s place with the other clans. But when she happens upon a witch in the woods (voiced by Molly Weasley! er, I mean Julie Walters), Merida asks for a spell she doesn’t understand and then must fight to undo it before it’s too late.
The Concept: 5/10
If The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast had a baby in Scotland, this would be it. Instead of “Daddy, I love him!” it’s “Mum, I dinna love any o’ them!” and then instead of “before the sun sets on the third day” we have “before the second sunrise.” It’s also an “I love you” that brings about the final transformation from beast to human. This was an odd year for Disney since Disney’s entry, Wreck-It Ralph felt more like a Pixar film and Pixar’s entry, Brave, felt more like a Disney film. I’m glad Merida was added to the Disney Princess lineup because she’s a strong character, but it makes it seem that this whole movie was a marketing gimmick to sell dolls, which is kind of “eh…”
The Characters: 7/10
I love Merida and Elinor, even if they conform to character models we’re very familiar with. Merida’a teenage groans and huffs really add a dose of realism and relatability to the character. Elinor is basically King Triton in a dress, but I do like how she is given a dash of complexity, especially in the scene where she throws Merida’s bow in the fire and then scrambles to pull it out once Merida leaves. The rest of the characters are pretty one-dimensional. King Fergus is basically just Billy Connolly in all his delightful glory. He’s warm and hilarious, but he isn’t given much to do since he’s constantly reacting to stuff that happens. I do like Young MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd’s second role in the film; he also plays his father) whose incomprehensible Doric dialect makes him nearly impossible to understand. The witch is fun, too, though I wish we’d gotten more of her. She’s not so much a character as a catalyst for the film’s action, so she’s not given much to do.
The Story: 5/10
Oddly for a Pixar film, the plot is pretty wafer thin. There’s one problem to fix and most of the tension comes from obstacles that the writers sort of hurl in Merida’s way so as to keep things from being resolved too quickly. I love the subplot about the ancient king who is turned into a bear, but the opportunity to really create a complex mythology out of it is wasted and he becomes a secondary obstacle who is taken out pretty easily in the end.  It’s really sad that the story is so bland because the attention to visual detail in this movie makes for some of the most breathtaking animated landscapes that Pixar has done since Finding Nemo. It’s a pretty, but uncomplicated movie. And when Cars has a more complex plot than this one, it just feels like something is missing.
The Humor: 7/10
There are some great moments throughout, though overall, there’s not a lot of comedic moments that really stick with you, except for the ample-bosomed cook who screams a lot. I also love the witch. Wish we could have gotten more of her. The humor is often in the little ticks and facial expressions of the characters. A great many gags come from the “Scots like to beat each other up a lot” trope, which, while relatively accurate from a historical perspective, seems a bit overplayed.
The Heart: 8/10
The core is Merida and Elinor’s relationship, and, flimsy though the plot is, they really do have a lot of genuine emotional moments between the two. Their reunion at the end packs as much punch as the beautiful moment at the end of The Little Mermaid where Triton gives Ariel his blessing for her to marry Eric. I also have to give points for Patrick Doyle’s stirring score and the beautiful landscapes. Scotland is gorgeous anyway, and the Pixar animators did it justice.

Overall Score: 32 = 64/100

Followed by…

Monsters University (2013)

Overview: Before they were the record-breaking team at Monsters Inc. Mike Wazowski and James p. Sullivan were college freshmen at Monsters University. Desperate to become a scarer, Mike studies night and day, but when he runs into cocky slacker Sully who seems to be an effortless scarer, the two become rivals. During the university’s scare games, the two must prove not only to themselves and the awkward-but-lovable monsters of Oozma Kappa, but to the university’s imposing Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) that they can make it as scarers.
The Concept: 8/10
It’s a college movie. They could have been a hard luck cheerleading team, or a hard luck football team, or a hard luck glee club; the story is one we all know. The reason it is so entertaining is because they’re all monsters. This movie definitely rides on the novelty of the first movie, but it really dials up the monster weirdness, and so predictable though the story is, it’s still an entertaining concept.
The Characters: 8/10
I love how Mike gets center stage in this one. Sully stole all our hearts in the first one as he befriended Boo, but in this one, we get to see Mike as more than a jittery worrywart. I also like how both Mike and Sully have lessons to learn. Sully learns how to work towards a goal instead of expecting it, and Mike learns how to put trust in others and works as a team. Dean Hardscrabble is also a marvelous character. Not only do I love her design, but I just love Helen Mirren’s performance. The woman can do anything. As for the rest, the side characters are hilarious, but uncomplicated. They’ve got some lovely moments, but they’re mostly just there for comedy relief.
The Story: 7/10
It’s a pretty standard college movie plot, though I like how it throws in the false ending after the big triumphant scene which would normally be the ending in any other college movie. But overall, it’s pretty predictable. It’s fun and entertaining, of course, but it’s not anything terribly original or surprising.
The Humor: 9/10
I do like the comedic elements of the film. Like the first movie, a lot of the gags come from the oddies of monster physiology, but there are some pretty hilarious moments thanks to the writers. One moment that kills me is when Squishy’s mom tells them to have fun while she will wait in the car listening to her “tunes” and it turns out to be death metal. As for the side characters, Charlie Day’s Art is my favorite, the odd purple parabola who is an expert at doing his own thing.
The Heart:8/10
I really like how the main arc for Mike is realizing that, even though he really wants to be a scarer, he’s probably not ever going to be a scarer, even though he’s the hardest working student at MU. And then there’s the character of Don who got a “normal” job when he couldn’t make it as a scarer, but then decided to come back and pursue his dream anyway. It’s a fun, happy movie, but those two characters still speak to a lot of folks. It doesn’t have the same punch as the first one, mostly because Boo isn’t in it, being all cute and adorable, but it’s got a decent emotional core holding it together.

