Pixar Meta-Analysis

I started this meta-analysis hoping to have somewhere between fifteen and twenty lists to go on. In the end I found forty, because the results kept shifting when I’d enter new data. For the Tarantino analysis, for example, adding more lists would basically just solidify where every movie landed. Here, though, there are multiple pairs which would probably flip-flop until the kingdom came if I took the list out to 50 or more entries. In the aforementioned Tarantino post, I noted that Pulp Fiction, with its average score of about 1.5, is an outlier because of how low that number is; most top picks just aren’t that unanimous. Normally the top-rated movie in a director’s oeuvre is in the low-mid twos. When I did the MCU analysis, Black Panther came in at an average of 3.81. The highest-ranked Pixar movie by this same formula comes in with an average score of 4.65. There is a real consensus about what constitutes the top half and the bottom half of Pixar movies, but that’s as far as it goes. The distance between number 1 and number 10 is 4.2 on this Pixar list. That’s typically the distance between number 1 and number 7 or so on other lists I’ve got, even though those directors may only have eight to ten movies to work from. In a lot of ways, I think this meta-analysis is about as exciting as one of these can get because there’s so much variability.

What I’ve learned from this—and to be totally real here, I don’t think I learned it so much as “had a strong suspicion affirmed”—is that people vote with their hearts on Pixar movies, even people who pull down cash for voting. Maybe it’s because so many critics between the ages of 25 and 40 are writing these lists, maybe it’s because they’re so easy to get into, or maybe it’s because these people glom onto a brand with breathtaking speed, but I think you only have to read or listen to so much before you find takes about tears. This is not a substitute for quality, and I think the critics know it. None of these people would give a hot second to acclaim A Walk to Remember or My Sister’s Keeper as stealth Oscar candidates. But it’s what stands out for a great many people, and it’s going to be on my mind as we go through these many lists. This is not any great insight, but a list tells you more about the maker than the content, and more than any other analysis I’ve done since the MCU, I think you can really learn something about the thrusts, both general and specific, of how individual Pixar preference shapes a larger narrative.

Rules for this particular ranking of rankings are the same as they’ve been in other cases, but as ever, let’s recap:

  1. I scoured the earth, and boy howdy do I mean scoured, for Pixar lists. These lists, with a very few exceptions, had to include all twenty-three Pixar movies, from Toy Story to Soul. (There are a couple I backformed a little bit using Letterboxd stars given by the author of the original piece to Soul after the publication of that piece, but I promise those are rare and that I did a good job.) This was the first list where I started to get into individual lists from Letterboxd, but for that list to count it needed to be from someone who writes for a publication I’d heard of and think is basically reputable, or to be on a podcast that has some cachet. In other words, you cannot just be Letterboxd famous, let alone Letterboxd obscure, to get here. For YouTube videos, there needed to be hundreds of thousands of views or better for a channel that has hundreds of thousands of subscribers or better. There are no podcasts ranking here—once again, the folks at Screendrafts, a podcast I know I must love because it makes me so mad, jumped the gun on completion—but they would have needed to have the popularity and social positioning of a Screendrafts to be included. 
  2. I found a combination of lists from sources which, I’ll grant, are not all the gold standard in criticism, but generally speaking I wanted something a little better than “just someone’s blog.” I have aggregators and prestigious publications, Letterboxd lists and relative clickbait. Also, I don’t know who reads this, but if you are a famous podcaster or your write for an outlet which gets many many clicks every day, and you’ve got a list of Pixar movies that goes out to like, 21 or 22 but not all 23…do a blogger a solid and like, update that mess. (It is flabbergasting that Griffin Newman, sorry to name names, does not have a complete Pixar list on Letterboxd at publication!) Anyway, here’s everybody I’ve got: Buzzfeed, Cinemablend, Collider, Cody Dericks (Letterboxd), Empire, Gentside UK, Zach Gilbert (Letterboxd), Good Housekeeping, Huffington Post UK, Independent, Insider, KENS5 San Antonio, Josh Larsen (Letterboxd), Jay Ledbetter (Letterboxd), Letterboxd users as a whole, Mashable, Metacritic, Oakville News, Josh Parham (Letterboxd), Polygon, Ranker, Rotten Tomatoes, Schaffrilas Productions, Screencrush, Slant, Josh Spiegel (Slashfilm and Letterboxd), Strangecast News, Studiobinder, Brian Tallerico (Letterboxd), Thrillist, Ultimate Movie Rankings, USA Today, Vox, Vulture, Watch Mojo, We Love Cinema, What Culture, The Wrap, Yahoo, and Yahoo News. Special shoutouts to Alonso Duralde, whose ranking is here once despite it showing up multiple times in my search, and to Owen Gleiberman, whose ranking is on multiple sites and is capped at 22 every time.      
  3. The ranking system is very simple: write down the place the movie holds on each list, get an average over the 40, low number wins. 
  4. I understand this is going to be out of date almost instantly, given how near we are to the release of Luca. Such are the perils of doing this with studios which release at least one movie a year. If more people would just rank John Ford movies I wouldn’t have to deal with this.

