Tickle Me Elmo

The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland is the second and final Sesame Street movie. Unlike Jim Henson’s Muppets, they’re more meant for TV. I was 4 years old in 1999, so my enjoyment of Sesame Street is linked to a certain 3 year old red monster named Elmo. Although I missed the mass hysteria of Tickle Me Elmo, I do have fond memories of Elmo’s World. Years later, I understand the frustration seasoned fans must of had for Elmo.

I’ll never forget the circumstances of how I saw The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. Since my older brother was in school, my mom decided to just take me to see it. Needless to say my brother wasn’t happy about that. Outside of a few fragments, I have next to no memories of the movie (until rewatching it). Elmo in Grouchland is done in the style of a “gone missing” story. An Elmo movie was inevitable, but your enjoyment of it depends on how much you like Elmo.

The short and simple story is Elmo searching for his beloved blanket after being a little possessive of it and yelling at Zoe. He learns a lesson about sharing by the end. As the title suggests, Oscar the Grouch is just as important. As Elmo falls into his trash can that magically takes him to a rotten world called Grouchland. Mandy Patinkin is the cartoonish villain, Vanessa Williams is the Queen of Trash, and Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Grover are there too. Meanwhile, Bert & Ernie talk directly to the kids. Songs are harmless, the tone is light, and Elmo in Grouchland is just fine for Elmo fans like I was.

11. The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland

Elmo dances in Grouchland

Glory of the Ages

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ is the story of faith, revenge, and triumph over adversity. Ben-Hur is a tale known for generations. Ever since the book was published in 1880, then adapted as a 1907 short. Like many, I was only familiar with the most famous adaptation. Until I sought out the silent 1925 original. Which is just as impressive in its own right. I learned the story of Ben-Hur by watching this version.

Judah Ben-Hur is a wealthy Jew betrayed by his childhood Roman friend Messala. Separated from his mother & sister, Ben-Hur vowed revenge. As he survived working on a slave galley, was adopted by its Roman admiral, grew as an athlete, and fell in love with Esther. The centerpiece of the story will always be the great climactic chariot race. I don’t know how they pulled it off back then, but it sure does hold up now. The sequence even features a who’s who of classic Hollywood stars in background roles.

Ben-Hur’s story is pure fiction, but it’s paired up with the reality of Jesus Christ. As both stories are done in tandem with Jesus as an unseen presence. These parts are extremely easy to follow since I know the tale of the Christ by heart. The moments they cross paths are pivotal with Jesus giving a thirsty Ben-Hur water and Jesus healing the sick before his crucifixion. Like the tagline says, every Christian outta see it. I’ve gotten used to silent films and the color isn’t always black & white. Scenes from the Bible are in Technicolor. As difficult as it may have been to film, Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ remains an epic first step.

Ben-Hur A Tale of the Christ

Ben-Hur rides his chariot

No Matter Where You Are

The Book of Life is set during Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) with a musician winding up in a colorful realm of the dead in desperate need of a way out. No this isn’t Coco, but to be fair, this was released 3 years prior. It just didn’t have the major animation studio to back it up. However, The Book of Life couldn’t be more different. Family is important, but this is much more of a love story with a Hollywood feel.

Complete with poppy songs and an all star cast consisting of Diego Luna, Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Ice Cube, Ron Perlman, and Christina Applegate. From the perspective of a tour guide reading from the titular Book of Life, the story is told with the odd use of wooden figurines. Manolo is a bullfighter more passionate about music, his friend Joaquín is a local hero, and both compete for the love of feisty general’s daughter María. Their love triangle is meddled with when Mexican deities La Muerte and Xibalba make a wager about who she’ll end up with.

Manola is killed and traverses the Land of the Remembered, the Cave of Souls ruled by the Candle Maker, and the Land of the Forgotten in order to return to his beloved. The unusual animation is thanks to the direction of Jorge Gutierrez. Creator of the Nickelodeon series El Tigre. I haven’t watched it, but you can see the influence in all the colors, patterns, and uniquely shaped characters. The love of hispanic culture is on full display. The Book of Life isn’t remembered by most, but it’s an inviting choice for Day of the Dead.

The Book of Life

Manolo reunites with his deceased mother

Follow that Spaceship

Flight of the Navigator plots a course to adventure. Despite never watching it when I was younger, I always knew about it as one of those lesser known “Kid and his robot” movies. I wasn’t even aware it was from Disney. Flight of the Navigator was one of the first Disney movies I watched on Disney+, but I had to rewatch it after falling asleep. Making it even more enjoyable now that I appreciate the bigger picture. Which can be separated in two distinct halves.

The first 45 minutes of Flight of the Navigator follows average 12 year old kid David. He’s just trying to enjoy 4th of July until he passes out in the middle of a forest. When he wakes up, a full 8 years have passed! It’s completely unexpected and could’ve made an interesting movie all by itself. Since a kid discovering his parents and younger brother are older would be pretty traumatizing. When NASA cross examines him, a young Sarah Jessica Parker gets him out.

