Title: Luca Release Date: June 18, 2021 Director: Enrico Casarosa Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios Summary/Review:
Pixar’s latest release is part Pixar formula, part innovation. The story is a coming-of-age comedy mixed with fantasy elements that is similar to other Pixar films. The animation veers away from the more photo-realistic style of recent Pixar releases with more cartoonish character designs and a fairy tale rendering of the Italian Riveria. The biggest disappointment is that Disney chose not to give this movie a wide theatrical release because I expect it looks amazing on the big screen.
The story centers on Luca (Jacob Tremblay), a young teenaged sea monster who is curious about the human “land monsters” and their artifacts that fall into the sea, but his strict parents warn him to keep away. Before he can get all moody and start singing “Part of Your World,” he is accidentally scooped up onto land by Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), an older teenage sea monster who has made a home for himself in an abandoned tower. The sea monsters take human form on dry land, the transformations being a great visual effect used throughout the movie.
The boys bond in friendship, and dreaming of exploring the world on a Vespa, they go to the local town. They meet Giulia (Emma Berman), an adventurous teenaged girl and misfit, and the trio work together to earn prize money in a triathlon of swimming, past eating, and bicycling. The movie tells a story of young people forming friendships and finding a place where they feel like where they belong, while dealing with bullying and prejudice. As you can expect from Pixar, there’s a lot of humor, charm, wonder, and tear-inducing heartfelt moments.
The past three years I’ve been working to watch every animated feature film released by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios. With that project complete as of December, I have now put together a ranking of these movies for your review.
This list includes all 58 animated films from Walt Disney Animation Studios and all 23 animated films from Pixar Animation Studios released theatrically to date. It does not include:
hybrid live-action and animation (ex. Mary Poppins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit)
animated features made as partnerships with other studios (ex. The Nightmare Before Christmas, Studio Ghibli films)
direct-to-video/direct-to-streaming/tv movies (ex. Disneytoon Studios productions)
This list is certain to court controversy, so share your feelings (politely) in the comments. If your favorite movie appears to be ranked too low for your tastes, keep in mind that I’d recommend any of the top 70 movies as being worth watching, and at least the top 50 movies can be considered classics. So there’s a lot of quality here, despite the rankings.
Here’s the ranking. The title of each movie will link to my review.
Title: Soul Release Date: December 25, 2020 Director: Pete Docter & Kemp Powers Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios Summary/Review:
The latest film from Pixar continues the studio’s exploration of the liminal space between life and other planes of existence begun in Coco and Onward. The movie is the story of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a jazz musician who works as a high school band teacher in New York City to pay the bills until he gets his big break. On the very day that break comes, the opportunity to back jazz star Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) at a gig, he falls to his death. Finding himself as a soul heading up on an escalator to “the great beyond,” he runs away and ends up in “the great before,” where souls are prepared for their life on earth.
Through a series of misadventures, Joe ends up as a mentor for the recalcitrant Soul 22 (Tina Fey). Further misadventures result in Joe and Soul 22 on Earth, although not in the way they expected. This portion of the film has some hilarious hijinks but also the opportunity for Joe and Soul 22 to teach one another about the meaning of life. As you might expect from a Pixar film, the finale is tear-inducing in its honesty and beauty.
The movie has been criticized for its depiction of Black man not actually inhabiting his body for most of the movie (and that a white woman occupies that Black body for a good portion of the film). This criticism should not be overlooked especially considering that this is the first Pixar film ever with a Black lead character, but it also does not mean that one cannot enjoy this movie. Soul is a thoughtful, funny, and inspirational film that is a small story on the surface but it resonates deeply.
Title: Finding Dory Release Date: June 17, 2016 Director: Andrew Stanton Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios Summary/Review:
I know I watched Finding Dory, but for some reason I didn’t review it on this blog. Watching it again there were big parts of the movie I didn’t remember at all (I know, ironic, considering Dory’s condition) especially the conclusion when Hank the Septopus (Ed O’Neill) is driving a truck and crashes while a Louis Armstrong tune. Did I not review this movie because I didn’t finish watching this movie? Did I fall asleep? I hope not.
Anyhow, I’m glad I got to rewatch this sweet gem. Dory (Ellen Degeneres) works through her short-term memory loss by trying to find her parents. The search leads her the fictional Marine Life Institute on the coast of California. There she meets and is helped by cranky Hank, Destiny the Whale Shark (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey the Beluga Whale (Ty Burrell). Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) follow along and try to catch up to their friend Dory, learning to be more like Dory in the process. And we meet Dory’s parents, voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy.