As usual, I’ve broken the results down into tiers for ease of consumption.

Tier 8 – Movies Where Honestly Everyone Piles on a Little Too Much

23) Cars 2 / Average score – 22.625
22) Cars 3 / Average score – 20.675
21) The Good Dinosaur / Average score – 20.5

Seventy-five percent of lists have Cars 2 literally last. Eighty percent of lists have Cars 3 ranked 20 or lower, and The Good Dinosaur is actually ranked in the bottom four more often than Cars 3. Like I said at the top, I don’t think everyone is copying someone else’s work for this assignment—you definitely get that sense checking out individual Scorsese lists, for example—but I do think that there’s a rough combination of factors that are driving these movies all the way down the list. I’d wager that none of these are movies likely to be high on the “repeat viewing” list for most critics, so initial reactions matter. I don’t have any proof for this, but I think the typical adventure story of Good Dinosaur compared to the schematically inventive story of Inside Out made it pale in comparison to the film which came out earlier in the year and sucked up a lot of air. I don’t think critics without little kids revisited Cars 2 or Cars 3 much, and while I don’t think the movie is one that exactly opens itself up on a second watch or anything, I have a funny feeling that rewatching some of these movies further up the list has created a bond that a single watch of Cars 2 cannot create for anyone who saw it above the age of ten.

Technically, none of these would breach the top half of the Pixar feature filmography if I had a list. All the same, and this is going to be a running theme of this analysis if it isn’t already, I think that there’s a tendency to grossly overstate the quality of Pixar movies, especially upper-mid Pixar movies. That hyperbolic tendency seeps into the bottom of this list, too. Again, I would not cape for either Cars sequel (let alone the original Cars), but there’s a unanimity about these three movies as “the bad ones” which feels almost like scapegoating. Is Cars 2 really so much worse than another unasked for sequel, Finding Dory? Is The Good Dinosaur really this much worse with family dynamics than Onward? Personally I can’t see it, but it looks like there’s an entire critical firmament that can.

Tier 7 – Lesser Pixar

20) Monsters University / Average score – 18.175
19) Cars / Average score – 17.925
18) Brave / Average score – 17.775

This is one of the tighter tiers in these rankings, with the three movies separated by just four-tenths of a point. Like the movies in Tier 8, none of these scored a top ten placement on any of the forty lists. I actually gave some thought about dropping Monsters U down to the lower tier because it has some similar qualities to those three: they’re the only four with single-digit ranges, a mode of 20 or lower, and they all top out no higher than 14. In the end, the average score makes it hard not to slot Monsters U with Cars and Brave. Depending on how you want to think about this, either this is a sign of some kind of enthusiasm for Monsters U (Drake turned away) or a statement about the apathy people have for this movie (Drake smiling and pointing).

