This is the third piece of a three-part series. First up was a collation and analysis of forty critics’ rankings of Pixar movies, and then a quick digression into my own rankings. This third part is, in my eyes, the most fun. By bothering people I know, entreating people I know to bother people they know, leaving links in likely places, and so on, I’ve gotten 102 respondents to tell me how they’d rate Pixar movies.
Demographics and Broad Opinions
Admittedly, the majority of my sample group here is in my own age range for obvious reasons. (As was the case for my MCU poll, I left my own opinions out of my survey, no matter how right they happen to be.) However, I was also pleasantly surprised to see that there’s a little bit of diversity in the ages among my respondents. Pixar movies have some claim to universality; I’ve got some respondents who could conceivably be old enough to watch these movies as part of their own childhood, and I have others who said that they watched these movies because they have or had younger family members.
Twenty-one of my respondents identified between ages 36 and 50, and ten of them said that they watched these movies because of younger family members; two of the five respondents over 50 said the same. The percentages are not as high in any other group, which didn’t surprise me so much. The 25-35 group is the sweet spot for Pixar fidelity anyway, because they would have been in a position to see Toy Story in theaters before getting to fifth grade or, in the case of the younger group in that band, to have grown up wearing out the VHS tape in the preschool years. In any event, I’ve liked seeing the respondents from this poll coming from many different age ranges including, I dare say, the one these movies are aimed towards.
In another section, I gave respondents the opportunity to agree or disagree with some opinion statements about Pixar movies writ large, and to add their own opinion if they wanted to be more specific.
“The best animated movie…” – 20 respondents
“At least two or three…” – 73
“At least one Pixar movie…” – 37
“Pixar’s output is about as good…” – 15
“Pixar movies, pound for pound…” – 35
“The early Pixar movies are better…” – 34
“Pixar movies are generally…” – 7
“Pixar movies are more for adults…” – 13
The response that jumps off the page for me is the second one. About 72% respondents, almost three-quarters of my polling group, would say that at least two or three movies from that studio, which has been extant for barely more than a quarter-century and which cannot yet boast 25 features, should be considered among the hundred greatest movies ever made in this country. If I didn’t agree with those people as much as I do, I’d have to think that was an enormously audacious belief. (For the record, I think two is probably the right number!) However, only twenty people, just under 20% of my respondents, think that the best animated movie in our country’s history is a Pixar movie. Here I disagree with a great number of them, but it does sort of make you wonder what everyone’s got in mind there. Maybe another poll is in order.
Those last two questions up there have to do entirely with my own hobbyhorses regarding Pixar films. Just under 7% of the sample group believe that Pixar movies are basically overrated. As I’ve written multiple times at this point, I think that there’s a kind of brand loyalty which suffuses a particularly type of critic as regards Pixar which I would typically associate with the brand loyalty that MCU or DCEU stans profess, a propensity to be charmed or wowed by what they were charmed and wowed by fifteen years ago. My Internet cohort disagrees pretty strongly, it seems like. I was most curious to see what people made of that last question, though. One out of eight respondents clicked to say they felt the real audience for Pixar films were adults; I would have guessed going in that at least twice as many of the respondents would have assented, but maybe I spent too much time reading people’s reviews of Soul.
I did ask people, if they were so inclined, to give me a moment which stood out as especially emotional for them (“Is there a moment from a Pixar movie that makes you emotional just to think about?”). Not everyone responded to this one, but people who did frequently noted at least one of Up or Toy Story 3. A quickie chart:
Because this is a topic that interests me, I’ve done something similar before. The top five of some research I did for the critical meta-analysis (basically googling “saddest pixar movies” and seeing what came up with an appropriately recent timestamp) were, by mentions, Toy Story 3, Inside Out, Up, Coco, and Finding Nemo. My folks did that in a different order, but I think it’s pretty clear that we have a top five that’s standing the test of the Internet. And of course, Respondent 91 speaks for many viewers out there in saying “All of them” in response to this question.
The meat of the Form I sent out was in actually choosing: first, they would check ten unranked Pixar films (which I vaguely referred to as “top” as opposed to “favorite” or “best”) from a complete list, and then name their top five in order. A first-place vote is worth five points to the movie in question, a second-place vote is worth four, and so on. From there, I kept track of total points, total mentions in the top-ten, and first-place votes. It’s also simple to figure out how many points a film is averaging from a top-five or a top-ten mention, but we’ll come back to that. The first-place movie overall is the one with the most points as opposed to the most mentions, which I think of as privileging passion over acknowledgement.