Overall Score: 40 = 80/100

And finally…

Inside Out (2015)

Overview: When a little girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) moves from her hometown in Minnesota to San Francisco, the personified emotions inside her head, lead by Joy (Amy Poehler), work to help her cope, but when something goes wrong and Riley’s core memories are lost, it’s up to Joy and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) to restore Riley’s mind to working order before she falls apart completely.
The Concept: 10/10
This is probably one of Pixar’s most thematically complex movies, acting as a complex metaphor for how depression works. The concept of emotions being given voices has been done before, but Pixar sets everything up as this gorgeous colorful machine where memories are made, stored, and utilized. And the emotions themselves are, for the most part, more than just caricatures, making this one of the most original movies to come to theaters in a long time.
The Characters: 9/10
The main duo of Joy and Sadness are just magnificent. They’re layered, complex, and incredibly relatable. The moment where Joy breaks down and sobs with grief hits you hard, and the realization that sadness is just as important as happiness is one of Pixar’s most beautiful moments. I also adore the character of Bing Bong, who starts out seeming to be the movie’s villain and ends up being one of the most beloved characters. I also adore how Riley herself is presented. She is all of us and feels so real as a result. I think Fear, Disgust, and Anger tend to be a bit caricature-ish and one dimensional, but it works in the context of the film, since those three emotions are ones which Riley relies on much less often.
The Story: 8/10
The concept is incredible, but the plot itself is actually pretty familiar. It’s a lot like Toy Story in that you have two characters who don’t understand each other getting accidentally sent far away from home and having to work together to find their way back. Joy is a lot like Woody in many ways; she’s always been in control and her big arc comes when she learns to let others be themselves and work with her instead of for her. I think the “Let’s find our way home” plot is a bit cliche, but I gave it a higher score because this film expands it to have relevance to Riley. While Joy and Sadness find their way back to the control room, Riley is finding her way back to mental stability. It works so well and feels a lot less cliche than it could have been. And compared to the Pixar entries that came before this one, it’s clear that the writers were looking to return to the writing quality of their more critically successful films.
The Humor: 9/10
I found this one to be just as hysterical as it is tragic. Fear, Disgust, and Anger are the comedic relief from the heaviest parts of the story, but Joy and Sadness are both utterly hilarious throughout as well. I also love the interactions between Riley’s parents as their own emotions try to resolve the situation and end up blundering this further. A lot of the running gags like the recurring gum commercial jingle are beautifully placed throughout. I also really appreciate the epilogue that runs over the credits for relieving the heavy emotional impact of the movie’s final scenes. It completely explains cats.
The Heart: 10/10
This movie completely devastated everyone in the theater when I first saw it. The kids were all dead silent and many of the parents were quietly weeping. I don’t know if this film was designed to hit kids as hard as the adults. The emotional core of this movie is the tragic truth that the endless joy of childhood has to give way to more nuanced emotions at some point, including sadness. I think the fact that Sadness is often cited as the most popular character speaks to the public’s relief that a movie finally addressed that it’s ok to be sad sometimes. Also, as a child who moved a lot as a kid and who had to keep giving up friends, I really related to Riley’s emotional state. Unlike other Pixar films that elicit tears so as to try and win Oscars, this one seems to hit the most complex and meaningful parts of our souls so as to really say something important about how we can understand people battling depression.

Overall Score: 46 = 92/100

And now for the final tally…


1. Finding Nemo (96) (Winner!!!!!!)
2. Wall-E (94) (Second place!!!)
3. Monsters Inc. (94)  (Third Place!!)
4. Inside Out (92) (This one beat my darling Incredibles by 1% on RT. Well played!)
5. The Incredibles (92) (5th place isn’t bad. You’ll always be #1 to me!)
6. Toy Story 2 (88) (I’m still shocked at this one. It beat TS3 by 1% and Up by 2% on RT)
7. Toy Story 3 (88) 
8. Up (88) 
9. Toy Story (86) (According to RT scores, this one beat Ratatouille by 4%)
10. Ratatouille (86)
11. Monsters University (80)
12. Cars 2 (72)
13. Cars (68)
14. A Bug’s Life (64) (this one has a 92% fresh rating on RT)
15. Brave (64) (This one got a 78% on RT…ouch…)

Just out of curiosity, let’s see how this list would have looked if I had just used RT scores. Since there would be no tie breakers, I’ll stack the ones that tie.

1. Toy Story, Toy Story 2 (100% Fresh)
2. Finding Nemo, Toy Story 3 (99% Fresh)
3. Inside Out, Up (98% Fresh)
4. The Incredibles (97% Fresh)
5. Wall-E, Monsters Inc., Ratatouille (96% Fresh)
6. A Bug’s Life (92% Fresh)
7. Monsters University, Brave (78% Fresh)
8. Cars (74% Fresh)
9. Cars 2 (39% Rotten)

Use whichever ranking you prefer (which should be mine…hint hint)

Anyways, thank you for putting up with all this. It is now out of my system and life can continue.