It’s not really surprising to me that Monsters University or Brave are sitting down here, nor is it necessarily all that surprising to me that three of them are grouped together. (I actually have these three lined up consecutively on my own rankings, but in the reverse order.) What I didn’t expect to see was Cars at 18, a lousy two-tenths of a point away from putting the entire Cars series in the 20s. This isn’t to say that I thought Cars was a top-ten movie in the discourse, and of course I remember the way people talked about it in 2010, even before Cars 2 was released. I’m just sort of surprised that there’s this little favor for Cars, which is a major picture for Pixar. I think the closest in other analyses I’ve found to Cars, relatively speaking, is The Dark Knight Rises. Both enormously profitable, neither one particularly well-regarded by the commentariat, maybe even more like a disappointment to the faithful than anything else. I think there’s some level of piling on in this section as well, although as is the case in our bottom tier as well, I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea that these are bottom half Pixar movies. The only one I don’t get that sense people are dogpiling a little in this tier is Brave, a film that never did seem to make all that much of an impact on moviegoers even in the moment. It’s the only one of these bottom six movies that no one will call the worst Pixar movie, but I also have a funny feeling that if you made a Sporcle quiz from scratch to name all the Pixar movies, Brave is probably the one the fewest people would remember.

Tier 6 – Hilariously Close Pairings, Part 1

17) Onward / Average score – 16.05
16) A Bug’s Life / Average score – 15.9

I learned a new function in Google Sheets/Excel for this, which I am being very vulnerable and open in telling you about. I used the trim mean function on my numbers, trimmed by 15%, and then the order switches in two spots. The more important one, all things considered, is further up the list, but this is the one I was tracking almost from the beginning. A Bug’s Life has a first-place vote from a single outlet, and that’s what puts it over Onward here. When you trim, Onward gets the nod by six hundredths of a point. The order is not all that meaningful down here, but it goes to show how these two movies, which I don’t think anyone would choose to pair up, are about as close to a tie as any two movies I’ve ever tracked in any oeuvre. Who would have guessed?

Around A Bug’s Life in particular, the narrative is definitely more of a “well, they tried” angle. Onward gets some of that as well, although it doesn’t have the benefit of the doubt that naturally follows “this came right after Toy Story.” Either way, I don’t think either one of these movies really engenders a lot of excitement from your average viewer, and if they were both graded a little bit lower, I think they’d probably belong in the “Lesser Pixar” tier down there.

One thing that did occur to me as I was looking at these films, Pixar’s second movie and Pixar’s second-to-last movie, is that time distance. Seeing as Pixar has releases over the course of twenty-five years, the movies break up pretty neatly into thirds. That first third of Pixar’s history, from 1995 to 2003, averages a 7.6 placement; the second third, from 2004-2012, averages 11.125; the final third, from 2013-2020, averages 14.9. Mostly what we learn from this is that three of the four worst-reviewed Pixar movies have been made in that final third, and that Toy Story is in the first third. If you want to draw a conclusion from this that suggests that Pixar movies have been, on the whole, getting worse, I don’t think that would be unreasonable. Here’s a chart with a trendline which is saying something pretty similar:

I bring this up, though, because I wonder if that context which surrounds the Bug’s Life narrative has something to do with its placement here. It’s definitely not one of the more popular Pixar movies, but coming from a period where its compeers are rated pretty highly, it may just look less good to folks than Onward, where it’s not that far below the average for its time. Onward has almost certainly suffered from some poor release luck because of covid, and I think for people who have seen it, it does stand out because it’s got some relatively teary moments which already have it getting talked about in the same conversation, if not the same breath, with films like Inside Out or Toy Story 2.

Tier 5 – Cashgrab Sequels

15) Finding Dory / Average score – 14.925
14) Incredibles 2 / Average score –  13.375
13) Soul / Average score – 12.425
12) Toy Story 4 / Average score – 12.025

Anyway, this is the tier with the widest gap between the top and bottom, but there’s still at least one step between Toy Story 4 and Monsters, Inc., and a whole gulf between Toy Story 4 and Toy Story 3. It is also really focused in terms of when these releases occurred; with its June 2016 release, Finding Dory is emphatically the eldest sibling in this group, as the other members make up three of the last four Pixar releases. Although the notices for Soul have generally been pretty good (and there is definitely some talk, within the industry and outside it, that it was a favored contender for the year’s top film), it also clearly has not made the kind of dent that gets it buzz as a top-10 Pixar movie. Heck, even last year’s Toy Story 4, another Best Animated Feature winner, is higher, and the response to that movie was absolutely more muted than the response to Soul.

