Opinions, Pixar

In Defense of the Other Pixars

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In just a few days we are going to have the treat of the latest Pixar film, Finding Dory. I for one am extremely excited for the film, and have every reason to believe it will be another great entry from Pixar. But on the off chance it is merely good I thought I’d give a little defense of some of the lesser appreciated Pixar entries. In my opinion, they have yet to make a terrible film and if their lesser entries had been made by Sony or DreamWorks they would be far less criticized.

Finding Dory will be Pixar’s 17th feature film and these films can be divided into 2 categories. 10 are masterpieces–Toy Story, Finding Dory, Incredibles, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, Ratatouille, Inside Out, Monsters Inc, Wall-e and Up. The Oscar nominations and wins alone speak for the greatness of these films and 2 were nominated for best picture. Toy Story was also given an honorary Oscar for significant achievement.

Then there are the remaining 6 more uneven entries but not without value- Bug’s Life, Cars, Cars 2, Good Dinosaur and Monsters University. So let’s talk about them and explain why they might be worth another view.

A Bug’s Life

A Bug’s LifeĀ was initially hurt by the presence of Antz from DreamWorks. Currently the main criticism I hear is it has an unoriginal hero narrative. I find this a poor excuse for discounting a film. How often does a truly original story come? What matters is what you do with said story and A Bug’s Life does a lot. You have Flick and his adventure to the big city (which is wildly creative). Then you have the Warrior Circus bugs who are hilarious with great vocal performances. Kevin Spacey makes a great villain as Hopper and the ending has a lot of tension.

Cars

To enjoy the Cars movies you have to be willing to ignore the obvious problems with the nutty world building. Where do cars come from? How do they decide what cars get repaired and which one’s die? You have to set that aside and realize these movies are made for little boys who like cars. Let’s look at the story. In the original Cars you have an ode to small town American life and Route 66. It’s not just entertaining kids but reminding them of the America that once was and maybe encouraging them to find out about their town. I think that has value and works pretty well. Plus, for kids, Larry the Cable Guy as Mater is gold comedy.

Cars 2

The most maligned of them all. Cars 2 is a spy movie for kids. If you think about it kids can’t watch most spy movies. James Bond films for instance have too much tension and sensuality for most kids. So in Cars 2 you have a Bond-esque story that has action and a mystery with a villain- classic spy movie stuff. Sure Mater gets a little too much screen time but the film isn’t Norm of the North bad. It’s not The Nut Job bad. I actually think as far as pacing it’s a little bit better than Cars. And Michael Caine is a lot of fun as Finn McMissile.

Brave

Brave is actually my least favorite Pixar film, but that doesn’t mean it is without value. It frustrates me because it doesn’t deliver the epic it promises in the first 15 minutes, but again that doesn’t mean what it gives is bad. The animation is gorgeous and Merida is a likable character. The growth her character experiences with her mother is great to watch and the music is well done. It is also nice to see a Princess movie pre-Frozen that doesn’t require a love match for the heroine to be happy.

Monsters University

I’ve heard people call this a terrible movie, and I just don’t get it. My favorite part about it is Mike’s journey in the film. Most family films tell kids to dream big and they can accomplish anything. Monsters University says something different. Mike dreams of being a scarer but it turns out that’s not the right dream for him. He learns he is meant to be a coach and his gift is encouraging others. I think that is terrific! Things lose their way a bit in the Scare Games but not so much as to discount the entire film. I also really like Helen Mirren as Dean Hardscrabble who has to teach Mike this tough lesson.

The Good Dinosaur

For my money The Good Dinosaur is the most underrated film of the last several years. I unabashedly love it. To me it has the feeling of a classic Disney film. Just like in Bambi we see Arlo grow up, face hardships and make friends. And just like Pinocchio learned to be honest, so does Arlo learn to conquer his fears. The T-rex’s are creative and funny. The relationship between Arlo and Spot reminds me of Dumbo and Timothy Q Mouse. To me it was something different from Pixar to make such an old fashioned film and I think people will scratch their head as to why it wasn’t a bigger hit like we do with most of the classics from the 30s. Like with A Bug’s Life it doesn’t matter to me if it’s derivative because it hits those beats really well with characters I like. A little intense for small kids but I loved it. The animation is absolutely stunning and groundbreaking.

So those are the lesser appreciated Pixar films. I think they have value. I enjoy watching them from time to time. What about you? Do you despise them or think they are just fine to great? I suppose in a way it is a tribute to Pixar that everyone expects home runs every time but that doesn’t mean the base hits are worthless.

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About Rachel Wagner

Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic and podcaster. She loves all things animation and does a monthly podcast on classic Disney films and on obscure animation at Rachel's Reviews. She also is the founder and lead host of The Hallmarkies Podcast. She grew up with mainstream classics like The Little Mermaid and The Simpsons but also loves indie and anime fare like Song of the Sea and Your Name. Most important to her is discussing all kinds of film and TV shows with her friends and all of you. Follow Rachel on twitter at @rachel_reviews and on her blog rachelsreviews.net