That’s all, folks! I’ll see you next week!

Pixar By Numbers – Part 4

With this week’s films, we see the end of Pixar’s critical high point and the beginning of a bit of a lull in film quality, though I tend to disagree with the critics here. Although Toy Story 3 can be seen as the last truly great movie from a critical standpoint, the films that followed it were less concerned with winning Academy Awards and more concerned with entertaining their young audiences who had had to endure several years of films that were clearly aimed at older audiences.
So, we’ll see how they hold up.

We’ll start with…

Up (2009)

Overview: After the death of his wife, Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) decides he’s going to take his house to Paradise Falls, an exotic locale in South America where his wife always wanted to visit. He straps thousands of balloons to his house and sets off, not realizing that plucky 8-year-old Russell (Jordan Nagai) has hitched a ride, hoping to achieve his “assisting the elderly” badge. But once they get to Paradise Falls, they meet Carl’s childhood hero Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) who isn’t quite the stalwart hero Carl and Ellie thought he was.
The Concept: 10/10
Who doesn’t want to run off to an exotic locale in a flying house when the real world proves to be too lame to handle? This one doesn’t really have a specific world (cars, toys, monsters, fish, etc.), but it is clearly in the vein of adventure stories like The Lost World or The Land that Time Forgot where intrepid explorers find a world sheltered from the rest of world and meet wonderful creatures and beautiful locales. While this particular world plays fast and loose with the laws of physics, the image of Carl’s house floating through the clouds, suspended by balloons is just magical.
The Characters: 9/10
Carl is not really a character that younger audiences will relate to or understand very well, but he is such a wonderfully created character. His whole arc is a complex one and involves him discovering a great many things about others and about himself. The biggest one is learning to recapture the crazy, free-flowing joy that Ellie embodied and to not become bogged down in a desire to keep everything from changing. Russell is a fun, lovable character, but I feel like he’s not given as much characterization. He definitely embodies the adventurer spirit that Carl and Ellie had as kids, and he pulls Carl out of his comfort zone, but for most of the movie, he’s a catalyst rather than a character. His own arc which involves him coping with the reality that his father doesn’t care to be involved in his life is tragic and poignant, but it gives Carl the opportunity to fill the hole in Russell’s life just as Russell gives Carl the friendship he lacks living all by himself. The rest of the characters are a bit less nuanced. The villain, Charles, is very much a classic movie villain with simplistic motivations and not much depth. I love Dug dearly, but again, he’s a pretty simple character.
The Story: 7/10
The characters are what gives this move its weight, but the story is actually a bit flimsy. Things tend to just happen for convenience’s sake a bit too often (such as a single storm taking Carl to South America in a few hours or Russell just happening to be under the porch when the house takes off even though we see the porch from multiple angles as it’s taking off and there’s no sign of Russell). The emotional narrative is great, but the action itself seems more just “this happens then this happens” so as to get the characters to the next emotional moment.
The Humor: 9/10
This is more of a serious movie than a funny movie, but I do like its moments of humor. The “squirrel!” running gag is cute, and Dug’s characterization is much like many dogs I have met in real life. Often times, the humor is more cute than hilarious. It’s more reserved, but well placed throughout.
The Heart: 9/10
The 9 is for Carl’s beautiful story and for the first ten minutes. I took a point off because this one feels like it’s trying to hard. This was the first Pixar film to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award (while, in the past, they’d focused their attentions on getting the Best Animated Feature award), and it feels a bit Oscar-bait-esque. The prologue is emotionally devastating, but Pixar and Disney have always had the monopoly on emotionally devastating animated love stories (think of shorts like Paperman or Feast or Lava). Overall, it’s a good movie, but I get the feeling that it takes itself a bit too seriously, trying too hard to give us the feels that, with previous Pixar films, felt a bit more effortless. The more times I watch it, the less of a reaction I have to it (whereas Finding Nemo always makes me feel the same way as when I first saw it). But the general public proclaims this to be the best Pixar film, so I will give it a 9 in this category because it’s touched so many people.

