Toy Story 3 is coming out today. 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 part 3 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!
#3 UP (2009)
Director: Pete Doctor, Bob Peterson
John Ratzenberger Role: Tom the Construction Foreman
Now, we’re gonna walk to the falls quickly and quietly with no rap music or flash dancing.
The newest film on the list, UP is one of those truly special films that seem to tell a story for adults that happens to be appropriate for children. It’s a rare film that can do that, but this one does it and with bright exuberance at that.
Carl Fredrickson is a grumpy old man. A really grumpy old man. All he wants to do is live alone in the house full of a lifetime of memories, but a development group is forcing him out of his home. Years before, Carl’s wife had the crazy dream to bring their house to Paradise Falls in South America. So, the day he’s supposed to leave for the retirement home, Carl ties thousands of balloons to his house and flies to Paradise Falls.
First of all, this is a colorful, lovely film. When Carl first gets the house in the air, he passes by an apartment building. We see a girl playing in her room, the walls are suddenly filled with the colors from the balloons and we get to see such childlike wonder as the little girl discovers the house flying right by her window. The soundtrack really helps with this scene in particular because it almost sways along with the house itself.
The film became a classic in the first 12 minutes of the movie, when we get to see a young Carl meet his future wife Ellie (who as a kid reminds me so, so much of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, right down to the overalls). We then get a flash forward as we see them marry and live together in Ellie’s dream house. Not everything is easy and in the instrumental montage, the audience is shown truly heartbreaking moments from their lives together along with the sweet moments. When Ellie does pass away and Carl is left alone, we not only empathize with him, but understand why he is such a gruff person in his old age. It could honestly have been a short film on it’s own. It was just beautifully done and really sets the audience up for the rest of the film.
This is Ed Asner’s movie. I have been his fan since his days on the 90’s cartoon Freakazoid (he was the best part of the show) and he does such a great job here. He has such great comedic timing, and he is great with Jordan Nagai, who plays Wilderness Explorer scout Russell who walked onto Carl’s porch right before it got off the ground. The brilliant Christopher Plummer plays Charles Muntz, a legendary explorer Carl and Ellie idolized as children. I was most impressed by the character of Dug, a dog who can talk through a communication collar, thanks to Muntz. When I first heard about the character, I really didn’t think I would like him. What makes Dug really work is that he talks like a dog would think. My parents have a yorkie and I could totally hear her in Dug (“I have just met you and I love you!”). Co-director Bob Peterson does the voice and it’s just spot on. The scenes with Dug and the other talking dogs are some of the funniest parts of the movie, hands down. But I also love the design of Kevin, the rare flightless bird Russell and Carl discover on Paradise Falls.
Like Finding Nemo, UP deals with death in a way that is comprehensible to children but doesn’t talk down to those children. So much of the film is about Carl regretting not going on that grand adventure with Ellie. And so much of his life after Ellie’s death has been about him not letting himself mourn. When he finally makes it to South America, all that he cares about is getting that house on the falls. It’s only towards the end of the film that he realizes that more than anything, Ellie just wanted him to keep living a happy, full life (and I cry every time). It had nothing to do with the house at all. In the end, Carl say,”You know, it’s just a house.” While kids might not consciously see it, UP teaches people of all ages an important lesson about death and letting yourself mourn and live.
#2 Wall-E (2008)
Director: Andrew Stanton
John Ratzenberger Role: John the Human
I don’t want to survive. I want to live.
Back in 2008, friend and internet celebrity Luke McKay made this statement about Wall-E, “If you’re a new couple and go to see that movie and don’t absolutely fall in love by the end of it, then you have no soul.” This was Pixar’s first attempt at focusing a film around a love story. And it so works.
It’s the year 2805 and Earth isn’t in very good shape. Human civilization left the planet hundreds of years ago when it got too filled with trash. One lone robot named Wall-E has been kept on to compact and organize the trash left behind and somewhere along the way, he developed a personality. One fateful day, a new, more advanced robot named EVE comes to Earth and Wall-E is smitten. When her job is done and a ship comes to bring her back to outer space, Wall-E holds on for dear life and goes on an adventure to be with the girl he loves.