“Wait a second, Soul isn’t a sequel!” I mean, no, not literally, but at this point Pete Docter is just waiting for someone to realize that he’s stopped trying to do anything new, so what’s the difference.

I won’t speculate too much on the quality of Luca or Turning Red, but it really seems like this is the way forward for a lot of the upcoming Pixar films. Out of their last ten films, only two of them rate in the top ten for the whole Pixar run. (That takes us back to 2013, when the new MCU movies were Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3. It was a while ago!) With a rare exception, it seems like most of them are just sort of getting tossed in the “well, slightly below-average by Pixar standards but still a good movie,” and on lists like this they land in the low teens. Obviously, there’s the mathematical angle of “the more Pixar movies there are, the harder it is for any movie to be a top 10 movie,” and I’ll grant that, but more than that I think it’s that there’s just not a lot of fervency on these comprehensive lists for the last five years of Pixar’s work. You’ll see traces of it here and there. Finding Dory has a mode of 11, hitting that mark on seven lists in what you might see as a promising sign for the future, but it also doesn’t rise above tenth on any list. Incredibles 2 is riding probably my favorite single placement for any of these movies, a #2 vote from Good Housekeeping, to its spot…but the trimmed mean shows that even accounting for that hilariously high vote, it still wouldn’t drop below fourteenth because Finding Dory is still more than a full point behind. Speaking of, Soul has the absolute lowest difference between the regular mean and the trimmed mean, at -.06.

The one movie in this tier that I don’t have a good feel for in terms of where it might be in the next few years is Toy Story 4, which to be perfectly honest came in a couple slots higher than I expected already. If it’s already heading up the class when the overwhelming discourse about Toy Story 4 is still summed up by the evergreen prayer, “Who asked for this?” then I can imagine that a little more time to get used to it might only serve to get it into the top half. It’s certainly a really beautiful movie, just lightyears ahead of the other Toy Story movies in terms of its looks. Maybe Woody’s departure will hit home more strongly after he’s like, missing from Toy Story 5 or something. And again, never underestimate how much people will use their lacrimal ducts instead of their brains to solidify their opinions of these movies.

Tier 4 – Favorites Out of Fashion

11) Monsters, Inc. / Average score – 9.05
10) Coco / Average score – 8.85
9) Up / Average score – 8.725 

I did a little Google search for Pixar movie rankings from January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2014, and I found what I came for. Indiewire and Buzzfeed both put Up third, Screencrush put it first, and you can find any number of blogs that sing its praises in similar ways. (Out of those regular outlets, Buzzfeed is the only one to contribute one to this meta-analysis; Up has dropped to sixth for them.) Other history supports this memory; you only have to go back to the Hurt Locker Academy Awards when ten movies were nominated for the first time. It would be a long time until Black Panther avenged The Dark Knight, but Up avenged WALL-E the first time out with a Best Picture nomination. Its star has faded in the past decade, to say the least, and that’s true as well for Coco, which was lauded for its attempts at representing a group of people and a place where Pixar had not gone before. It is, as far as I can tell, Letterboxd’s favorite Pixar movie. (It’s worth noting that Coco has not, to the best of my research, moved around much on lists like these since the film was released. You tend to find it in just inside or just outside top 10s.) As for Monsters, Inc., it’s a movie that was definitely more beloved when it had fewer competitors, or maybe just when Billy Crystal was more in people’s minds and not just another old guy. Either way, it’s not a movie which I would describe as au courant in these rankings, given that it has barely made the top half of the list. 

It’s hard to say why these movies have fallen down the rankings a little bit, if they actually fell at all. (Again, I would have assumed that Coco made it higher up most of these lists than it actually did.) As tempting as it is to start assigning reasons to why they may not be aging well or losing favor with critics/audiences, I don’t think I’ve actually got the evidence to do it. Just as importantly, the simplest answer is the most likely the best one: Toy Story 3 and Inside Out generally have shoved two of these three older entries down the list, and as popular as Coco was, it couldn’t quite nudge its way past them in the moment.