Overall Score: 44 = 88/100

And then…

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Overview: When Woody, Buzz and friends are mistakenly donated, they must find their way home. Unfortunately they end up at Sunnyside Daycare where the toys are all subject to the whims of cult-leader Lotso (Ned Beatty) and his sidekick Ken (Michael Keaton). Hurt that Andy has seemingly outgrown them all, the other toys are quick to trust Lotso, but Woody refuses to give up on Andy, even if he’s going off to college in a few days.
The Concept: 9/10
Tackling what happens when owners outgrow their toys is tough, mostly because it’s horrendously depressing. I think it’s handled well in this one, but the overwhelming sadness and anger that pervades the story, though dramatically powerful, makes this more of a cathartic therapy session than an enjoyable movie-going experience for me, personally. The poster tagline calls it “The Breakout Comedy of the Summer” and while it does have funny moments, it hardly feels like a comedy overall.
The Characters: 10/10
The characters are all in top form as always. Jessie still has some lingering resentment left over from her own previous owner donating her, and that informs a lot of her character’s decisions. Lotso has a similar story, though his ego (and lack of friends who call him out on his crazy) lead him to becoming a villain. My favorite character in this one is Mrs. Potato Head who, because of her missing eye, becomes the seer of the group, almost like she’s some sort of Delphic oracle. In the previous movie, she was a fun caricature, but in this one, she’s a fully realized character who goes with them on their adventure instead of staying at home. She’s just wonderful. I also love how, though they’re not given much screen time, Andy and his mom are really beautifully presented. You feel like you’ve known them forever, even though they’re side characters. Spanish Buzz is also laugh-out-loud hilarious.
The Story: 7/10
Plot-wise, this story is very similar to The Brave Little Toaster, a film that was conceived by many folks who would then go on to found Pixar. Toaster was going to be the first CGI animated film, but it was rejected by Disney. It was then made anyway by Hyperion animation and then bought by Disney for home video release. The story involves several household objects who, after their owner goes to college are accidentally forgotten and must find their way back to him. They also end up in a junkyard near the end and wrestle with whether or not their owner really wants them back. Toy Story 3 has better characters and a less episodic plot, but the feel of the film (and the source of the character’s anger and confusion) feels very similar. It’s not a bad plot, by any means. It’s a briskly written jailbreak story, and it’s got a solid emotional core, but it feels less original than the previous films in terms of its narrative.
The Humor: 8/10
The humor in this one is great as always, but like Up, it feels weighted down by the more serious plot points. Spanish Buzz, Ken’s confused toy-identity (action figure or doll!?), and Bobbie’s acting troupe of toys are wonderful, but as I mentioned before, this doesn’t feel like a comedy overall. It’s more like an episode of House where you’ve got brilliant witty repartee between characters…and then someone dies tragically and the episode wins an Emmy award for Best Drama. That’s sort of how this one is.
The Heart: 10/10
If there’s one thing I learned from this movie, it’s that I’m a horrible person for only keeping a handful of toys from my childhood. No seriously, this movie is emotionally devastating every time I see it. The scene between Andy and his mom as they stand in his empty room and she tells him she’s going to miss him was the moment where I started weeping softly to myself in the theater. And then when Andy hands over all his toys to Bonnie I was openly sobbing into my friend’s shoulder. Inside Out is the only other Pixar movie to slay me in quite the same manner, but the melancholy truth that, no matter how much you love your toys, they will never be played with in the same way once you grow up, is pretty gut-wrenching. It may not be the most bright and uplifting Pixar film in the canon, but its emotional core is strong and it works as an incredible movie in general.

Overall Score: 44 = 88/100

And then finally…

Cars 2 (2011)

Overview: When Lightning McQueen gets invited to participate in a series of races around the world in order to promote a new environmentally friendly fuel, his friend Mater gets accidentally involved in a world of espionage, murder, and conspiracy after having been mistaken for a spy by suave spy car Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and his partner Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).
The Concept: 8/10
I like that Pixar took a completely different direction with the sequel, moving away from Radiator Springs and instead giving us a fun, globetrotting spy story. The “dumb lug gets mistaken for a spy” concept has been done to death, but it’s a fun genre, so I don’t mind so much.
The Characters: 7/10
Finn McMissile is a great character. I love the intro scene where he lays siege to the oil platform. I would have been completely ok if he had been the main character and the Radiator Springs guys were left at home, to be honest. Holly Shiftwell is very much the “Bond Girl” character and, interestingly enough, reminds me of Holly Goodhead from Moonraker. Both are sort of window dressing and, while strong characters, you don’t connect with them much. As for the main characters, this is really Mater’s story. McQueen is sort of a side character, the racer whom Mater is working to save from the bad guys. I think Mater is fun but, he’s Mater, so there’s not a lot of deep character development aside from him and McQueen learning to understand one another better. The rest of the gang isn’t given much to do except say stuff on the side.
The Story: 7/10
The bumbling spy who accidentally saves everyone is a character we all know. We’ve seen him in Johnny English and Spy Hard. The twists and turns and the reveal of who the bad guy actually is is genuinely clever, but the rest is pretty predictable. While I appreciate that Pixar backed off from the self-indulgent heaviness of Up and Toy Story 3, I think this one tends to feel a little too flat just because it follows an established comedy genre so closely. Pixar is known for being quirky and doing things we’ve never seen before and, aside from the mechanics of how cars do things like go to the bathroom or scale rooftops, this one feels pretty familiar.
The Humor: 8/10
If there’s one thing this movie does well it’s comedy. Mater, as always, is hilarious, and the James Bond homages are fun. The comedy feels a little forced at times, such as the “Japanese toilets are confusing” trope that we see everywhere, but overall, this is a fun, enjoyable movie. It doesn’t tax the mind that much, but it does entertain, and at the end of the day, that’s what counts. For really young kids, this (and its prequel) is a fun Pixar gateway film.
The Heart: 6/10
It’s hardly a heavy movie, so it’s more sweet than emotionally gripping. I do like how Mater’s character is developed somewhat, and he and Holly have some cute scenes, but overall, this is a movie more concerned with action and comedy rather than emotional moments.

Overall Score: 36 = 72/100

The new rankings are as follows. We’ve had several ties, so I’ve turned to Rottentomatoes.com to break the ties. The results are actually pretty surprising in some cases:

1. Finding Nemo (96)
2. Wall-E (94)
3. Monsters Inc. (94)
4. The Incredibles (92)
5. Toy Story 2 (88) (shockingly, this one has a 100% fresh rating on RT. I was not expecting it to beat Up).
6. Toy Story 3 (88) (this one has a 99% fresh rating)
7. Up (88) (this one has a 98% fresh rating)
8. Toy Story (86) (this one is 100% fresh)
9. Ratatouille (86) (this one is 96% fresh)
10. Cars 2 (72)
11. Cars (68)
12. A Bug’s Life (64)

Join me next week as we wrap this whole thing up and look at the results!