Leading to the last 45 minutes which delivers on the lighthearted sci-fi adventure we were promised. The cool reflective pod shaped spaceship looks great with the early 80’s CGI. The inside is equally cool with a monotone robotic drone David calls Max. The only catch is David needing to navigate since all the maps were placed in his head. They form an unlikely bond and learn a lot from each other. Max even gains the laugh happy personality of Pee-Wee Herman. Flight of the Navigator is a surprisingly thought provoking personal journey with all the adorable aliens and flight sequences to keep it fun.


David (kid) navigates with Max (robot)

Driven to Win

Cars 3 is the real Cars 2. Ignoring the much maligned Pixar sequel entirely. It’s no secret that when it comes to Pixar, the Cars franchise is their most middle of the road. Cars is a good road movie that deserves more credit than it’s given. While Cars 2 took a wrong turn and nearly cost Pixar all their credibility. Yet the kid friendly financial success of Cars endured. To the point theatrical spin-offs made by Disney’s lesser direct-to-video studio Disneytoon Studios were made. As inferior as Cars 2 was, the Planes movies were the real sellouts. I can honestly say that I had zero interest in a Cars 3. My mind was changed when I first saw the much talked about teaser trailer.

In an attempt to take the franchise seriously, the teaser was insanely dark with a brutal car crash and ominous music. Cars 3 asks questions about the car world that are like every other sports movie. Since giving the spotlight to a goofy comic relief like Mater was a bad idea, Lightning McQueen reclaimed the title. Randy Newman returned to score and John Lasseter had some input, but storyboard artist Brian Fee replaced the director. The intention was always to return to the original tone and have a more emotional story along the lines of Finding Dory. Returning to the franchise at 22 years old was far more satisfying with Cars 3, but even a good Cars movie is still just a Cars movie…

Cars 3

Lightning McQueen races with Cruz Ramirez

Cars 3 had any awards attention given to its short Lou. A precious and unique story where a Kindergartner faces a living lost-and-found. Cars 3 came out at a point when all the possibilities of the Cars franchise were exhausted. Thanks to Cars 2, Planes, and a whole bunch of shorts, any possible questions about the anthropomorphic world of vehicles was already addressed. So unless Disney makes Boats, I can’t imagine there’s anything else to know. A major plus was the vast improvement of computer animation. Cars 3 utilized a new system called Rix Integration Subsystem. Now animation and rendering could be done simultaneously. Backgrounds are extra realistic and the cars themselves have a sheen that’s worth complimenting. A more personal story meant a slower pace that only sped up with racing sequences.

Cars 3 is the true continuation of Lightning McQueen’s journey. All he did in Cars 2 was race, try to be a good friend, and be in the dark about everything else. The only unavoidable acknowledgement of the sequel is Doc Hudson’s passing. Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, and the rest of the mostly respectable cast return. Along with some newer faces and several NASCAR stars. Lightning McQueen has reached veteran racer status and has maintained a winning streak all those years. Everyone loves him and fellow racers are his friendly rivals. Everything about Mater’s time as a spy is completely ignored and his screen time is reduced severely. All Mater has to do is be supportive and wear silly hats. His jokes are also toned down to the point where he barely feels necessary anymore.

Meanwhile, Sally is given a slightly bigger role as Lightning’s girlfriend. John Ratzenberger has a bit more to do since Mack more actively transports Lightning around, but the rest of Radiator Springs is mostly left on Route 66. Cars 3 drives right back to the sports angle with several callbacks to the first movie. Paul Newman may have passed, but Doc’s presence is felt throughout. Archive recordings are used and Lightning’s mentor/mentee relationship to him motivates most of his actions. Lightning finds himself in a similar position when a rookie shows up out of nowhere and steals his thunder. Armie Hammer is the antagonistic new racer Jackson Storm. A state-of-the-art, high tech racer built for speed. Michael Keaton doesn’t return, but former rival Chick Hicks returns with his own sports coverage show. He talks with Kerry Washington voiced racing analyst Natalie Certain about the advancements built into Storm. Along with the odds of him maintaining victory in every race.

As all his friends are slowly replaced by next generation racers, Lightning begins to let it get to his head. When he pushes himself too hard, Lightning has a brutal crash seen in the dark teaser trailer. I didn’t realize how much I appreciated Cars, until I saw a childhood icon face a tragedy like this. It was a tear worthy moment that did manage to get me. While Lightning recuperates with a primer paint job, the media already assumes he’ll retire and be replaced by Storm. Sally gives him a pep talk and he decides to return even better than he was before. Learning from Doc’s past incident. So Lightning, Luigi, and Guido take Mack to his Rust-Eze sponsors who’ve just sold their brand to billionaire Sterling. He’s a big fan of Lightning who’s turned Rust-Eze into both a museum and training center.

With Mater back home, hispanic comedian Cristela Alonzo fills in as Lightning’s trainer Cruz Ramirez. She takes a new aged approach to training in a high tech environment. All Lightning wants to do is go on the simulator, but Cruz treats him like an old car. When he can’t handle the simulation, Sterling talks to him about retiring and becoming a brand. But Lightning would rather embrace the old ways and train on dirt. Cars 3 is basically Rocky IV with cars. With all the usual sports clichés. You could almost take out the living car element and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Cruz accompanies Lightning on the beach where he spends most of his time trying to loosen up her wheels. He attempts to practice on a local racetrack in disguise, but it turns out to be a dangerous demolition derby (with a Pizza Planet truck) where he’s discovered by the media. The whole sequence is pretty pointless, only succeeding in adding to Lightning’s humiliation and him blaming Cruz for failing to train him.

