So in what is bound to be my most controversial series yet, I'm doing a countdown of all the released Pixar movies from bottom up -- one, because Pixar is a subject I can expound on for days and two, I love countdowns. For this week, here are numbers 14 - 10.
14. CARS 2
Directed by: John Lasseter and Brad Lewis
What didn't work: Nearly everyone that heard Cars was coming out with a sequel asked: why? Cars is far from Pixar's shining star and although I don't detest it as much as most people, I really couldn't see why they would want to do a sequel other than the potential merchandise profit...Reportedly, the Cars series has made more money from merchandising than the whole Star Wars series. This sounds ridiculously false but it IS true that Cars 2 got the green light because of merchandising potential, as you can read here.
Unfortunately, the "why" of the movie doesn't stop there. Why does this movie suddenly take an espionage turn? Other than the fact that the writers/director wanted to have a little fun...and indeed, this does feel like one of those Bond movies where the focus is more on what kind of cool gadgets they can devise. Why did we decide to take the focus away from Lightning McQueen to the bumbling sidekick Mater?
This movie was fun, but far too predictable in the bumbling protagonist caught in a sort of mistaken identity/spy identity that tastes strongly of Bill Murray's (poorly received) The Man Who Knew Too Little coupled with faithful sidekick redemption. Zero magic and derivative, which is why it's at the bottom of this list.
Directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
What didn't work: Where to start. None of the characters were particularly likable. You wanted to sympathize with the mother and the daughter, but couldn't quite get to it. The trailers promised a headstrong, capable female protagonist for the first time in Pixar history...but in actuality, Merida was more bratty and foolish than courageous. The movie revealed a plot nuance that the trailers were careful to hide and the climax was especially Pixar Poignant...but otherwise, this movie fell flat. The story suffered from the frequent change of directors and writers it underwent before completion. I'm sure I would have more to say about it if I remembered anything from the first and only time I saw it over a year ago...but I never had any desire to rewatch it. Wreck-It Ralph should have taken the Academy Award for that year and it's a shame that Brave won.
Directed by: John Lasseter and Joe Ranft
What didn't work: As I said before, the story is overdone. Cars is one of the few Pixar movies where you feel the length. The movie takes a long time to get to where it's going, ironic because it's a story about fast-moving cars. It's nothing new under the sun, which is probably why we feel the slow pace as much as we do.
Directed by: Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson
What didn't work: I was heavily disappointed by this movie. The humor was juvenile (really? Dogs flying airplanes by chomping down on squeaky bone steering wheels?). I remember being dismayed that Pixar had resorted to cheap animal jokes as an excuse for humor. I also never felt settled by how they dealt with the villain of the story. His demise always seemed a bit harsh. (On a side note, how is he even alive and hopping at this point in the movie? If Carl is nearly 80 years old, and the villain Charles Muntz was about 30 years old when Carl was 8...well, you do the math). The other characters are similarly shallow -- assigned to monotonous, repetitive characterizations, I found myself annoyed at turns by all of them -- the elderly Carl, the kid Russell, the loyal though dull-witted dog Dug, and the squawking bird Kevin. The whole symbolism of Carl carrying around baggage and dragging his house around everywhere, before he learns to let go of it for the sake of someone else, is a bit heavy-handed. Overall though, the movie suffered most from having a daring, soaring, spectacular beginning and then failing to deliver for the remainder.
10. A BUG'S LIFE
Directed by: John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton
What didn't work: In all honesty, A Bug's Life is mostly placed low on the Pixar list because it only suffers in comparison to the other work that Pixar has done. It's a commendable follow-up to Toy Story. The story plays it safe, but there's nothing wrong with that when it produces a solid, enjoyable movie such as this one.
next week: Pixar Movies 9 to 5.