What we’re going to focus on instead for these three are Pixar directors. For fifteen years, the directors of Pixar movies were an extremely closed group: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, Pete Docter, and right in the tail end of that period, Lee Unkrich, who had been very close in the process for that entire time anyway. Dan Scanlon is the only person not in that group who has directed multiple Pixar movies (though it’s “multiple” in a very literal sense). Here’s a chart which shows the average movie placement, based on the rankings I’ve compiled, for each director with more than one credit as the lead director. (Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, Peter Sohn, Brian Fee, and Josh Cooley are represented jointly in the “One-Offs” group.)

These are pretty close! John Lasseter, who we understand now to be one of the bad men from the movie business, comes in fifth primarily because of Cars. Poor Dan Scanlon has made two unpopular movies, and so he’s even behind the ragamuffins who have not been granted that second picture. On the front end, Andrew Stanton is relatively far ahead in the clubhouse; Brad Bird’s top three are all less popular than Stanton’s corresponding three. The interesting pair is Unkrich and Docter, who are separated by half a point. Unkrich is coasting a little on a smaller sample size, as Docter has three movies to Unkrich’s two. I guess this half-point difference would not matter quite as much to Docter, who has one more whole Oscar than Unkrich has. Docter also has, with the exception of Bird (and his live-action filmography that Docter lacks), the strongest claim among critics for auteurism. Stanton certainly has a preoccupation with reclaiming the lost and broken, and Scanlon’s work thus far has been largely about personal inadequacies standing in the way of achieving some impossible dream. Neither one of those thematic throughlines has quite tickled critics like Docter’s organizational fixation, and for now at least, he appears to be the best-regarded Pixar director even if these rankings (vox populi, vox Dei) don’t quite support that. If there is a difference that we’ll see, it’s because of an influx of new Pixar directors. Docter may end up being one of the last men left standing.

Tier 3 – Hilariously Close Pairings, Part 2

8) Toy Story 3 / Average score – 7.025
7) Toy Story 2 / Average score – 6.975

If Up is the primary example of a Pixar movie slowly sliding from grace, then the movie that’s done just the opposite is Toy Story 2. Frequently hanging around with the Cars movies in that Google search for 2009-2014 rankings, it’s given people enough in the intervening decade to wind up here at 7. It’s not an overwhelming presence in the top three—like Toy Story 3, you can most frequently find it eighth—but when it shows up, the reviews generally praise the film’s ability to expand on the themes of the first film. It’s like Toy Story, but more so. Some of the darkness of the story is highlighted, such as “When Somebody Loved Me” or the slightly paradoxical truth that it’s in being unwanted that the toy s we like so much have found a way to be wanted. The Toy Story 3 stans focus on tears. I know that I’ve denigrated this perspective already, but I’m being entirely serious here. The references to nose-blowing, crying, heartbreak, etc. in the written entries where Toy Story 3 is ranked in the top three are literally unanimous.

Like the Onward/Bug’s Life pair from earlier, these Toy Story sequels also flip if you trim the mean by 15%. Where Toy Story 2 is up by .05 in this measure, Toy Story 3 ends up ahead by nearly a tenth of a point with that trim applied. These two are incredibly close, and while I’m personally gratified to see them in this order, I can appreciate that we’re probably just one completed Pixar list away from them swapping in the actual order…but only two away from them swapping back…

Though we still have the original Toy Story remaining, it seems like now is as good a time as any to start getting into the sequences for those movies. I went through each list to see what order they had all the Toy Story films. Over the forty lists, there are only thirteen different sequences, and three of them account for more than half of all lists. I have two charts here, one of which I’m including mostly for people who would want to parse through what each list has to say (not recommended for normies or people trying to keep their eyesight into middle age), and one just for people who want to see the most common sequences.

Chart with chaos energy:

And the chart with normal human energy:

What the normal human energy chart doesn’t show, beyond which outlet or individual is responsible for the sequence, is how high or low the ratings are for the Toy Story movies in question. This second chart gives a sense of how close the margin is between Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, I think, but it doesn’t quite sum up the slightness of the distance between them. With that said, putting Toy Story first is the most common choice, applying to twenty-two of forty lists. Toy Story 2 tops nine; Toy Story 3 leads eight. Toy Story 4 got a single first-place vote, which…I mean, I guess you have to respect it, but until a generation of critics dandled on Forky’s imaginary knee comes of age, I don’t think we’re likely to see it in this mix.