Cruz kind of hijacks the story when she talks about her own dreams of becoming a racer, but never feeling like she belonged. Lighting then gets the idea to seek out Doc’s former coach after calling Mater. Mater’s only real contribution in the movie. Lightning apologizes to Cruz and they both find the Chris Cooper voiced Smokey in Thomasville. Along with other aging racing legends who’ve also faced uphill battles. Smokey gives Lightning a confidence boost when he points out how happy Doc was later in life being his coach. Lightning trains with Cruz in nature while Storm continues to train with technology. It’s only when Cruz passes him by that he starts having doubts. The climax is set at the big race in Florida. Everyone shows up in support while Smokey acts as crew chief. Lightning starts dead last, but manages to regain an advantage. It’s only when Sterling forces Cruz out that he does something that can’t possibly be legal.

SPOILER ALERT! He gives his number to Cruz and has her finish the race for him. They never out right say it, but the thinly veiled message is obvious. Lightning takes over as crew chief and offers words of encouragement. I can’t deny the exhilaration of the race and the triumph when Cruz proves Storm wrong. Even though the execution makes for a cheesy ending. Dinoco buys Rust-Eze from Sterling and sponsors Cruz with Doc’s old number. Meanwhile, Lightning literally gives himself a Doc paint job that I wasn’t expecting. In the end, the moral is that sometimes training is just as rewarding as playing the game yourself. The exact same moral as Monsters University. The animation is stellar, the soundtrack is fast, and the story is an improvement. Cars 3 is just the middle child of the Cars franchise and passable by Pixar standards.

37. Cars 3

Lightning races against Jackson Storm

Preceded by: Cars 2

Short Term Remembery Loss

Finding Dory is just as forgettable as Dory herself. Sure it was a billion dollar financial success and has a percentage over 90%, but once you take off the nostalgia goggles, it’s really not that special. Critics were shocked when Finding Dory wasn’t nominated for Best Animated Feature, but I wasn’t surprised. Everyone from Disney to Ellen DeGeneres begged for a sequel to Finding Nemo. Director Andrew Stanton was the only one who wanted to stay true to Pixar’s policy of only making sequels when the right story came around. Instead of giving into stockholders. Finding Nemo 2 would have been the third non-Pixar sequel made by Circle 7 after Toy Story 3 and Monster University.

The story would’ve been a Finding Marlin movie where Nemo discovers he has a long lost brother. When Disney purchased Pixar, it wasn’t until 12 years later that Finding Dory was conceived by Stanton. Finding Dory asks questions about fish that hit even closer to home. Unlike all of the previous Pixar continuations, only 1 year has passed. I was 7 when Finding Nemo came out and 21 when Finding Dory came out. I never thought there should’ve been a sequel, but I couldn’t say no to seeing some familiar fish friends again. Especially after the disappointment of The Good Dinosaur. Luckily I’d been to the Shedd Aquarium by that point. The only difference was the studio choosing a rehabilitation facility rather than a straightforward aquarium…

34. Finding Dory

Dory guides Hank through a fish tank

Finding Dory only secured an Oscar win for its short Piper. An astoundingly realistic little story where an adorable sandpiper faces her fear of water. Speaking of water, the biggest distinction between Finding Dory and Finding Nemo is the amount of water. Since practically the entire ocean was already explored, there was nowhere to go but the surface. Finding Dory has some of the most believable computer animated water effects I’ve ever seen. Pixar’s photorealistic rendering system was reworked just to light things better. The only problem was how little that made a difference. 12 years later and Finding Nemo still holds up better than most early 2000’s computer animation. Like Finding Dory, the original is already perfect and can’t really be improved on too much. Like Cars 2 and Monsters University, Finding Dory has a new lead to center on. Marlin is arguably the lead in Finding Nemo, unless you count Nemo’s time spent in the tank equally.

Since Dory made an off handed remark about not knowing where her parents are, Finding Dory is all about her journey to find them. Almost the entire respectable cast returned including Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, and any character voiced by the Pixar staff. Even though she hasn’t acted in anything since Finding Nemo, Ellen gets the spotlight this time around. Since events couldn’t play out in real time, only 1 year has past since Nemo was found. Meaning the now grown up Alexander Gould had to be replaced by another child actor. Hayden Rolence matches Nemo’s voice well enough. While Gould has a bit part as a driver. This time Marlin & Nemo take a backseat to Dory’s story. We learn the origin of every one of Dory’s quirks. Dory was once an adorable baby blue tang suffering from short term memory loss. Diane Keaton & Eugene Levy are her loving parents Jenny & Charlie.