Here’s how everything shook out:
If you’d rather see this data a different way, here’s how it looks as a scatterplot. I sort of prefer this because it gives a better sense of the difference between points racked up and top-ten mentions, and also because it looks like a large animal rising up from the sea:
In short, the breaching whale shows an absolute romp for Toy Story. More seriously, I do think that the graph gives a better sense of the Toy Story dominance than the chart, simply because that jump from the total points for Up to total points for Toy Story is just absolutely enormous. Twice as many first-place votes as any other film received gives it what I imagine is probably a pretty close to insuperable lead; even if all of those first-place votes became sixth-place votes, it would still be tied with Up. As it stands, Up ended up in second, with The Incredibles very close behind. Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo round out that second tier and the top five. Interestingly, that is the reverse order of which of those four movies received the most mentions by the time all was clicked and submitted. On the opposite end of things, the bottom five are all sequels released after Up and thus after any top five movie. (People could check off whether they liked that Pixar movies kept up with favorite characters via sequels; only eight respondents said that was something they actively liked about the studio.) Coming in dead last—a little surprisingly!—is Toy Story 4, which didn’t even get points until Respondent 82 put it fifth. Until that happened I was genuinely wondering if the film would chart at all; when I did this with the MCU, even Thor: The Dark World got points. Above it: Cars 2, Monsters University, Cars 3, and Incredibles 2.
The data is generally a little skewed towards older movies, which I think is to be expected. In a couple years, I sort of assume that both Onward and Soul, which were released on Disney Plus in the past year, would probably climb up this list a little bit further. On the other hand, I don’t know if this is a bias, per se, given that A Bug’s Life is in fourteenth and technically tied with a movie which was mentioned by twenty-eight fewer people, but the fact that it almost showed up on half of lists is a little astonishing. A Bug’s Life is ninth in mentions, and so even though it doesn’t appear to be a slam dunk favorite in terms of getting points, I think the fact that it’s been around and available for so many of our 25-35 year old cohort is probably a boon. (Monsters Inc. is the fourth Pixar movie, has a totally weird chart, and I practically have a seminar on it planned for later.)
As we’ve kind of seen already with Toy Story 4 creating the unhappy left side of the bracket that Toy Story closes, there’s a lot of passion for Toy Story but not necessarily a lot of passion for its sequels. Toy Story 2 actually comes in at seven, just like it did in the critic’s rankings, but Toy Story 3 is in eleventh place here. I don’t think there’s any film where the placement surprises me more than Toy Story 3, which I assumed going into this poll would be a sneaky favorite to run away with the thing. It just never gathered all that much momentum, in the end, and even though it is apparently one of the teariest it is not one of the highest ranked at all. We’ll get back to comparing everyone’s rankings later on, but compared to me, even, who counts himself as someone who’s fairly down on Toy Story 3, the sample is actually lower as a group than I was.
The Cars of it all is worth mentioning here. As is the case, albeit less dramatically, for Toy Story and Toy Story 4, it doesn’t appear that sequels are necessarily on people’s minds here when considering the popularity of Pixar’s most critically maligned series. Cars 2 and Cars 3 are both bottom five Pixar entries for the survey group, but Cars sneaks into the top ten in points. Given that it’s barely in the top half for mentions, this is proof not just of some lingering enjoyment of the movie but some honest to goodness enthusiasm. There are certainly some critic-audience splits within this group, but there’s only one greater chasm between the two in either direction than there is for Cars, and that’s for the long-suffering Toy Story 4. And speaking of movies that are maybe a little bit Disney, Brave does very well here in a way that really surprised me. Five first-place votes definitely helped—clearly there’s some affection for this movie which I didn’t see coming—but Brave is in the same neighborhood for points as Ratatouille and the same street for overall mentions as Toy Story 3. If you’d told me that going in, I would have pegged Brave for a finish in the top seven or eight.
One chart and one graph incoming, which are both representations of the same data. First, I’m measuring the average number of points that a movie gets from its top-ten mentions, and then I’m averaging the number of points a movie gets from its appearances in the top five.
For the first column, or, if you prefer, in the pink circles, we’re measuring top-fiveness. To put it a different way, is it a movie that people think is basically a top-half Pixar movie, or do the people who choose it tend to think of it really as being in the top twenty percent of Pixar’s oeuvre? For the second column, or your blue pentagons, we’re looking at bestness. How strong a claim does a movie have at being the best Pixar movie once you’ve decided it’s a top-ten or top-five effort?
