Toy Story 3 is coming out in less than a week. It will mark the 11th Pixar film. That’s 11 films in 15 years, which is impressive considering the high standards the company lives up to. In my very humble opinion, John Lasseter and team have never made a bad movie. Which is why when I decided to rank the top Pixar films, I realized I couldn’t leave any out. So, here is the part 2 of my 3 part review of the 10 previous Pixar films. NOTE: I know the large majority of readers will disagree with my rankings in one way or another. In fact, I am still torn about some of my choices (especially the ones in the middle). Feel free to comment (respectfully) below!
# 6 Toy Story 2 (1999)
Directors: John Lasseter, Ash Brandon, Lee Unkrich
John Ratzenberger Role: Hamm
“Come on, fellas. Did Woody give up when Sid had me strapped to a rocket?”
“No. And did he give up when you threw him out of the back of that moving van?”
“Oh, you had to bring that up!”
It took me a while to warm up to the first (and until now, only) sequel from Pixar. Maybe it was because I had seen Phantom Menace just a few months earlier and my trust in film franchises was severely shaken, but I was ready for this to be the movie where Pixar officially dropped the ball. Even after I saw it in theaters, I thought it was good, but wasn’t in love with it. It took a few more times before I really appreciated it. As an adult, I consider it one of the best sequels ever made (pretty good considering it started out as C-Grade direct-to-video Disney garbage that Lassetar and crew rescued from mediocrity).
While trying to save a fellow toy from the dreaded yard sale, Woody (Tom Hanks) is stolen by a diehard toy collector. Buzz (Tim Allen) recruits some of his fellow toys and leads a rescue team to find Woody before Andy comes back from summer camp. But Woody discovers that he was once a national phenomenon (the likes of the Lone Ranger) back in the 1950s. Will he choose to be the headlining item in a Japanese toy museum or go back to Andy, who is slowly growing up and won’t need him one day?
This was Pixar’s 3rd film and it was the first to deal with a tough issue like change. Woody meets cowgirl doll Jesse (Joan Cusack), who was rejected and thrown away by her original owner once she reached her teens. Woody can’t be sure that his fate won’t mirror Jesse’s. While Woody does choose to go back to Andy, the ending is bittersweet and as Woody says, “It’ll be fun while it lasts.” There is no easy answer here, but Pixar films aren’t fond of taking the easy way out, are they? The sequel ends with us smiling, but wishing we knew what happens next (which is why I’m so glad Toy Story 3 is only a few days away now!). And we get to see how far Buzz is willing to go to rescue his friend. You get a better sense of their relationship and it feels like a strong one.
Besides Jesse, there are some great new characters in the sequel. They are not only funny, but completely work within the Toy Story universe. Seinfeld’s Estelle Harris is so perfect for Mrs. Potato Head. Her character was mentioned at the very end of the first film and it was so delightful to see Mr. Potato Head interact with her. Her chemistry with Don Rickles is a delight. I’m almost always a sucker for non-talking adorable animals in Pixar and Bullseye the horse is one of those I just love, partly because he acts more like a dog than a horse. Speaking of dogs, another hint from Toy Story was that Andy got a puppy. I always thought it was great that Woody not only gets along with the dog, but is also better at teaching him tricks than Andy is! I don’t think there was anyone else who could play Al the toy collector than Wayne Knight, the master of obese nerd roles in the 1990s. Sure, this is completely in his acting comfort zone, but he does the character right, which means that he is obnoxious and greedy. And Kelsey Grammar channels Sideshow Bob to a T with his role as Stinky Pete, the funny looking prospector doll with a surprisingly large amount of dignity. And Jodi Benson (best known as Ariel in The Little Mermaid) is phenomenal as the always cheery Barbie doll.
There are also some great things from the original that were brought back. We get to see the Pizza Planet truck again during the big chase scene (where Hamm says my favorite line of the film: “Oh, I seriously doubt he’s getting this kind of milage.”). They found a way for the green aliens to make an appearance and it’s fairly effortless. Their “adoption” by Mrs. Potato Head at the end was such a great surprise twist (I still laugh so hard when they hug Mr. Potato Head and call him “Daaaaddy”). And I loved the return of “Delusional Buzz”, this time in the form of a Buzz action figure found at the toy collector’s store. While we’ll always love the “real” Buzz, there is something profoundly funny about Tim Allen’s voice when he’s playing serious that makes it that much better, especially when real Buzz says, “Tell me I wasn’t this delusional.” On top of all that, we finally get to see Emperor Zurg, who is apparently just as delusional about the world around him as “Buzz” is. The epic homage to Star Wars just makes it that much better.
Director: Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava
John Ratzenberger Role: Mustafa the Waiter
If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff.
I have a good amount of bias when it comes to this film. After all, I’m finishing up my degree in the culinary arts, but even before I went to school for cooking, I loved to cook and loved to eat. So this film was right up my alley. But you know what? Even without my love of cooking, this movie would still be high on this list because it’s a great movie.
Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a rat living with his clan in rural France, but he dreams of cooking great food. When he is separated from his family, Remy finds his way to Paris, right into the restaurant of his favorite chef. When the new washboy discovers Remy’s amazing talent for cooking, the two work together to make their dreams come true.
I’m a fan of Oswalt’s stand-up, but man, he blew it out of the park in this surprisingly dramatic role. Remy’s scene where he finally faces his father (played by the rough-voiced Brian Dennehy) is especially powerful. I was so very glad that, while Remy was the narrator, the humans couldn’t understand him or any of the other rats. It’s a pet peeve of mine when animals can talk in films like that. Besides, Remy’s silent reactions were actually funnier than any dialogue they could have given him.