Like any child with a disability, her parents give her special lessons that’ll help her later in life. Like to tell fish what she has if ever she’s lost or to avoid going near the undertow. When Dory is separated, she becomes so forgetful that she forgets what she’s even looking for as she grows up. It’s at that point Dory swims into Marlin as he’s looking for the boat. 1 year later, Dory is living in a brain coral house right next to Marlin & Nemo’s anemone. They’re practically a family who spend a lot of time reminding you how much you loved the first movie. One of my main grievances is how often they seemed to be checking things off. Something that’s unavoidable when the title hinges on a fish being lost. Dory becomes Mr. Ray’s teaching assistant, he sings a song, and a kid from Nemo’s class asks about Dory’s family. A stingray migration near the undertow triggers one of many flashbacks to Dory’s parents. It’s the best way to write for a character who forgets things.

We learn that Dory lives in the “Jewel of Morro Bay, California.” We also discover she was swept into the undertow, her parents helped her find home with seashells, she learned to speak whale through a pipe, and “Just Keep Swimming” was a song her parents used to sing for her. Each bit of information helps her over the course of the movie. Even though they have no real purpose in her adventure, Marlin & Nemo tag along for emotional support. Crush the sea turtle briefly appears to give them a lift to California and they narrowly avoid a giant squid in a sunken shipwreck that also has a Pizza Planet truck. Marlin scolds Dory for putting Nemo in danger (again) and she follows the voice of Sigourney Weaver to the surface. Although her voice was used for the computer in WALL·E, this time they call attention to it.

Despite it still pretty much being an aquarium, the Marine Life Institute is all about rescue, rehabilitation, and release. Even though it’s animated, they feel the need to indulge that crowd. Dory is taken into quarantine where fish are either nursed back to health then released or sent to an aquarium in Cleveland. Dory runs into many new fish friends, but her main travelling companion is a 6 legged red octopus voiced by Ed O’Neill. Although he can be a little antagonistic, there are no villains once again. Hank camouflages in many fun ways and is only concerned with having a tank to himself in Cleveland. So he makes a deal with Dory that he’ll get her transfer tag in exchange for taking her to find her parents. A large majority of Finding Dory is traversing through the Institute in any body of water available. Which is a clever idea that does separate the movies.

Since Hank can go on land and sea, he transports Dory in a coffee pot, cup, or anything that holds water. Dory reads the map and she mistakenly ends up in the tank of a whale shark voiced by Kaitlin Olson. Like Dory, Destiny is nearsighted and the reason Dory can speak whale. They’re joined by a Ty Burrell voiced beluga whale named Bailey who’s lost his echolocation. Added characters like them and the humor is very hit or miss for me. In fact, Finding Dory has an overwhelming sense of depression. Between Dory’s goal and the flashback’s she has, I can’t help but feel like they were trying too hard be emotional. I call it the Inside Out effect. It’s sort of the same problem The Good Dinosaur had. Dory & Hank go further with a baby stroller, but wind up inside an open fish tank. For me the funniest joke is all the sea creatures afraid to be touched by grabby children. Hank has a fear of being touched, but Dory gets him through it and he inks when poked.

Meanwhile, Marlin & Nemo try to find Dory by talking to lazy sea lions voiced by Idris Elba & Dominic West. Their running gag is barking at the dimwitted Gerald to get off their rock. They call a brainless bird named Becky over to them and she transports them via pale after Marlin imprints. As Marlin & Nemo wind up in a gift shop tank, there’s a sloppy message about believing in Dory’s spontaneity. So they follow a sprinkler to another tank with a chatty clam while Hank parts ways with Dory. Leaving her in the central fish tank where her parents have mysteriously disappeared. A crab couple (including one voiced by John Ratzenberger), tell her the royal blue tangs are in quarantine. Destiny convinces Bailey to use his echolocation to help Dory through the pipe line and she reunites with Marlin & Nemo. Things get sad again when the blue tangs tell Dory her parents are probably dead. Leading to Marlin & Nemo being stuck on the truck to Cleveland, Hank being snatched, and Dory being swept into the ocean.

Even though the subtle build up is supposed to make it a big tear worthy moment, I just couldn’t force a tear when Dory follows a trail of seashells to her parents. It would help if the whole movie wasn’t so sentimental all the time. You’d think the movie would end here, but there’s still a whole crazy chase scene to see. Every-fish comes together to help Dory get her clownfish family back. Destiny & Bailey flee captivity, adorable otters stop traffic, Dory convinces Hank to be free, Becky scoops them up, and they hijack, then crash the truck filled with fish that they also free. In the end, Dory has her whole family with her again. We even get a rendition of “Unforgettable” by Sia and a fun after-credits cameo by the Tank gang who are still in their baggies. Finding Dory finds a heart, but loses its sense of purpose.

35. Finding Dory

Marlin and Nemo take a ride with Becky

Preceded by: Finding Nemo


Cars 2 is the first Pixar misfire. Officially breaking the animation studio’s 16 year winning streak. Pixar could do no wrong for more than a decade. So it’s truly baffling that they followed up 2 Best Picture nominated films with a Cars sequel starring Larry the Cable Guy. Pixar always strove to only make movies they were passionate about. Well it couldn’t be more obvious that Cars 2 was only made for money. I have a soft spot for Cars of course, but I agree that it was the weakest Pixar movie made at the time. Cars 2 was the first non-Toy Story sequel made after Disney purchased Pixar. Made only 5 years after the first Cars.

