With Coco (2017), the latest Pixar movie, stomping all over the competition since its release on 22 November – over $155 million worldwide and counting – it’s a salient reminder that Pixar, despite a run of less than stellar pictures in recent years, still know how to surprise and engage us, and that worldwide haul, achieved in just five days is not to be sneezed at, denigrated, or viewed as anything other than a major achievement for a company that seemed in danger of having lost its edge completely (especially since those little yellow Minions came along). But even when Pixar doesn’t exactly hit a home run with its releases, they’re still making huge profits and are still able to draw in audiences around the world. Whatever you may think about the likes of Cars 2 (2011), or The Good Dinosaur (2015), Pixar are still winners at the box office. Don’t believe it? Then read on…
10 – Cars 2 (2011) – $562,110,557
If there’s one movie that you could be forgiven for thinking should be on this list it’s WALL-E (2008), but both this movie and Brave (2012) were more profitable worldwide. With the critical drubbing Cars 2 received, not to mention its subsequent reputation as the worst Pixar movie ever made, this disastrous “spy caper” was Pixar’s first serious misstep in a dozen movies, and its success can only be put down to audiences ignoring the reviews and heading to cinemas anyway. That anyone came away pleased that they went is another matter entirely, but there must have been quite a few who were wondering if they could try and turn back time just as Holley Shiftwell tries to in the movie.
9 – Monsters, Inc. (2001) – $577,425,734
Still perhaps one of Pixar’s most engaging and sharply realised movies, Monsters, Inc. is a monstrously enjoyable fairy tale that like all the best Pixar movies, carries a tremendous amount of emotional depth, and feeling, around with it. There’s also the inspired casting of Billy Crystal and John Goodman, an incredibly detailed world for their characters to inhabit, and Pixar’s trademark heart and soul to anchor all the drama and the laughs. Pixar’s fourth movie saw them gaining more and more confidence, both in terms of the animation and the storylines, and this remains one of the best examples of Pixar’s ability to create a world out of nothing and make it entirely credible.
8 – Ratatouille (2007) – $620,702,951
Ten years on, and though it may be unfair to say so, there’s a sense that, along with A Bug’s Life (1998), Ratatouille is the Pixar movie that people forget is a Pixar movie. Fantastically entertaining and richly rewarding in its depiction of a culinary world that puts food on a pedestal (and then provides another pedestal for its central character to reach the soup tureen), it’s another inspired movie that works on so many different emotional levels that it’s almost embarrassing (for other animation studios to watch). It’s also a movie that contains one of the finest moments ever created by Pixar, the moment when detached and dismissive food critic Anton Ego tastes Remy’s ratatouille and is immediately transported back to the more carefree days of his childhood. Sheer perfection.
7 – The Incredibles (2004) – $633,019,734
Pixar does superheroes – and in the only way they know how: by making them a mostly dysfunctional family with more problems than whether or not some evil villain is planning to take over the world. The Incredibles can lay claim to being the funniest Pixar movie so far (“Where’s my super suit?”), but it’s the way in which it takes superhero tropes and visual stylings and melds them to its own way of looking at the world through demoralised superhero eyes that makes it work so well. That, and the fact that the action sequences are cleverly orchestrated, something that the movie doesn’t always get an appropriate amount of credit for. With a sequel fast approaching, let’s hope it adds to this movie’s lustre and legacy, and doesn’t wind up as another unnecessary, and underwhelming, Pixar sequel.
6 – Up (2009) – $735,099,082
Justly celebrated for that opening montage of the highs and lows of a couple’s life, Up peaks incredibly early, and the story that follows isn’t quite able to raise the bar any higher, but the movie carries itself well, and it’s still an enjoyable jungle romp that harks back to the old-time serials of the Thirties and Forties. It’s touching, thrilling, funny, happily melodramatic when it wants to be, and is the first Pixar movie to deal with notions of mortality in a way that isn’t indirect or which sidesteps the issue. And like a lot of Pixar movies, it’s about the power of friendship, a theme that is given full and credible expression through the unlikely, yet growing co-dependence of an old man and a boy scout.
5 –Monsters University (2013) – $744,229,437
Not one of Pixar’s best received sequels – and despite its being a major financial success – Monsters University did well because of the affection audiences have for Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan. But it encumbered them in a storyline that showed promise but which petered out in terms of originality and audience engagement (even Crystal and Goodman seem to be giving muted performances), and there were awkward, unresolved issues with the timeline and its connection to Monsters, Inc. There were also too many occasions where it seemed to be trying too hard, something that afflicted Cars 2 as well. By this stage, Pixar wasn’t the creative juggernaut it had been just a few short years before, and the caché they had built up was slowly being eroded. Thankfully, they took a two year break, and then came back with…
4 – Inside Out (2015) – $857,611,174
The movie that reaffirmed our faith in Pixar’s ability to “get the job done” and present us with a highly original idea rendered in a highly original fashion, Inside Out was and is a triumph of production and character design, and it provides moments of intense meditation on how difficult it is to find yourself while going through the maelstrom of puberty. Alternately touching and reflexive, the movie covers so much ground, both emotionally and intellectually, that it’s hard sometimes to work out just how Pixar got this so right, and without making any glaring mistakes in the process. Effortless, and extremely likeable, this is a movie that should resonate with anyone who struggled through their teenage years.
3 – Finding Nemo (2003) – $940,335,536
Pixar’s first true box office juggernaut, and their fifth release over all, Finding Nemo‘s simple premise works precisely because it is so simple. Blessed with a terrific vocal performance by Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, the movie is made up of one distinctive scene after another, and plays with its notions of family with intelligence and heartfelt honesty, making this – yet again – a Pixar movie that works on far more levels than it has any right to, and which succeeds brilliantly in capturing the anxiety and fear of being separated from a loved one, and never knowing if you’ll ever see them again. It’s so good it’s hard to work out who’s likely to be more shaken by its tale of abbreviated safety: the parent or the child.
2 – Finding Dory (2016) – $1,028,570,889
In many ways a re-run of its predecessor, Finding Dory is a Pixar sequel that has all the hallmarks of a “safe bet”: it brings back a good many of the original characters, sends them on another journey where humans act as unwitting imprisoners, and throws in a number of set pieces that are both energetic and well thought out, but there’s something missing that stops it from being as good (even if audiences didn’t think so). DeGeneres is still good value though, and helps the movie over some unexpected rough patches, but though this isn’t too far off the top spot in terms of money earned, it’s not quite the success that its position warrants. Still, if you settle back and don’t think it about it too much, then it can be as funny and as engaging as you want it to be.
1 – Toy Story 3 (2010) – $1,066,969,703
That rare beast, a second sequel that’s as good, if not better, than the original or its immediate sequel, Toy Story 3 is Pixar’s most financially successful movie after twenty-two years and nineteen movies. As animated movies go, it’s near perfect: a combination of earnest sentimentality, wistful regret, touching emotional candour, and the kind of endearing behaviour we’ve come to expect from such an amazing cast of characters (aided and abetted of course by some group of humans who aren’t nearly as important). It has some darker elements that would have made the movie feel false if they hadn’t been included, and like the montage at the beginning of Up, is almost guaranteed to reduce you to tears towards the end. A fitting conclusion to what many people regard as the “best trilogy ever made”, and even without that affirmation, a genuinely superb movie that rewards the viewer every time they watch it.