Pixar By Numbers – Part 3

Part 3! In the late 2000’s, Pixar began to reach out to adults more and more and created some of their most critically acclaimed films. It was at this point that Pixar began to move, in the eyes of the public, beyond merely a maker of children’s movies, but a maker of good movies that were anticipated by everyone, adults included. While some of the films made at this time tend to edge toward the self-congratulatory, there’s no mistaking the artful Pixar style that develops at this point. But before that happens, there’s…

Cars (2006) Overview: Hotshot rookie car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) thinks he can do everything on his own, but when he’s stranded in the Route 66 town of Radiator Springs, he must learn to rely on others such as lovable oaf Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) or the charming Sally (Bonnie Hunt) in order to achieve success.

The Concept: 7/10 The idea of a world populated by cars is fun and, though not 100% original, it is handled well. Much like Pixar’s earliest films, there are many car-related gags throughout, and even if you’re not a racing fan, the world that the Pixar animators have brought to life is very cleverly done (even though it’s probably Pixar’s least coherent world concept)

The Characters: 7/10 Perhaps this would be different for younger viewers, but McQueen really isn’t a likable character until the final third of the movie. He’s uncaring, arrogant, lazy, and all of his problems are of his own doing. He’s a decently well-rounded character, but he’s not a main character you really empathize with. I do like the Radiator Springs folks, especially Fillmore, the hippie van voiced by George Carlin (who sadly passed away two years after this film came out, as did the legendary Paul Newman who voiced Doc Hudson). The rest feel a little flat. They have some fun moments, but they don’t have the effortless cohesion of the circus troupe from A Bug’s Life. Doc Hudson is a beautifully realized character, and I do like Sally, though I wish she was given a bit more depth. She ends up being a very passionate travel guide for most of the movie.

The Story: 7/10 The story is actually pretty well done, if a bit predictable. There are lots of stories with cocky lone wolf characters, and even some where they end the movie not so “lone” anymore, but I think the way this one blends the single car/community of cars idea with the present/past theme is well done. McQueen doesn’t just learn to rely on others who become his friends, he learns to respect his icons from the past and what their careers and successes mean to them when others are so quick to brush them off. In a sense, the writes took several cliche plot fragments and blended them into something that is actually pretty unique. There are a few moments where the plot drags a bit, and, because this is basically a sports movie, the ending is a bit predictable, but the character arcs are well-written, and the theme of nostalgia for a simpler time is well developed.

The Humor: 7/10 Mater is fun and lovable, but he often draws attention away from the rest of the cast. The rest of the humor comes from sight gags, celebrity cameos, and some fun “secret” adult humor (like the two fanatical teen girl cars who “flash” McQueen before being escorted away), but a lot of it becomes forgettable when all you can remember are Mater’s hilarious one liners. It’s funny, and clever at times, but it’s hardly the sublime writing of The Incredibles or the brilliant comedic timing of Monsters Inc.. It’s not bad, but Pixar’s done much better with other films.

The Heart: 6/10 This isn’t a tearjerker by any means, but I do like its recurring theme of nostalgia. It’s not something kids will really get since the idea of “slow down and look to the past rather than driving really fast and winning trophies” wouldn’t have registered in 10-year-old Me’s brain. But like many Pixar movies from this era, it’s speaking both to adults and kids. Kids appreciate McQueen’s realization that he’s stronger with a team, and adults look back to a simpler time when cross country travel wasn’t a race to a destination but rather a journey of exploration. The sequence detailing Radiator Springs’ decline is sad, but in a more general way.

Overall Score: 34 = 68/100 Next up we have…

Ratatouille (2007) Overview: An ambitious rat named Remy (Patton Oswald) dreams of being a chef, much to the consternation of his father (Brian Dennehy), but when he runs into hapless Linguini (Lou Romano) a garbage boy in a gourmet French restaurant, the two become partners in “crime” with Remy cooking fantastic dishes and Linguini pretending that he’s the one cooking. But Linguini can’t keep Remy a secret forever, especially when he falls for fellow cook Colette (Janeane Garofalo), and when head chef Skinner (Ian Holm) begins to suspect that there’s more to Linguni’s success than meets the eye.

The Concept: 9/10 I can’t decide if this film would count as magic realism, but the idea that a rat can control a human being using only his hair is marvelous and so wacky that it could only work in a Pixar film. Rats are favorites for animation, so we’ve seen them before in film and books, but the idea behind this story, a rat who wants to be a chef, is unique enough that it doesn’t seem like a cliche at all.

The Characters: 8/10 When the characters are good, they’re great. Remy is an interesting character because he’s stuck between two places. He hates that rats are thieves, yet he frequently has to fight the urge to steal (and sometimes fails). He can be snooty and stubborn, but he’s still likable because you see how much joy he gets from creating incredible food. I also adore Colette; she’s tough and doesn’t shy away from speaking her mind, but she has a soft spot for Linguini and only ever shows vulnerability when she’s trying to articulate her feelings for him. I also have to say that I love Anton Ego, the English food critic. He’s gruff, opinionated, and insulting, but once you see beyond his prickly facade, you really grow to love him. He’s definitely my favorite character; his review/monologue at the end about what constitutes art is just beautiful. The rest of the cast tends to fade into the background. The other cooks in the kitchen aren’t given enough real characterization (I can’t even remember their names without IMDb‘s help). The villain, Skinner, is a bit simplistic, but Ian Holm does a brilliant (and unrecognizable) job of voicing the dispassionate chef who would much rather sell cheap frozen food than run a classy restaurant.