I can’t believe founder John Lasseter chose to direct Cars 2 instead of Toy Story 3. Getting the idea after traveling to exotic countries with Mater in mind for some reason. Cars 2 asks questions about the car world no one was asking. Like what spies would look like if they were cars. I was 16 at the time and nostalgia for the first movie was really what got me to go see it. I like action spy adventures as much as the next guy, but the sudden genre shift was really bizarre. Cars 2 is the only “rotten” Pixar film on Rotten Tomatoes and the first not to be nominated for Best Animated Feature (or any Oscar). It’s not unwatchable, but I expect so much better from the pioneers of computer animation…

24. Cars 2

Mater romances Holley Shiftwell

Cars 2 makes its commercial appeal obvious with a Toy Story 3 short titled Hawaiian Vacation. A decent follow up where the toys try to throw a romantic Hawaii themed date for Barbie & Ken. Cars 2 was far from Pixar’s first Cars product since the release of the first film. It was already a highly successful franchise long before the sequel came out. From Cars Toons shorts Mater’s Tall Tales to all the toy cars a kid could want. It makes sense that Pixar would want a sequel, but surely they must have known how risky it was. Financially, Cars 2 was a big success. Critically, Pixar took a hit that I honestly never thought I’d see from the studio. But it was just the reality check they needed. The computer animation was just as spectacular as ever. Proving that story is everything when you get right down to it.

Cars 2 is the first Pixar sequel to have a distinct lead character change. The Toy Story trilogy may have put more or less emphasize on Woody or Buzz, but they were still ensembles with equal attention given to both. It couldn’t be more painfully clear that Mater is the star of Cars 2. Like Larry the Cable Guy, Mater is tolerable in small doses. But making a comic relief like him the lead character doesn’t always work out. The happy-go-lucky tow truck fills the movie with his special brand of hillbilly humor and stumbles his way through everything. Although Cars 2 has a fairly respectable cast, most of their performances sound a little off. As if they knew they didn’t need to try. Owen Wilson takes a back seat as Lightning McQueen. Only concerning himself with taking it slow, then entering a major race, and trying to be a good friend to Mater.

The whole message of Cars is kind of thrown out when its revealed Lightning’s won several Piston Cups that he’s dedicated to the late Doc Hudson. A character that couldn’t return without Paul Newman. Other voice actors like Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, and of course John Ratzenberger return. Mack just doesn’t have much to do outside of hang out on Route 66. Sally is just there to be Lightning’s girlfriend and support. Red the firetruck is now a silent character and Fillmore the hippie van was recast. Mater is just enjoying his time spent with his best friend until the needlessly complicated plot drives in. Cars 2 attempts to be adult with a story involving the use of fossil fuels and clean burning energy. Something I seriously doubt kids will be able to follow.

Apparently a former British oil baron named Sir Miles Axlerod traveled without a GPS and emerged with a new need to switch to electric. Creating a clean burning fuel called Allinol that he intends to promote at the World Grand Prix. Mater defends Lightning against snobby Italian formula race car Francesco Bernoulli. John Turturro is one of the few good sources of comedy with Francesco’s friendly rivalry. Lightning agrees to take part in the race with Mater, Luigi, Guido, Sarge, and Filmore joining him. The movie takes them everywhere from Japan & Paris to Italy & London. Which is mostly just an excuse to see the car world in various locations. A world that continues to present more questions than answers. Such as revealing a bathroom to be like a car wash. I’m sure just to get away with toilet humor. We also see way more living vehicles in action. I mean, are a boat and airplane’s sole purpose in life to carry cars around? There’s also a car with headlight eyes that comes out of nowhere.

In the end, the biggest answered question is what international espionage looks like from a car’s perspective. Finn McMissile is what you get when James Bond’s Aston Martin has a life of its own. With respectable Brit Michael Caine giving him personality. Finn is packed with standard spy car gadgets and guns that pop out from the side. I get that they’re cars, but it’s still violent even if they aren’t human. Cars are totalled left & right and almost constantly shot at. Yet Cars 2 still maintained a G rating. The explosive opening sequence sees Finn investigating an evil plot by mad German Professor Zündapp involving a weaponized video camera. The only conflict Lightning sees is Mater starting to embarrass him in public. While the real conflict is Mater being mistaken for an American spy in Japan. After an incident involving “Pistachio” ice cream, Mater drives into Holley Shiftwell. A sleek posh agent new to field work and voiced by Emily Mortimer.

He mistakes their rendezvous for a date and it ends up costing Lightning the race. When Lightning scolds him, Mater decides to leave. So Finn picks up Mater at an airport, narrowly avoiding enemies before boarding a plane. Pretty much everything hinges on Finn & Holley thinking Mater’s a spy. They inspect the former spies photograph of the car behind the evil plot and Mater’s knowledge of make & model is about all he’s good for. They discover only lemons are henchmen and an informant in Paris points them in the right direction. The whole Paris scene was clearly left over from Ratatouille (right down to the Gastow’s restaurant).