Animator Lou Romano was sweet as washboy-turned-chef Linguini, Lord of the Ring’s Ian Holm is squirmy as the greedy head chef, Will Arnett has a small, but hilarious role as a German sous chef with a dark past (“I defrauded a major corporation./I robbed the second-largest bank in France using only a ball-point pen./I created a hole in the ozone layer over Avignon./I killed a man… with this thumb.”) and Janeane Garofalo plays Collette, a promising chef who must deal with patriarchy in the kitchen. But I especially loved Brad Garrett as Gusteau, the ghost of the restaurant’s original owner who guides Remy through his journey as a chef.
Now that I’ve experienced the food industry first hand, I can appreciate the film for showing audiences what a professional kitchen is like (granted, there is much more swearing in a real kitchen, but the rest is on point). I also love how your other senses come alive when you watch this movie. But the real greatness in Ratatouille is from the genuine emotion. Even if you don’t have a great love for food like Remy, you can’t help but be swept up by his passion for his dreams. And the final speech made by the harsh critic Anton Ego (played masterfully by Peter O’Toole) brings tears to my eyes. The truth is, this film was my inspiration for going to culinary school. I thought, if he could do it, why not me? So thank you, Mr. Bird.
# 4 The Incredibles (2004)
Director: Brad Bird
John Ratzenberger Role: The Underminer
“The important thing is that your mother and I are a team, united against the forces of…” “Pigheadedness?”
“I was gonna say evil.”
This was the first Pixar film directed and written by someone outside of the company, but man, it’s one of the great family films of all time. Brad Bird (long-time creative consultant for The Simpsons and director of The Iron Giant) made a rich, engrossing and really funny film that works on many different levels.
Because of a string of lawsuits involving injured bystanders, the government outlaws all superhero work. This is very bad news for the newly married Bob and Helen Parr (aka the super-powered Mr. Incredible and Elasticgirl) who are not only good at what they do, but love what they do. A decade or so later, Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter) are just normal citizens… except that they have to hide their impressive superpowers and two of their three kids have powers, too. Bob has an incredibly depressing job at an insurance company and feels as if his life means little nowadays, so when he is given the chance to do some sidework using his powers, it’s no wonder he jumps at the possibility of feeling truly alive again. But his new benefactor is not what he seems. Bob gets in trouble and it’s up to his wife and kids to come save him.
The characters make this film. If they weren’t so perfectly written, this film just wouldn’t have worked. Period. Any audience member can relate to the stuggles of at least one member of the Parr family. Bob feels like his best days are behind him and longs to feel alive again. Helen worries that her husband is pulling away, perhaps even having an affair (her suspicions are subtly mentioned so that the adults in the audience pick it up more than the kids). Preteen Violet just wants to be normal and uses her powers of invisibility to literally blend in at school. Grade schooler Dash just wants to be able to play sports, but has to hide his super speed, so he uses pranks as an outlet. By the end of the film, we do feel like each member of the family has grown, even baby Jack-Jack (whose lack of super powers isn’t so… lacking). Even though Bob realizing what’s really important to him is a key moment, each of family members’ individual struggles are dealt with in a very natural, organic way while still telling the overall story. Very few writers can pull that off, just another reason why I admire this company and Bird so very much.
On another level, it is really action packed. There are definitely moments that remind me of the best Bond Films (the soundtrack helps with that, too) and one of my favorite scenes is Dash being chased by henchmen through the island. I’m not someone who often gets inspired by action scenes, but that one has just the right balance between breathtaking beauty and excitement. Each of the members of the family get to show their immense talent (I especially love seeing Elasticgirl in action. She can still kick some bad guy butt, even after three kids!). We get to see a hint of what the family would do as a super team and it was pretty awesome to see them coordinating their attacks on henchmen.
Besides the family, there is some great acting from the supporting cast. Like in Mallrats, Jason Lee once again plays a fanboy, but this time a fanboy turned vengeful antagonist named Syndrome (his performance as Brody is even referenced toward the beginning of the film). Wallace Shawn (the voice of Rex in the Toy Story movies) channels his performance in The Princess Bride with his role as Bob’s soul draining boss. Samuel L. Jackson is absolutely terrific as Lucius (aka Frozone), Bob’s best friend and fellow ex-superhero. He and Nelson aren’t in too many scenes together, but their chemistry is perfect for the relationship between their characters.
If you’ve only seen the film in theaters, I highly suggest getting the DVD. Namely, I suggest getting the DVD and watching two different extras. One is a short explaining just what happened to baby Jack-Jack while his family was gone. There’s no way it could have fit in the film without messing up the pacing, but the short tells you so much about the little baby than you were ever told in the feature film. The second is a faux 60s Saturday morning cartoon about the adventures of Mr. Incredible, Frozone and “Mister Skipperdoo”, a bunny that apparently aids the duo in their fight against Communists. The short itself is funny (partially because the animation is really awful on purpose), but it’s so much better when you listen to it with commentary by Craig T. Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson as their characters. Frozone goes on a rant about it being racist and storms out, while Mr. Incredible tries to rationalize the existence of Mister Skipperdoo.
Before I forget, a tip of the hat must go to Brad Bird himself, who took on the voice of Edna Mode, fashion designer to superheroes. She is one of the most inspired characters in the whole film and a lot of that has to do with Bird’s performance. And her speech why she refuses to use capes is one of the highlights of the film, by far.
Your analysis is rich and spot on as always!
I especially enjoyed your coverage of Ratatouille, one of my favorites!