The Story: 9/10 The plot is sort of all over the place, with the three acts each feeling very different. When Linguini ousts Skinner as head chef and takes over, it feels like the movie is wrapping up…but then there’s a third act where Remy’s growing jealousy of Linguini leads him to pull everything down around them. It’s marvelously written, and I think it feels more organic that way. Others may disagree with me and say that it throws off the pacing, but I think it gives the whole film a more European feel. Think of a film like Amelie which has that sort of free-flowing organic texture to it. It’s not often what North American audiences are used to, but I think it’s true to the heart of the film itself.

The Humor: 9/10 There are a number of laugh out loud slapstick moments (especially regarding Remy’s learning curve as he figures out how to manipulate Linguini, human puppet-style). There are also a number of subtler moments of humor that adult viewers will appreciate. It’s not as overtly funny as Cars or Toy Story, and it’s not quite up to the quality of writing as Brad Bird’s previous Pixar entry The Incredibles, but it’s still very well done. I love the scene where Linguini is trying to tell Colette about Remy, but he can’t figure out how to say it and he comes across as so awkward and creepy that she pulls out her pepper spray if he tries anything strange.

The Heart: 8/10 This is definitely Pixar’s most charming film. It leaves everyone with good feelings and a desire to go eat something. In terms of the character’s arcs, I do like how Remy’s source of conflict is genuinely complex, and you really feel for him, especially when his father shows him what humans do to rats in the film’s darkest scene. And Anton Ego’s moment of shock when Remy’s take on Ratatouille sends him back to a warm moment from his childhood is just beautifully done, and something many folks can relate to. Also, I appreciate the sheer joy that comes from watching Remy cook and enjoy his food. It’s not depressing or much of a tearjerker, but it really leaves its viewers uplifted.

Overall Score: 43 = 86/100 And finally…

Wall-E (2008) Overview: On an abandoned and trash-filled Earth, a lone cleanup robot named Wall-E meets a scout robot named EVE who, upon discovering a lone plant on Earth, is whisked to a massive vessel, the Axiom where humanity’s descendants live in mind-numbing comfort, their lives controlled by robots and advertisements. Having clung to the outside of the ship, Wall-E must find EVE and stop the ship’s robot contingent who don’t intend to ever let humanity return to Earth again.

The Concept: 8/10 The environmental and anti-capitalist message of the film is pretty blunt and at times you feel a bit beaten around by it, but preachy though it is, it’s a daring subject to tackle. The reveal of the two major environments of the film, Earth and the Axiom, are both equally chilling. Earth for its barrenness and its brown haze, and the Axiom for its ubiquitous ads keeping everyone suitably distracted. In one terrifying shot, babies are being taught their ABC’s and B is “Buy & Large: your very best friend” (Buy & Large is the monopolistic corporation that ends up running (and destroying) the Earth, taking control of its banks and government).

The Characters: 10/10 Because the main characters are primarily non-speaking robots, there isn’t as much of a chance to get to know them through their dialogue (as in Finding Nemo), but the animators give so much expressive weight to these robots that you just fall in love with them. Wall-E desperately wants a friend, and the scene where he tries to befriend EVE and slowly gains her trust by showing her his quirky collection of trinkets is just so sweet and touching. Once we meets humanity’s doughy descendants, we’re faced with humanity’s lingering desire to fight for what’s right (even if they are all comfortable and distracted constantly by screens). I love the captain character (Jeff Garlin). He starts out just a figurehead who really has no power on the ship, but once he realizes what Earth is and what humanity’s potential is, he begins to fight back against his robot first mate who has been keeping the truth from him. It’s just fantastically done.

The Story: 10/10 The concept is a bit preachy, but the story is marvelously written, combing great action scenes with beautiful moments of pathos and joy without ever slowing down or feeling uneven. Plus, I love how the relationship between Wall-E and EVE is written. It’s an odd choice for a romantic pairing, but Wall-E carries the whole thing, expressing his thoughts solely with his eyes and hands. His favorite video tape (a recording of Hello, Dolly!) becomes the through line for the whole narrative, representing both the love and friendship Wall-E craves and the spark of the human spirit that we believe the people have lost to the soul-sucking Buy & Large corporation.

The Humor: 9/10 Even though this is generally a more serious film, it does have its share of funny moments. It’s generally all physical comedy since there’s so little dialogue and the bewildered human characters aren’t given much of a chance to be funny. Wall-E and the tiny M-O are the source of a lot of the comedy. Wall-E is the hapless romantic who is constantly falling/getting struck by lightning/getting smacked, and M-O is the obsessive little cleaner robot who can’t stand “foreign contaminants” and who furiously cleans everything he can reach. There are a lot of laugh out loud moments, and the slapstick humor helps to lessen what could otherwise be an oppressive Blade Runner-esque narrative, but overall, I think the dialogue-based humor of previous Pixar entries leaves more of a lasting impression.