By a slim but noticeable margin, a different movie has bested Toy Story for just about the only time today. Coco is the movie which people were most likely to call a top-five effort once it was in their top ten; the way the numbers shake out, you could interpret the numbers in such a way to say that for every two people who put it in their top ten, one gave it a first-place vote. Obviously that’s not the real result, but if this were effective field goal percentage, Coco would be Rudy Gobert. Sixth and seventh belong to two other movies which did not make the top ten in the poll by points but by rate punched well above their rate. That Toy Story 3 is outdoing itself by this metric is not surprising. That Soul is outworking movies like WALL-E and Inside Out is fascinating. It only made the top five on eleven lists, but when it did, it came away with the top spot four times. If you’re reading that as “this is a very small sample within a small sample,” I’d grant that, and if you doubled the number of respondents I got I don’t think it would come out this hot. However, given the critical love for this movie, I would guess that there’s some zest for Soul which could show up in a different poll of this ilk.
The one movie I have to talk about here is Monsters Inc. For a very long time, it had more mentions than any movie that wasn’t Toy Story; in the end, it was eclipsed by Finding Nemo but still finished third. Despite being noted on seventy-nine lists, and belonging to forty-nine top five lists, only three people put it first. That is an absolutely staggering inefficiency—I guess if Coco is Rudy Gobert then Monsters Inc. is Russell Westbrook?—and I’m not entirely sure how it happened short of the randomness of the survey group. If I got 102 other people, surely more of them would put Monsters Inc. first, right? Or at least give it more points by moving it up from say, seventh to fifth? Or am I part of the problem? I have Monsters Inc. sixth.
I have one more graph here for people who are interested in how many first-place, second-place, etc. votes each movie got.
There are definitely movies that run up that teal in this group. Finding Nemo may have finished fifth, but it left some meat on the bone based on what’s here, it is in that pointless group, as it were, on forty-two of the eighty-two top-ten lists it appears on. Toy Story is tied for second in this group, which is not unexpected given its popularity in the top-five, but the movie it’s tied for second with had even less room to fail to pick up points. A Bug’s Life failed to make the top five thirty-four times out of fifty, a rate that you typically see for movies at the bottom of the barrel with few points to speak of and virtually no top-ten clicks, like Monsters University or Cars 2. Poor Flik.
Poll Results in Context
Finally, here’s the part where we look at the results from this poll and compare it to the other pieces of the puzzle. Once again, a chart and a graph with the same data.
In a world where we famously cannot agree if water is wet or not, we can all agree that Toy Story is the best Pixar movie. Every party involved here has chosen that at number one, either by aggregation or deliberation. A quick look at the numbers suggest that:
- The critics are higher than we are on Finding Nemo by a little, Inside Out by some margin, and Toy Story 4 by a lot
- The survey group is higher than the critics and I are on Up by a serious amount, and have taken up the mantle of Monsters Inc. and Cars stans
- I am proud to be the one who won’t shut up about The Good Dinosaur among this august collection, though I can’t understand what everyone else appears to be seeing in Soul, Finding Dory, and Onward.
To be honest, this chart is a fairly compact one. If the fans and the critics have a really interesting gap between them, it’s with two back-to-back movies: WALL-E and Up. The critics have WALL-E second and Up ninth; the poll has it the opposite way. (I’m sympathetic to the critics here, although the critics are the low group on Up, placing it two spots below where I have it.) If there’s a trendline here for the online poll group—and if there is it is not an awfully strong one—I think it’s in preferring depictions of children and family. The pathos of Ellie’s miscarriage, the centering of a chunky little Wilderness Explorer, the wacky family that Carl has strung together. The fractured family in The Incredibles. The unorthodox guardians that Mike and Sulley act as for Boo, a child who only rarely seems to recognize how dangerous her plight is. Miguel’s search into the legacy of his family in Coco, Merida’s attempt to reject her own family’s legacy in Brave. These are all films where the focus is on the family, and oftentimes in kids in particular, and the online group seems to be most interested in that group. For family movies, that seems appropriate.
Those are my findings! As ever, if you are one of the people who helped out in any way as I went through to get data for this poll, my humble thanks. That’s for people who filled out the form (and if you’re reading this and you filled out, then you can call me PBS because this program is thanks to viewers like you). It’s also for anyone who passed it along to folks I don’t have in my address book, because I am very shy and don’t know anyone. I encourage you to give yourself one of those self-five things if those descriptions apply to you, for without you there would be no content.
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