Most people praise the movie for the first half and they are right to do so! Even now, it’s the most realistic setting for a Pixar film. There are still moments where I have to remind myself it was animated. Of course, the other great thing about the first half of the film is getting to see Wall-E be Wall-E. Needless to say, he’s adorable and lovable. And he loves Hello Dolly, which totally goes with his personality and has connections to the whole story (his dream of holding hands with EVE is so sweet). We get to meet his pet cockroach (who might be the only cute representation of a cockroach). As wonderful as Wall-E is, the audience can see why he is so smitten with EVE. Funny as it sounds, EVE is a strong female character and a good foil for our clumsy hero.
Many will disagree with me, but I stand firm on my belief that the last half of Wall-E is just as good as the first, but in a different way. After Wall-E gets into space, we get to see the Axiom, where humanity has been spending the last several hundred years in luxury. Unfortunately, the humans get so used to being pampered that they lose touch with their own humanity. It’s only when Wall-E has brief interactions with three such humans (played by Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy and Jeff Garlin) that we see the humans start to remember what it was like to really live. The three have a real innocence to them as they discover what it is to be really happy again. But Wall-E inspires fellow robots as well, including the clean-freak mini-robot MO and the typing robot who Wall-E teaches to wave.
The ending is truly thrilling. I honestly didn’t know what would happen the first time I saw it (I was flat out sobbing). You want Wall-E to be OK. The fairytale-like “kiss” just made me smile. And the exquisite artistic epilogue lets us know that humanity can be redeemed. It’s an optimistic ending to a lovely love story.
#1 Toy Story (1995)
Directors: John Lasseter, Pete Doctor
John Ratzenberger: Hamm
What if Andy gets another dinosaur? A mean one? I just don’t think I can take that kind of rejection!
I was 10 years old when this movie came out. I don’t think I was expecting it to be as good as it was. It was visually strong, but the genius of the film goes down deeper than it’s technical achievements. Toy Story is truly a great story.
Andy’s toys are alive, even if he doesn’t know it. And most of them (except Woody the Cowboy, Andy’s favorite) are worried his birthday party will bring a toy that will replace them. But when Andy gets Buzz Lightyear, the coolest action figure around, the only toy that’s worried is Woody. When both Woody and Buzz get lost, they have to work together to get back to Andy before the big move.
There are so, so many great moments in the film and the majority of them stem from the characters. Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, Jim Varney and Ratzenberger are all wonderful as Mr. Potato Head, Rex the Dinosaur, Slinky Dog and Hamm the Piggy Bank. So many of the best lines in the film come from these four characters (including the one at the top from Rex). Tom Hanks is great as the frustrated protagonist. His exasperation is so much fun to watch. But the real knockout voicework comes from Tim Allen as the delusional space toy. Allen gets completely into the role and that’s what make it work. When he finally understands that he isn’t a space ranger, his mental and emotional breakdown is guilty fun to watch (“I am Mrs… Nesbit!”). The real cornerstone of this film is seeing the relationship between Woody and Buzz evolve once they get lost.
I always loved the way the filmmakers thought about this world. Like Finding Nemo, the main villain is just a kid. He’s a kid with violent tendencies, but still a kid. The toys in the claw machine worship the claw as their all-knowing god. And when Andy’s mom says, “See, they were in the car all along,” well, she has no idea, does she?
Some of my readers might ask why I put this at the top. It’s not the most complex story of the 10 on this list and the animation isn’t as strong as the newer films. But I have a very specific reason for putting this at #1 for me personally. I distinctly remember leaving the theater in November of 1995 with my eyes shining. I was 10 and just beaming from this film. I remember talking my mom’s head off on how much I loved the film. Looking back on that day, I’ve realized that was the day I learned to love movies. I can’t thank Toy Story enough for that.