The Heart: 10/10 I think the emotional core of this film is Wall-E’s desire to hold hands with someone, and that is so simple and elegant that it really gives this a lot of punch. EVE is a carefree soul as well (which we see in her taking a moment to fly about and revel in her freedom after the drone ship leaves her on Earth), but she has a hard edge and tends to be more business-like (she also packs a crazy disruptor blast that can level buildings), and so it’s Wall-E who shows her how to tap into that more fun and fancy free part of herself that she often doesn’t allow herself to enjoy. I adore the “define dancing” scene because it’s really the first moment these two have to just have fun together. The moment where the captain decides to take his fate into his own hands and stands up to his first mate is also a really powerful moment. He’s fighting for the fate of the human race, and he is also taking responsibility for the Earth’s destruction, vowing to fix things once he gets back. It’s no wonder this film gathered six Academy Award nominations. It’s a beautiful story.

Overall Score: 47 = 94/100

Here’s the new rankings. It looks like Nemo is holding fast to his number 1 spot, but Wall-E did manage to squeeze ahead of Monsters Inc (both are tied on Rotten Tomatoes, but I placed Wall-E in front because I love the overall visual style better).

1. Finding Nemo (96)

2. Wall-E (94)

3. Monsters Inc. (94)

4. The Incredibles (92)

5. Toy Story 2 (88)

6. Toy Story (86)

7. Ratatouille (86)

8. Cars (68)

9. A Bug’s Life (64)

See you next week!

Pixar By Numbers – Part 2

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

And now…

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

And finally…

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!

Pixar By Numbers – Part 1

I’ve wanted to do a series on the Pixar canon ever since I started this blog, but wasn’t sure how to do it. I didn’t want to just review every movie in depth as I did for the James Bond Overdose series, mostly because these movies are all recent enough and familiar enough to the general public that full reviews would be redundant.

But with Inside Out blowing audiences away right now and The Good Dinosaur looming on the horizon, now is as good a time as any to do this.

So, what I wanted to do was create (insofar as is possible with a canon of movies that are so consistently incredible) a ranking of all the Pixar feature films in order from best to not as best but still pretty fabulous. I’m not sure how unbiased I can be…but I’ll try. Each film will be rated according to 5 criteria: the concept, the characters, the story, the humor, and the heart. Each criterion will be rated out of ten, and then the total score will be doubled, giving a final ranking out of 100. I won’t be rating the animation because we all know the animation has always been one of the best in the industry. Each week (unless said week features a big premiere of a movie that I must see), I will be looking at three films, so this whole thing should take 5 weeks, which is much less terrifying than the 23 week madness I spent in the James Bond world.

So here we go!

This week, we’re going to be playing, as most children do, with toys and bugs!

Toy Story (1995)

Overview:  Woody (Tom Hanks) has always been Andy’s favorite toy until the flashy Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) joins the ranks of Andy’s toys. Nettled by Buzz’s charisma with the other toys and the space toy’s belief that he is actually Buzz Lightyear and not an action figure, Woody tries to knock Buzz down a few notches…and ends up knocking him out a window instead. The two toys must then join forces to find their way back to Andy before he and his family move to their new house.
The Concept: 8/10
The living toy trope is hardly new, but this one uses toys that audiences recognize from their childhoods. Plus, I like how the characters actually look and act like toys, with each character being limited by their unique joints and construction. They’re not simply miniature people. Also, this movie places more of an emphasis on the imagination of the child playing with said toys and the character of that child (Andy loves his toys while Sid tortures his toys), which is very different from other living toy stories. It’s able to reinvent what could otherwise been quite cliche.
The Characters: 10/10
Buzz and Woody are such layered, wonderful characters. Both have flaws and both have virtues, and by the end of the movie, you feel like you’ve always known them. The fact that Pixar took issues that only a toy would deal with and make us care so much about them is impressive. The side characters are all colorful and fun. I especially like Mister Potato Head. He’s not really a villain…but he kind of is at times…but we like him. Plus, his removable facial features are the source of many a hilarious gag that are still funny even though I’ve seen this movie a million times. Sid’s the only real “villain,” but the main source of conflict is Woody overcoming his jealously, which is a much more powerful driving force.
The Story: 7/10
The buddy comedy trope of two characters who hate each other but become friends while enduring trials together is as old as the hills. Even though it’s incredibly cliche, it’s well written and briskly paced so that we don’t even really notice that the story itself is quite predictable. The world of toys that is created is so fun that we enjoy how Woody and Buzz get home rather than wonder if they will.
The Humor: 10/10
This movie still makes me laugh out loud. The layers of sight gags, puns, and double entendres (“What’s with him?” “laser envy.”) reward multiple viewings, and I think Tom Hanks is the standout in this category. The scene where everyone is oohing and aahing over Buzz, and Woody is having a temper tantrum is just wonderful (“he’s not a Space RangERRRR!”). The script is whip-sharp and not at all dumbed down for little kids.
The Heart: 8/10
Unlike later Pixar films, this one doesn’t take itself quite so seriously, so there aren’t any real tearjerker moments, but the relationship between the toys and Andy is so sincere and relatable that it’s enough to hit anyone right in the childhood. The moment where Buzz realizes he’s not a toy is well done, though a bit melodramatic. The core of the Toy Story series is how much the toys love Andy, and this one really establishes that beautifully

Overall Score: 43 = 86/100

Now onto the next one!

