by Marcus Leshock

“Toy Story 3” blasted to the top of the weekend box office, raking in a mammoth $110 million over its first three days. It was Pixar Animation Studios biggest movie yet. The team is responsible for some of the most critically-acclaimed animated movies of all-time. “Toy Story 3” followed right in line, garnering an amazing 98% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

I really liked “Toy Story 3,” especially its conclusion that is sure to tug at your heart if you are half a human being. But I’m more amazed at Pixar’s ability to drive the advancement of 3D animation. Each of their films offers a bit more texture. I can’t count the amount of times I said, “Wow.” That’s what a big Hollywood kids picture should do – amaze, even the adults.

But enough about what I think. Given that SolidLine has its own crack computer animation team helmed by Art Director Mike Petrik, I thought I’d ask him to rank the Pixar movies from best to not-best (you just can’t say “worst” in the Pixar universe). Mike still has to see “Up” and “Toy Story 3,” a crime considering his passion for the craft. But here are his rankings and thoughts on the rest….

9. "Cars" (2006)

9-cars-150x150-1If there was one Pixar film that didn’t pull the critical weight, it was “Cars.” Mike agrees…

Lots of shiny cars.  Not my favorite of the bunch, and I dont think it showcased anything new for Pixar.

8. “A Bug’s Life” (1998)

Ahh, the sophomore effort.  Everyone suffers from this one.  You need to uphold the standards you made with your first film, but you don’t want to repeat yourself.  A lot rides on a directors / animation studio’s second film.  But I’m pretty sure this was very successful for Pixar, and a cute little family movie.  The thing that sticks out for me from this flick is the short before the film called “Gerry’s Game.”  Pixar treated everyone with a delightful character piece that I think overshadowed the feature that followed.  The character of Gerry is full of life and fun to watch, while the Bug’s Life characters are bland and, by todays standards, kind of a joke to look at.

7. "Ratatouille" (2007)

Beautifully art directed.  All of the lighting and atmosphere that went into the warm kitchens and the damp alleys felt like you could print them out and hang them up as you would a painting.

6. "Finding Nemo" (2003)

I heard the rendering times on this one were insane.  All of the underwater caustics and other tech-nerdy mumbo jumbo made this feature look amazing, but at a price.  I guess some frames took up to 3 weeks to render.  Yikes.

5. "The Incredibles" (2004)

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I am loving the character designs in this one.  Not the wonky humanoids from the first Pixar, but almost a 1940’s style Warner Brothers look to them.  All different shapes and sizes.  The action in this is tons of fun, which everyone seems to love most about it, but I feel this is one of Pixars greatest character-driven pieces.  So much care and consideration was taken in how these different characters move, how they feel, how they react.  This should be shown in character animation classes.

4. "WALL-E" (2008)

A completely different installation to the Pixar library, but one of my favorites.  Probably because it relies heavily on character animation more than anything else.  One thing I liked about it was how they weren’t afraid to use actual live action footage, which I think may be the first time they did something like that.  This is also one that I think targets adults more than it does kids.  What 5 year-old would want to watch a robot walking around for an hour? But it looks gorgeous and warms the heart.

3. "Monster's Inc." (2001)

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This being one of my daughters favorite films, I have seen it about 500 times, which gives me the perfect opportunity to break things down.  For whatever reason, people lump this one in with A Bug’s Life as one of the “forgotten Pixar movies.”  No way.  This one is a blast from start to finish.  The characters are great, the entire world of Monsters is fun to look at,  and there is a ton of action that we haven’t really seen in a Pixar movie up until this point.  There were again major leaps in character design, lighting and rendering, and most notably, fur simulations.  The main character of Sully has a fully body of fur, that if done incorrectly, would be annoying and distracting.  But Pixar nailed it.  Interactions with movement and wind, and even clumping of snow.  The bar was raised.

2. "Toy Story 2" (1999)

Perfection.  Heart warming story.  Technical leaps in lighting and rendering that make it much prettier to look at.  The characters that we love from the first film.  Way to go Pixar.

1. "Toy Story" (1995)

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Wow, what an impact this made on my life.  Since I was a kid, I have been interested in animation / character animation / cartooning in general.  This came out when I was in high school and too cool to be into cartoons.  “Tex Avery who?  Kids stuff!!!”  But this flipped my wig.  I devoured everything I could about how Toy Story was made.  “You mean it was ALL done in a computer?  What?  Really?”  I found a college that offered 3D animation and character animation courses, and made it a life goal to do what these Pixar people do.  From a technical standpoint, Toy Story holds up amazingly well.  From my perspective, I can definitely point out the lighting / character / camera errors, but we can’t blame Pixar.  They did what they could with the technology that existed.  Plus the story and characters are so fantastic, it could look like a bunch of stick figures and still be intriguing.

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