This movie is more of spinoff than a sequel to Finding Nemo, and it makes good use of the undersea universe to tell a fresh, funny, and heartwarming story. I especially like that Dory and most of the animals at the Marine Life Institute have a disability and the movie serves as a metaphor of how people live good lives with disabilities without being heavy-handed about it.
Title: Cars 3 Release Date: June 16, 2017 Director: Brian Fee Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios Summary/Review:
Cars 3 basically pretends that Cars 2 never happened and goes back to the well with a story that follows up on Cars. Much of the movie is basically the Rocky III of the Cars franchise. Lightning McQueen even races on a beach and there’s a character named Cal (not Carl) Weathers. After many years of success, Lightning finds himself challenged by fast and confident young cars like Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). After losing several races and crashing, Lightning must train to be competitive again, hoping to finish his racing career on his own terms.
Initially, Lightning trains in a high-tech facility with an energetic young trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). Failing to adapt to the virtual techniques, Lightning and Cruz head out to train on real dirt, much as his late mentor Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) taught him. (I do wonder how a car “dies” in this universe, although it does make for another Rocky III parallel with Rocky losing his mentor Mickey). Eventually, Lightning and Cruz end up training with Doc Hudson’s former crew chief Smokey (Chris Cooper).
There’s a big twist in the final act that I won’t spoil (that is both corny and satisfying) that keeps the movie from being a total Rocky III remake. The animation has become more realistic since 2006 so the racing scenes are very intense. There’s also a lot of good humor, especially when Lightning and Cruz end up in a demolition derby. I’m not sure if Cars is worthy of three whole movies, but this one like it’s predecessors is entertaining enough.
Title: Cars Release Date: June 9, 2006 Director: John Lasseter Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios Summary/Review:
I watched Cars multiple times when my children were younger, but for some reason never wrote a review. Now that I’m trying to review every Disney and Pixar animated movie, I feel resentful that I didn’t write a review because now I have to watch the movie again. And after all, this is the movie where the magic of the Pixar formula became just too much formulaic. Isn’t the cocky racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) learning he needs to be part of a team to succeed just too predictable a plot? And a world where all animals have been replaced by sentient motor vehicles opens up so many uncomfortable questions. Besides, in real life, I really detest cars.
Well, I guess it was good that I rewatched the movie because it’s not as bad as all that. It’s actually rather charming. And it was good to hear voices of so many actors who died not long after this movie was released – Paul Newman, George Carlin, Tom Magliozzi, and Joe Ranft. This does seem to appeal to a younger crowd than a typical Pixar movie – because racecars – but then again, there are a lot more actual racecar drivers in the voice cast than I realized too. So, Cars is no classic, and may be a weak entry by Pixar standards, but it is entertaining enough.
Title: The Pixar Story Release Date: August 28, 2007 Director: Leslie Iwerks Production Company: Leslie Iwerks Productions Summary/Review:
This documentary tells this history of Pixar Animation Studios from the 1980s when the company was spun off from Lucasfilm, through their first seven feature films, and acquisition by Disney in 2006. Director Leslie Iwerks, who would later work on The Imagineering Story, takes a similar approach where she’s clearly showing a positive, company line but honest enough to show some of the less glamorous struggles.
The three key figures of Pixar that this documentary focuses on are Edwin Catmull, the company president with the computer science knowledge, John Lasseter, the animator and visionary, and Steve Jobs, the investor. Pixar staff, actors from Pixar movies, and industry figures like George Lucas and Roy E. Disney are interview subjects. I wish the movie had more detail on how they produced 3-D animation with computers, although I suppose it would be difficult to find an understandable way to explain the process in an entertaining way.
The movie inadvertently reveals that the Pixar studios employ almost entirely men, something I believe they’ve been trying to address in the year since this movie was made. It’s also hard to watch how the movie lionizes Lassetter when one is aware of later revelations of his sexual misconduct at Pixar. But if you’re a Pixar fan like me it is worth watching this movie for a behind-the-scenes peek. This movie would make a good double feature with Waking Sleeping Beauty, which covers Walt Disney Animation at relatively the same time.
Title: Onward Release Date: March 6, 2020 Director: Dan Scanlon Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios Summary/Review:
I was looking forward to seeing this movie when it came out last month, but suddenly we weren’t allowed to go out to the movies. Thankfully, the Disney company decided to release it to Disney+ this weekend.