They then end up in Italy where the next race is taking place. Meanwhile, Lightning learns the meaning of friendship from Luigi’s family. Mater is fitted with weapons and uses a disguise that’ll allow him access to the lemon meeting place. Only then does Mater realize he’s just a joke to everyone. Probably the weakest attempt at a tear worthy moment in any Pixar movie. Mater narrowly escapes after discovering the video camera is there to burn out racers using Allinol. In order to make lemons rich with an untapped oil reserve. All the excessively complex pieces of the puzzle come to a head when everyone ends up in London. Mater reveals his obvious identity in Big Ben, where he inadvertently escapes, followed closely by Finn & Holley.

The all over the place conclusion sees an Allinol filled Lightning attempting to embrace Mater, a bomb carrying Mater driving away with rocket boosters, Finn taking down Professor Z, Holley flying with wing attachments, and the whole Radiator Springs crew fighting off the lemons. The reveal of who’s behind everything is convoluted to say the least. Then Mater is knighted by the Queen and stays home with his friends. Mater & Holley do become a couple, but it’s a little deeming to her. In the end, Lightning sets up a race with Francesco (where you can see a Pizza Planet truck) and Mater keeps his rockets in a similar scene to the first movie. Songs like “Collision of Worlds” aren’t really worth talking about. As is a sequel as cringy and awkward as this. Cars 2 is a serious misstep that I’m glad Pixar learned from.

25. Cars 2

Lightning McQueen races Francesco Bernoulli

Preceded by: Cars & Followed by: Cars 3

Let Loose the Kraken

Clash of the Titans is the last great old fashioned sword & sandal movie. I was surprised to know it came out in 1981, because the look is very reminiscent of classic adventure. Thanks to it being famed stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen’s final film before retiring. I know my Greek mythology pretty well, but I never watched a definitive take on Perseus, slayer of Medusa. Clash of the Titans definitely recaptures the spirited feel of such larger than life figures. Plus it was the good old days when PG movies could get away with nudity.

Actors as big as Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith play mighty Zeus and the lesser known Thetis respectively. Mount Olympus is glowing white with gods and goddesses overlooking mankind with clay figurines. Thetis is technically responsible for most of the conflict Perseus faces. As Zeus fathers Perseus with the destiny to rule Joppa and marry the beautiful Andromeda. Forsaking Thetis’ own son Calibos to life as a hideous Satyr. The Olympian politics are confusing, but everything clicks when the adventure takes off. Perseus is gifted a magical sword, shield, helmet of invisibility, and an out of place mechanical owl named Bubo.

The task is to free Andromeda from her marital curse, track down the blind Stygian witches, and find the answer to kill the prophesied Kraken before Poseidon releases it. Mythical creatures like the majestic Pegasus, deadly giant scorpions, and enormous Kraken are all beautifully animated, but Medusa is the main attraction. As is the nail biting confrontation Perseus has with the snake haired Gorgon. Chopping off her head and using it to turn the Kraken to stone is a triumph that makes Clash of the Titans a fun epic clash.

Clash of the Titans

Perseus searches for Medusa

How Far I’ll Go

Moana took Disney fans back to the ocean in the most transformative way yet. In my opinion, the fifty-sixth Walt Disney Animation Studios movie marked the end of the Revival era. An era known for returning to tradition, but also taking chances with modern twists. It was the closest thing to a second Renaissance for Disney in the 2010’s. So it only made sense for proven Disney duo Clements & Musker to director their 7th film for the studio. Except this was the very first computer animated feature for the duo. Since The Princess and the Frog was their last project. Unlike all their other projects, Moana was much more original with inspiration drawn from Polynesian mythology. Something that hadn’t been explored nearly as much as Greek, Roman, or even Norse mythology.

The most well known individual among the culture was Māui. A trickster demigod kind of like a Polynesian Hercules. The directors read up on Māui and were inspired to build an animated story around him. Although he was the main character at first, Moana developed into more of a Princess movie. One that was further inspired by Polynesian wayfinding tradition. John Lasseter sent the directors to research locations and understand the culture better. Unlike Tangled and Frozen, Disney kept its “feminine” title and was successful. The only problem was releasing it the same year as Zootopia. Which seriously overshadowed it as a non-Pixar Disney movie come award season. Same with La La Land in any original song category. Still, Moana was a strong way to end an era that looked to the future…

88. Moana

Moana doesn’t know how far she’ll go

Moana is my second favorite Polynesian animated Disney movie. Sorry but, Lilo & Stitch will always be #1 for me. Not that my brother and I didn’t get fully invested in Moana as soon as it came out. I still had my usual reservations, but it was like most Disney classics that focused on a specific culture. One that greatly benefited from a theater going experience. Although I couldn’t help but feel like it was trying to be an Oceanic Frozen. Well Moana didn’t become a major phenomenon, but it did come closest to matching it. Moana is set on the Polynesian island of Motunui. An island that was once rich with coconuts and wayfinders who explored the vast oceans. Maui, shapeshifter, demigod of the wind and sea (hero of men) removed the heart of island goddess Te Fiti. Causing an unstoppable curse that affects the stability of the ocean and slowly infects islands one by one.

