Pixar Animation Studios are one of the world’s leading feature animation houses. The studio, which started in computer graphics in 1986, was once a pretender to the Disney throne but built a legacy for itself that was so critically-acclaimed and popular that the House of Mouse had to forgo a simple partnership and instead buy the company outright for $7.4billion in 2006.
The studio’s now iconic brand of 3D computer animation changed studio animation across the world forever, even causing industry leaders Disney to change from 2D into 3D over the course of the 2000s. Among Pixar’s many hits and acclaimed award winners are Toy Story, the film that changed it all, and Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Up, Coco, and Soul.
In this edition of Ranked, we here at the Film Magazine have teamed our writers up to complete a joint ranking of Pixar Animation Studios’ feature offerings, judging each film in terms of enjoyability, resonance, longevity, critical acclaim, and artistry.
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27. Lightyear (2022)
Box Office: $226.4million
Director: Angus MacLane
Coming out of the lockdown era that had forced many Pixar releases directly to Disney Plus (thus skewing their box office totals), the so-called “2nd Disney Studio” needed a big win with Lightyear that just didn’t come. It barely made its budget back, and with promotional costs taken into account actually made a loss for its parent company. The film was Toy Story, but not quite; a spin-off origin narrative explaining what the Buzz Lightyear toy was based on, a movie from the world of the Toy Story movies. In it, Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) fought a mysterious power-hungry evil force, finding his own ragtag group on a quest across galaxies to cement himself as a legend and save humankind.
Conceptually, Lightyear isn’t unlike many other Pixar movies: an underappreciated but cocky hero is humbled before achieving greatness with the only people (or creatures) that are willing to put up with him. This in-movie predictability, paired with the lack of clarity pre-release regarding exactly what Lightyear was, curtailed all of the usual Toy Story-universe excitement. It looks shiny, and some high-contrast space battles make for stunning sequences, while there is enough by way of stakes and twists to ensure an enjoyable time, but Lightyear was a cash-in and people could sense it; an expensive version of those direct-to-video Disney movies from the 1990s.
26. Cars 3 (2017)
Box Office: $383.9million
Director: Brian Fee
By 2017, the only reason Pixar were forcing out new Cars instalments is because parent company Disney wanted some of those sweet merchandise profits. In 2011, following the release of Cars 2, Pixar revealed that the Cars franchise had made the company more than $10billion; current figures aren’t available, but even with a large curtailing of revenue, this franchise would be one of the most profitable film franchises of all time. In this fairly inconsequential film, Lightning McQueen plays the archetypal old sportsperson inspired to return for one last shot at glory. It isn’t quite Rocky Balboa, which isn’t even exceptional in the first place, but some of the animation is leaps beyond what was on offer in the first film.
Those charged with gifting this cash-grab with some kind of meaning or heart certainly tried – a feminist subplot indicated society’s advances in representation (both in sports and movies) in the decade since the original film and McQueen’s return to the spotlight held weight for those who enjoyed the original Cars movies – but these strangely designed cars were seemingly only ever destined for children’s bedrooms, the imaginations of those who played with the toys far outliving the impact or influence of this less-than stellar Pixar offering.
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