Onward is set in alternate universe of mythical creatures – elves, centaurs, unicorns, cyclops, pixies, fauns, and the like – where long ago beings determined that technology was easier than magic and settled into a quotidian suburban lifestyle. Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) is an elf celebrating his 16th birthday. He never knew his father, Wilden (Kyle Bornheimer), who died of an illness just before he was born and has been raised by his mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and his older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt). Barley is an enthusiast for Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games which he believes are based on factual historic records.
Laurel presents the boys with a gift from their father that she’s held until they were both 16. It is a magic staff with a gem and a spell that will bring Wilden back for one day so he can see his sons. While trying to cast the spell, Ian gets distracted and is only able to generate his father’s legs before the gem disintegrates. Barley determines that they must perform a quest to find another gem before the 24 hours expire.
I won’t go into the details and be all spoilery for a brand-new movie, but Ian and Barley indeed go on their quest. As should be expected from a Pixar movie there are many clever gags drawn from mythical creatures, and the ultimate point of this journey is that Ian and Barley will discover more about themselves and one another. And, of course, there are heartrending moments of familial love, so be prepared to weep.
Title: A Bug’s Life Release Date: November 20, 1998 Director: John Lasseter Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios Summary/Review:
Pixar’s follow-up to Toy Story shows all the signs of sophomore slump. Unlike Toy’s Story’s timeless humor, A Bug’s Life is a product of the 1990s, relying on the irreverent and referential humor that was “edgy” at the time but feels tired now (not unlike The Emperor’s New Groove). The movie has it’s moments but it lacks the magic of most Pixar films.
The story focuses on a colony of ants who are forced to gather food as tribute to bully grasshoppers. An inventive but clumsy ant named Flik (Dave Foley of Kids in the Hall fame) proposes finding bigger bugs who can protect the ants from the grasshoppers (very much the premise of Seven Samurai). Flik inadvertently hires a team of circus performers (from a “flea circus,” of course) instead. Nevertheless, the ants and the ants and the circus performers team up to fight the grasshoppers in a fairly predictable manner.
The humor is slight and repetitive. For example, a lady bug voiced by Dennis Leary gets angry every time he is mistaken for a female, because misgendering is apparently hilarious. It’s clear why Toy Story can still provide successful sequels 25 years after its debut, but A Bug’s Life was never fodder for sequels. I suppose we can be thankful for it working out the, er, “bugs” in the Pixar formula leading to the string of greatness in ensuing films.
I remember when A Bug’s Life came out it went head-to-head with the DreamWorks animation film Antz. The latter cast Woody Allen in a family film despite allegations of his sexual abuse of his daughter Dylan Farrow. Not to be outdone, A Bug’s Life was directed by John Lassetter who lost his position at Disney due to sexual misconduct and stars Kevin Spacey as the chief bully Hopper, who has his own litany of sexual assault accusations. Somehow these men found a way to make movies about insects even creepier.
Title: The Good Dinosaur Release Date: November 25, 2015 Director: Peter Sohn Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios Summary/Review:
In 2015, I had dinosaur-loving children aged 8 and 4 and somehow this movie still flew under the radar. It’s a Pixar movie that came and went with little fanfare, and although I’d hope to discover a diamond in the rough, I can understand why it left no mark. The concept is good as it tells a story of an alternate universe where dinosaurs do not go extinct and evolve to use language and perform tasks like agriculture. Also, the animation is absolutely gorgeous, although it seems odd to have cartoonish animals in such a realistic setting.
The story focuses on Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), a small and clumsy Apatosaurus who is unable to keep up with his parents and siblings in making a positive contribution to their farm. His father, Poppa Henry (Jeffrey Wright), is killed in a flash flood while pursuing a “critter” who is eating from their corn silo. Later, Arlo tries to catch the same critter (who is a small human boy) and they are both washed downstream. Arlo and the boy – who behaves in a dog-like manner and is named Spot (Jack Bright) – must form a partnership to find their way back up the river to get home.
The buddy-road-story meets child-finding-his-place-in-the-world-story feels overly familiar. Obviously, Pixar can use familiar tropes to make something new, but they fail to do so here. Instead they’re overly reliant on swelling music and big speeches to create emotion that feels unearned. The movie does get better as it goes along and I enjoyed some gags such as a paranoid Styracosaurus with a menagerie of animals in its horns or a surreal scene when Arlo and Spot eat fruit that’s gone rotten. Overall though, it’s disappointing that a movie this basic has Pixar’s name on it especially since it has potential to be something better.
I would say that overall the simple and gentle story might be good to watch with younger children with the caveat that there are some terrifying scenes with pterodactyls hunting down animals.