Tier 2 – Hilariously Close Pairings, Part 3

6) Ratatouille / Average score – 6.475
5) Inside Out / Average score – 6.35

Not as close as the Toy Story sequels, but closer than the Onward/Bug’s Life pairing, this pair swapped places in a substantial way in the final five or six lists I found. One of my predictions going into this was that Inside Out would squeak into the top five or six, and though it scuffled closer to the Toy Story sequels for a lot of this, individual Letterboxd lists from critics pushed it into fifth. The trim doesn’t change the order, either, although it does narrow the gap considerably, from .125 to .029 in favor of Inside Out.

I did some research within the research here and googled “saddest pixar movies.” There are a decent number of results, but I stuck with ones from the past five years or so just to give the results a little smoothness; obviously this causes a little bit of a bias against Onward, Soul, and so on. Because these lists come in two flavors, saddest Pixar movies and saddest moments in Pixar movies, actually making new rankings for this doesn’t work out quite the same way. What I’ve done instead is noted how many top 10 mentions the films got over the articles. I’m using Cinemablend (movies), PopSugar (moments), Screencrush (moments), Screenrant (movies), and Yahoo (movies) as the sample.

Once again, I expect some of the more recent movies, from Toy Story 4 on, are probably getting a little bit of a nick in these rankings; give it a few more years and few more of these lists and Toy Story 4 in particular seems like a candidate to reach Finding Nemo levels of weeping. At the top of the list, Toy Story 3 gets seven references from five lists, which is not surprising. Nor was I surprised that Inside Out gets six references from five lists, even though it was way more Bing Bong-centric than I would have guessed. (So much more Bing Bong! I find this totally baffling.) Up, of course, is also a high scorer, but the one I think was actually most surprising to me was Coco, which I guess is sort of sad but wasn’t really on my radar.

Anyway, the reason I’ve included that chart is because Inside Out has, if not quite taken the mantle from Toy Story 3 as the weepiest of the Pixar movies, certainly made an impression on that front. I really do think that there’s some level of equivalence in the critical eye—at least from critics who have Pixar in their purview—between whether one of these movies got the waterworks going and whether or not it was good. Only two movies in the top ten failed to receive a mention on this list, and interestingly, they bookend Inside Out. If Ratatouille had just killed Django or something, who knows that it wouldn’t have squeaked into fifth place given that the margin was already so thin. There’s a good argument to be made that there’s actually more passion out there for Ratatouille than Inside Out. Ratatouille is in the top three on eleven lists, while Inside Out counts nine. It has as many first-place votes as Toy Story. (Back to that trimmed mean again: only two movies benefit more from knocking out 15% on either side than Ratatouille.) But the consistency is generally on the side of Inside Out—by the time you get to mentions in the top five, Inside Out gets a lead in quality that it never relinquishes—and that sneaking suspicion of mine about people getting emotional over children’s movies as an adult is the only reason I’ve got for why Inside Out has an edge. (I can hear some of you saying, “Because it’s better,” and I kind of just don’t think movie quality is what we’re measuring here with this kind of math.)

Tier 1 – Heavyweight Contenders

4) The Incredibles / Average score – 5.375
3) Finding Nemo / Average score – 5.125
2) WALL-E / Average score – 4.975
1) Toy Story / Average score – 4.65 

For a very long time, The Incredibles was in Tier 2. How close it was to Finding Nemo bothered me a little bit, but I think what gave me a hard time was the shape of its rankings.

Here’s what Toy Story, WALL-E, and Finding Nemo “look” like if you put their individual list rankings into a loose bar graph:

Toy Story and WALL-E both have a really heavy weight towards that left side, although a quick look at the tail of that WALL-E graph says everything you need to know about why it came in second to Toy Story despite leading the entire field in first-place votes. Finding Nemo is more balanced than both, definitely more of a favorite in broad terms, too thick in the middle to ever really challenge for first despite having a bunch of third-place votes.