A Bug’s Life (1998)

Overview: Desperate to prove himself to his colony and to find a way to protect them from a horde of bullying grasshoppers, misfit ant Flik (Dave Foley) mistakenly hires a troupe of circus bugs (thinking they’re warriors) to repel the horde which is led by the villainous Hopper (Kevin Spacey), all while trying to win the affections of the tense princess Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).
The Concept: 7/10
1998 was the year of animated movies featuring ants, but I think Pixar’s entry is more fun (Antz is too self-congratulatory and hipster-y for me). I also love how it’s basically a western, paying homage to The Magnificent Seven and others. It’s a blending of genres that have been done to death, but even though it’s unoriginal, it’s fun.
The Characters: 7/10
This is one of those movies where you love the side characters, but don’t care much for the main characters. Flik and Atta are cute, but they feel a bit generic. Hopper is a good villain, but again, he’s a bit of a mustache twirler. I do, however, completely adore the circus troupe. They legitimately feel like a group who has been together for some time, and you just wish there were more scenes of them all standing around riffing off one another. David Hyde Pierce, Denis Leary, Madeline Kahn (one of her last projects before her untimely death), John Ratzenburger, and Bonnie Hunt are especially wonderful. I would gladly have accepted a sequel featuring just these characters.
The Story: 5/10
It’s one we’ve seen before. It’s essentially Three Amigos (which is sort of a spoof on The Magnificent Seven, which is a remake of Seven Samurai). And, the next year, Galaxy Quest would do the same thing. Actors (or circus performers) mistakenly being hired to defend a small country town (or planet, or island) besieged by a gang of villains. We know the story. It’s plotted well and it’s entertaining, but it doesn’t feature the same originality of Pixar’s later projects.
The Humor: 8/10
When it’s funny, it’s very funny. Like I said, I loooove the circus troupe and they feature in some of the most hysterical scenes, including the giggle-inducing Flaming Death sequence. I also need to give a nod to the “outtakes” from the end credits which still make me laugh out loud (though the DVD release has all the outtakes as a special feature, only including a few in the end credits…so that’s sad).
The Heart: 5/10
The central conflicts of the characters (fitting in and finding a purpose) are great, but this is more of a “fun” movie than a “deep” movie. The message is a bit trite and the character’s arcs are fairly predictable. Compared to later Pixar projects, this one is much simpler and clearly aimed at much younger audiences.

Overall Score: 32 = 64/100

And finally…

Toy Story 2 (1999)

Overview: After Woody is stolen by a greedy toy collector (Wayne Knight), it’s up to Buzz Lightyear and pals to rescue him. Little does Woody know, he’s a collector’s item, a piece of memorabilia for a vintage children’s show that went off the air in the 50’s. After being reunited with his fellow “Woody’s Roundup” toys (Kelsey Grammar and Joan Cusack), he must decide which family he feels more at home with.
The Concept: 9/10
The central issue of toys as toys vs toys as collector items to be displayed is wonderful. I like how the promise of immortality is genuinely tempting to Woody, but his love for Andy and his friends wins out. I do like the idea that, while Al treats his toys with extreme care, he’s just as bad as Sid because he’s not using the toys for what they were actually designed: to be played with.
The Characters: 10/10
Now that the Buzz/Woody bromance is well-established, the writers could have been a bit more lazy with the characters, but they really did a beautiful job showing how devoted the two of them are to each other. And the new characters, especially Jessie, are just marvelous. Jessie’s backstory and her resultant mistrust of children and fear of rejection really makes her the emotional core of the movie. I also love Kelsey Grammar in a villainous role. He’s a layered villain and, even though he’s pretty focused on one goal and one goal only, you do understand a lot of his angst. I also must express my undying love for Mrs. Potato Head. She’s just marvelous.
The Story: 8/10
This one uses another common template, the “rescue the kidnapped friend” trope, but they really do a marvelous job, especially when Woody’s own indecision and temporary loss of faith in Andy factor into the main conflict. This one is much bigger and moves much faster than the original movie, and it’s paced really well. I also love Buzz’s side plot, encountering another like himself and basically playing the Woody role to this new Buzz.
The Humor: 7/10
This one takes a while to get into its comedic groove. After the delightful Buzz Lightyear prologue, it starts out a bit darker with Woody getting damaged, shelved, and then haunted by dreams of being discarded. After that, he’s kidnapped and there aren’t many comedic opportunities until Buzz leads his friends into the toy store. I adore the scene beforehand where they’re crossing the street in traffic cones and cause a horrific pileup in the process. The rest of the film’s humor comes from a number of film homages. It’s certainly funny, but not as quotable as the first Toy Story.
The Heart: 10/10
This one’s more serious tone allows it to get into some more complex emotions. As I mentioned before, Jessie really is the movie’s core. Although both she and Stinky Pete are angry at being rejected, she actually wants to be a toy and find a girl like the one who rejected her once she grew up, even though she mistrusts kids. Also, I think Woody’s main dilemma is well written. He can either live forever, admired and respected or he can take a chance that Andy will play with him for a bit longer. It’s beautiful.

Overall Score: 44 = 88/100

That means that the current standings are as follows:

1. Toy Story 2 (88)
2. Toy Story (86)
3. A Bug’s Life (64)

That’s all for this week, folks! Next week, we’ll be taking a break as I look at Marvel’s Ant-Man, and then Pixar by Numbers will return the following week!