Moana is the first Polynesian Disney Princess. Although she’s technically the daughter of a village chief, one of several meta jokes point out her qualifications. She just follows the trend of not having a Prince. Something I’m still coming to terms with. Moana is more concerned with following the sea. Even at a young age when the ocean comes to life right in front of her. Her father is just like King Triton in terms of keeping his daughter away from somewhere she truly wants to be. Her mother and father want her to focus on learning to lead her people. A people that fish, harvest coconuts, and earn tribal tattoos. The only person that supports Moana’s dream is her caring grandmother Tala. Moana grows up through song into the new village chief. She’s attractive like all other Princesses, but differs in terms of body type. Having a stronger physique with a bit more curves. Along with long wavy hair and a traditional island dress.

Disney was sure to be thorough in finding a Polynesian voice actress. Happening on 14 year old Hawaiian Auliʻi Cravalho in the process. She was so perfect for the part that she resembled Moana before even being cast. Moana’s animal sidekick is a pig named Pua. Except when he’s dropped in the first act and doesn’t even go on the adventure. The teaser sure made it look like he was important. Really it’s Alan Tudyk voiced chicken Heihei who’s the primary animal sidekick that joins Moana on the sea. A brainless chicken so dumb he serves practically no purpose outside of mild comic relief. Moana disobeys her father by attempting to pass the reef, but her grandmother reveals the truth to her before she gives up. Showing her the boats her people used and pointing her towards her destiny. Confirming that the ocean chose her to restore Te Fiti’s heart and return balance to the islands. So Moana literally has to save the world.

Her journey begins with a loss and a treacherous ocean, but it’s more helpful than it appears. Leading her to the island Maui’s been stranded on. It’s almost impossible to go wrong with Dwayne Johnson. Maui’s an immediate scene stealer and the funniest part of the movie. Like mythology, he possesses a giant magical fish hook that grants him shapeshifting abilities. Along with a bunch of other cool powers he’s more than happy to boast about. His look is pure Rock apart from his heftier build. Which contains several sentient tattoos that can interact with his body. Maui is all too eager to leave the island and sail as far away from Moana as possible. Ignoring the whole reason she came there. She escapes and the sea assists her every time she’s thrown off her boat. Maui eventually comes around in exchange for his fish hook back and the admiration of his people.

Moana & Maui make for a strong non-romantic duo. Evading a horde of coconut pirates called Kakamora, Maui teaching Moana to sail, and reaching the Realm of Monsters. A deadly subterranean lair that Moana somehow survives falling into. It contains the closest thing to a Disney villain with a flashy personality in years. Although giant Jemaine Clement voiced collector crab Tamatoa is a strange sort of random. Obsessed with shiny things and currently possessing Maui’s hook. Which he turns out to be a bit rusty with. Moana gets them out, but it takes some prodding to get Maui to open up. Revealing his sad past and the real reason he seeks admiration from mortals. They bond even more and Moana becomes an expert wayfinder. All they need to do now is get past the volcanic monster Te Kā that emerged since Maui removed the heart.

Moana goes too far and Maui’s hook is damaged in the process. Forcing him to leave and for Moana to give up on herself. All it takes is a visit from her grandmother’s spirit for her to realize who she is. Retrieving the heart, setting sail, and being reunited with a more confident Maui. It’s a thrilling final battle fraught with danger and the near loss of the heart. Heihei grabbing it is literally the only good thing he ends up doing. SPOILER ALERT! I’ve seen enough Disney movies at this point to know some kind of twist was coming. So learning Te Kā was really Te Fiti didn’t come as much of a surprise. Not that Moana walking through a parted ocean to restore the heart wasn’t an epic moment. Revealing the beautiful grassy goddess underneath. In the end, Moana restores piece, Maui is gifted a new hook, and her people return to wayfinding. Moana has such crisp and beautiful computer animation that I’d swear they were just showing off. Although Clements & Musker briefly considered continuing to use traditional animation, it was better to embrace the new medium.

The only hand drawn part is Maui’s tattoos and some Polynesian artwork. Water is beyond life-like with tropical warmth and personality. The islands have immense detail, but it’s really Te Fiti that continues to blow me away. Although it doesn’t stray too far from the Disney look, characters are made to look a bit more stylized. As a musical, Moana greatly benefits from Polynesian beats and original songs from Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda. “Where You Are” explores their culture in an entertaining way. “We Know the Way” is an epic explorer song that makes me want to sail. Maui’s song “You’re Welcome” is easily the most infectiously catchy song in the movie. Enough to forgive the Rock’s singing voice. “Shiny” is a welcomed villain song for Tamatoa, but it does come out of nowhere. “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)” is necessary, but feels like overkill this late in the movie. Same with “Know Who You Are.” The best song (and obvious attempt at another “Let it Go”) is Moana’s signature longing song “How Far I’ll Go” A wayfinding power ballad that stands on its own. Moana goes further than any Disney adventure ever dreamed imaginable.

