Possibly the finest children’s film every made because it is actually a ‘parents’ film. A perfect balance of emotion, comedy and action. It is visually rich and realistic without the ‘cotton candy’ color scheme used in A Bug’s Life and Monster’s Inc.
This classic established a new paradigm and is the benchmark for every other film created by Pixar. Everything is spot on, from the plot and characters to the music and acting (and great film shorts and theme park ride). It’s only shortcoming is that the 90’s era CGI graphics are starting to show their age, especially when watching the film back-to-back against it’s sequel Toy Story 3.
Tangled (tied with The Incredibles)
My favorite Disney ‘Princess’ film is equal parts funny and cute. While it lacks a blockbuster, song such as Frozen’s “Let it Go”, it’s musical numbers are Menkin at his best. Mandy Moore was a wonderful Repunzel but I was really surprised by Zach Levy’s singing. Their romantic duet “I See the Light” ranks up there with Aladin’s “Whole New World”.
This movie ties with Tangled in my personal favorites. It’s really an adult film that happens to be animated. This is both one of the best Super Hero films and one of the best Bond Films rolled in one. I love the visual Mid-Century modern visual style and Brad Byrd’s storytelling, plot and truly engaging characters (and his scene stealing voice-acting as Edna Mode). You can tell he and the animators love their subject matter.
After seeing this film for a second time, it really moved up on my list owing to the deft mix of comedy, romance and music. Filled with Broadway worthy show stopper tunes such as “Let It Go“, and my favorites “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” and “For the First Time in Forever“. I particularly liked the surprise character reveal and the twist on the typical Disney Pricness tropes.
Toy Story 3
It’s a much more mature film with a poignant ending that really speaks to the end of childhood. It’s darker themes and truly villainous Lots-O made this film as strong as the original on different levels. My only regret is that this film came a few months before Tangled and really overshadowed it at the Oscar’s (stealing the Best Original Song award IMHO)
A true tour-de-force in visual storytelling. The first words aren’t uttered until 22 minutes into the film. Andrew Stanton deserves much greater recognition for his direction on this film for it’s ability to illicit in the viewer such strong empathy for a cast of well… machines.
For some reason this films shows up lower on the list for many people but I found it throughly entertaining when we saw it originally (before we had kids). It bears up after repeated viewings with kids (my daughter seems to particularly request this film on car trips). I wonder why Disney didn’t make a theme park ride out of the climactic door conveyor belt chase sequence.
The opening 15 minutes made me cry (the only other animated film that did that to me was the ending of Studio Ghibli’s Grave of Fireflies). A truly original story with unexpected turns. A delight as much as a heart-jerker.
To be fair the films above this point are pretty much a tie for 2nd place. The quality and repeat viewability are on par. The following films are great, just not “Classics.”
Toy Story 2
While not quite as good as the original, it still introduces some great new characters in Jessie and Stinky Peet. Having seen this film multiple times with my kids, I can attest to its likability after repeated viewings.
A Bug’s Life
Pixars sophmore effort doesn’t quite match up to any of the Toy Story trilogy but thankfully does holds up to repeat viewing. One wonders how much better this film would have been if the Pixar hadn’t been forced into story changes by Katzenburg’s Dreamworks stealing ideas and releasing Antz to spite Disney. I learned about these studio shenanigans from an inside source, the movie’s storyboard artist Joe Ranft, who was also the voice of Heimlich the caterpiller.
A very under-appreciated film. A much more adult and poignant film in the realistic vein of the Disney short Paperman. It deserves a second viewing.
Visually and technically stunning but missing something. Perhaps its setup takes too long to get to the conflict/curse but something in the overall pacing and balance were off.
THE JUST OK
The following films just aren’t on the same league as the preceding films. They try hard and may have some great characters, scenes or elements but for whatever reason, don’t come together.
Wreck It Ralph
This should have been renamed “Sugar Rush” because the movie’s main story seemed to more about Vanellope von Schweetz. It seemed like a mash up of 3 different films (including Matrix 3) rather than one good one. This movie had so much potential with all the video game characters. I really wanted to like this film but just couldn’t. A Q-Bert movie have been a much more interesting.
This was the first film released after the Disney bought Pixar and John Lassiter took over. John Travolta and Miley Cyrus are the main voice actors. Maybe there’s a reason I people don’t remember it. Not a bad film. Not a great one either.
And the last 5 are just disappointing on more than one level. They are direct-to-video quality films, shined up with big production budgets.
The Princess and the Frog
Technically this is not a Disney/Pixar film but like Tangled and Bolt, started as a Disney Animation film with Pixar’s John Lasseter and Edwin Catmull taking over creative leadership late in this film’s development. It tried to follow the winning formula of The Little Mermaid with an added twist. But the musical numbers were not particularly memorable and the dialogue and jokes were lame. It felt a bit like watching Tylor Perry’s Madea Makes a Disney Cartoon.
The trailer/teaser was funnier than the movie, which was a disappointingly predictable nerds versus jocks film.
Cars makes a better franchise/universe than a film. Perhaps it was Owen Wilson’s unsympathetic character, Paul Newman’s painfully slow read or just a lack of a real protagonist to create a strong story arc? The best part of this movie are the secondary characters and scenery. It’s a sad truth but the short sequels, Mater’s Tall Tales are much more compelling than this full length movie. I look forward to visiting Car’s Land at Disney. Another viewing of this film makes me cringe.
The Cars spin off movie, Planes which doesn’t quite feel like it has the grand scope of feature film. Dane Cook voice acting sounds like he’s trying to hard to be likable. Like Dusty, this movie fails to get very far off the ground. Turbo, the Dreamworks film released around the same time, did a much better job with nearly the same plot.
For all the reasons that Cars was lame, this movie is worse. It’s like a bad 80’s sequel simply trying to make a fast buck on the bones of it’s predecessor, like Splash 2, Revenge of the Nerds 2, Party at Bernie’s 2.