While the original Cars is obviously less engaging than the next ten films on this countdown, it really is a good movie, one made with passion and insight. The story is a simple, familiar riff on Doc Hollywood, but director John Lasseter overcomes any feelings of stagnation with charming characters and a pleasant atmosphere. He also imbues the film with a strong thematic undercurrent about the death of the romanticized American highway, a concept that gives the material a heartfelt, personal touch. The cars themselves are creatively animated, and each race is a rather spectacular set piece. Even if Cars is Pixar working in minor key, it’s an entertaining and intelligent film overall, one I am happy to have as part of the studio’s canon.
10. A Bug’s Life
Seven Samurai reenacted with insects probably shouldn’t make for a good movie, but A Bug’s Life is undeniably excellent, witty and intense from start to finish. In fact, this is where the list gets extremely challenging to rank, because I like A Bug’s Life quite a bit. It comes in this low on the countdown not because of any particular faults, but because of the strength of the next nine films.
The film sees John Lasseter working at the height of his narrative and visual creativity, crafting a fully realized miniature world, one inhabited with wonderful characters we immediately invest in. The story is actually one of the darkest ones in the Pixar canon, as the evil Grasshoppers threaten actual death and destruction at every turn.
That’s a nice touch, one that helps make the material truly compelling and, in 1998, signified just how much Pixar respected its young audience. The film and its now-primitive animation still hold up spectacularly well to this day, and though it has less to offer adults than subsequent Pixar efforts, A Bug’s Life remains spectacular children’s entertainment of the highest caliber.
9. Toy Story
Toy Story is a great movie. There is no doubt about that. It features nothing but wonderful, memorable characters – perhaps the single greatest ensemble in the history of American animation – a simple yet powerful story about the need to be receptive to change, and beautifully designed visuals that hold up well to this day.
But while most Pixar rankings deify Toy Story and place it near the top of their list, I do not believe this particular film is a masterpiece. It has some pacing issues around the middle, and a second half that is notably less compelling than the first, and that holds it back from reaching the same highs as later Pixar work. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. This was Pixar’s first film, and it speaks volumes to the nature of the company that they only improved from here. Just look at how well each Toy Story sequel builds off the foundation provided in part one.
In any case, Toy Story is a fantastic start to a wonderful studio. If it never existed, the next eight films would have no chance of existing. To me, though, that does not place it above many of its successors. For Pixar, the best was still to come.
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