Here’s The Incredibles, which I’m pairing with Finding Nemo just for emphasis:

All the weight of The Incredibles is in the middle, just like Bob before he starts getting in shape again. To me, this is not really the graph of a contender for the top spot, and that’s backed up by the numbers. Yet the numbers also put nearly a full point between The Incredibles and Inside Out, and that’s more meaningful.

In the end, compromise choices are what land at the top of this list. A staggering fourteen films were ranked first at least once. Personal taste definitely factors into these rankings a lot, maybe as much as any set of rankings this side of the MCU. It is, as Toy Story proves, more important to be a lot of folks’ second- or third- or fifth-favorite movie than to be some people’s absolute top pick but someone else’s also-ran. No film manages to be ranked in the top half (11 and up, I’m strict), but the movie that comes closest is Finding Nemo, which has a single twelfth-place vote from Good Housekeeping, the home of the most lit reviewer of Pixar movies on the planet. The Incredibles may have racked up a slightly alarming number of votes in fifth and sixth, but it turns out that’s a sign of strength.

To me, the real story of this tier is WALL-E, which actually held the top spot in these rankings back when I had about twenty-five or so lists. In the end, Toy Story got back on top, but to reiterate, WALL-E leads all films in first-place votes. A quarter of all lists put WALL-E in the top spot, compared to just a tenth of all lists putting Toy Story first. When it comes to top-two votes, WALL-E has nineteen to Toy Story‘s thirteen. (Six lists actually have those two as their top two: Empire, Gentside UK, Insider, Vulture, Watch Mojo, and Yahoo). Then the bottom drops out. Just a single third-place vote for WALL-E, compared to six for Toy Story, and the pace continues to favor the winner from there on out down to  For whatever reason, WALL-E is just a little too polarizing to claim the top spot. Its lowest ranking, that 15th place spot, actually comes from one of my favorite lists. The Oakville News in Canada surveyed some adults as well as children (y’know, who these movies are actually for), and the kids simply don’t cotton to it. The other criticism you get, this time from adults, is that the second-half can’t measure up to the brilliance of the first. I actually buy this criticism, but from my perspective that’s why I drop it below Toy Story, not why I’d put it in the teens. For what it’s worth, TSPDT favors WALL-E, currently their 366th best movie and rising. Toy Story has fallen to 514th. (No other Pixar movie rates high enough for their top 1,000; the margins are a little wider in the wake of cinema history!)

In one sense, it’s fitting that Toy Story still has the top spot. I thank God every day that I am not the 2007 AFI list, a movie which has room for two animated features and chose the obvious trailblazers (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Toy Story) instead looking for quality in its own right. For people who have greatness on the brain, or importance, then it’s certainly very difficult to pick something other than Toy Story, unless it’s WALL-E and its slightly quaint message about sustainability which felt very timely in 2008. We’ve already gone through the whole song and dance about how the top film here is really the movie which everyone agrees they think is pretty good, so I don’t want to overstate this. I do wonder what it means for Pixar going forward that their first film is still considered their best film. In this particular case, I think that can be overstated; does anyone really complain that Orson Welles “peaked” with Citizen Kane? The development of an auteur (or of a guild of artisans, like Pixar has developed) is not necessarily in whether the first or the twentieth film is the best, but in the way s/he changes styles and folds in new ideas. On the other hand, a quarter-century away from Toy Story, everything seems to feel a little bit like anticlimax in reaction to that film. In the first fifteen years, that was exciting: does Toy Story 2 delve more deeply into the interior lives of these toys? does Finding Nemo burrow into the nuts and bolts of relationships more? do WALL-E or Up challenge animation convention even more than the first totally computer-generated animated feature? And so on. In the last ten, the challenge of Toy Story has been not unlike the challenge of the Apollo program staring down NASA since the ’70s. Nothing they’ve done reaches those heights, and the further away we get from them, the less likely it appears that it’d even be possible to do that. It would be wrong to rule out another Pixar movie besides Toy Story at the top of the list. I think any of the seven movies immediately below it would have a reasonable chance of eclipsing it someday. Until then, Toy Story remains the target, with each round fired from increasing distance.

3 thoughts on “Pixar Meta-Analysis

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