87. Moana

Moana and Maui gaze upon his fish hook

I See the Light

Tangled is the first ever computer animated Disney fairy tale. It only made sense for Tangled to be the studio’s fiftieth animated production. A major milestone that only took Disney 73 years to reach. Unlike most classic stories, Rapunzel was a well known fairy tale fixture long before Disney. There’s not a single child that doesn’t know the phrase “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.” So I’m actually shocked to learn Walt Disney never once considered adapting the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. More shocking is how little Rapunzel movies there actually are. She always appeared in more fairy tale ensembles. The idea for a Disney version came around the Disney Renaissance, but it was always intended to be computer animated.

Eventually becoming the most expensive animated movie ever made. Hair is just that difficult to realistically render with CGI. Tangled continues the Revival era with a more subverted take on the classic tale. It was Disneyfied, but I doubt many people know the full story of Rapunzel. How her father gave her to a sorceress in exchange for a salad that his selfish wife wanted. How the Prince climbed her hair because of her beautiful voice and was blinded when he was discovered. Tangled keeps the spirit, but changed it into a more adventurous movie called Rapunzel Unbraided. A lame title that was thankfully changed to Rapunzel, then more controversially changed to Tangled. The misguided reason being that they blamed The Princess and the Frog not being a huge success on its title being too girly…

76. Tangled

Rapunzel leaving Flynn tangled up

Tangled is something I fell in love with the moment I saw it in theaters with my brother. Shame on Disney for thinking I care how “girly” a movie appears to be. Some of the greatest Disney movies are female focused and that didn’t stop them from being successful. The Princess and the Frog only failed because of its traditional animation. Sadly audiences outgrew seeing the medium on the big screen. In a way, Tangled being released at the very beginning of 2010 was fitting. I always hoped Disney would make a Rapunzel movie, but computer animation made it better than I could’ve ever dreamed. Once upon a time a drop of golden sun fell from the sky. It’s magic sprouted a flower with the ability to heal the sick and injured. All a person has to do is sing the song “Flower gleam and glow…” Unlike the fairy tale, Rapunzel’s parents are loving rulers of Corona who use the flower to heal the queen.

Rapunzel is born with beautiful golden hair, but is sadly kidnapped by the evil Mother Gothel. Who locks her in her infamous tower hidden in the woods. Rapunzel is the first computer animated Disney Princess. She’s literally and figuratively three dimensional. Rapunzel is spunky, creative, resourceful, and caring in the best Princess way. Singer Mandy Moore is no stranger to Disney and Rapunzel was her chance to let her hair down. Rapunzel became an instant favorite of mine who I personally think is the prettiest. Computer animation is just closer to real life without being totally real. Her notable traits are her big green eyes, bare feet, lovely lavender dress, and 70 ft long blonde hair. Her hair is given extra importance because it contains healing properties. So it can’t be cut, or else risk losing its magic.

Rapunzel’s only real friend is her animal companion Pascal. An encouraging chameleon with a lot of personality in a small silent package. Mother Gothel is a unique Disney villain. Since she’s not overtly evil. Gothel is like real life baby nappers who genuinely care about the child and manipulate them into loving them as well. Making Gothel’s actions feel more cruel in a less common way. Gothel is a great modern Disney villain with a big personality, fueled by vanity, and a need to keep herself young forever. Donna Murphy was practically made for the role. Gothel keeps her locked in her tower at all times, but if she was so smart, she wouldn’t have told Rapunzel her birthday aligned with the palace launching lanterns in honor of the lost Princess.

Meanwhile, dashing rogue Flynn Ryder replaces the traditional wandering Prince. As a Disney Prince, Flynn was an obvious marketing tool. Trailers were made from his perspective. Emphasizing the action in a way Disney hoped would appeal to boys. It wasn’t exactly false marketing, because Flynn Ryder is just as important as Rapunzel. He’s a charming thief and the funniest character in the movie. He was purposefully made to look as handsome as possible and the unlikely voice/singing talent of Zachary Levi rounded him out. Along with being the narrator, Flynn is motivated by wealth and steals the royal tiara with the Stabbington Brothers. Guards begin to chase him, but it’s palace horse Maximus who really stands out. Maximus has more personality than any other Disney horse in his desperate pursuit of Flynn. Flynn only goes to the tower to hideout. He’s instead met with multiple frying pans to the head. Rapunzel’s weapon of choice.

Character interactions are great, but the physical comedy is really what’s best. While not exactly prehensile, Rapunzel still uses her hair in a variety of creative ways. Whether it’s grasping, climbing, or swinging. Rapunzel & Flynn make a deal that’ll allow her to see the lanterns in exchange for the crown. Rapunzel’s reaction to finally leaving her tower is infectiously cheerful, but the only thing holding her back is her “mother.” While on their adventure, Flynn tries to turn her back with grizzly ruffians who turn out to be sensitive dreamers like her. They let them go with the guards and Maximus not far behind. Gothel isn’t far behind either, since she discovers the truth and hires the Stabbington Brothers to manipulate. Rapunzel & Flynn grow closer when they think they’re gonna drown and he even reveals his real name to be the dorky Eugene Fitzherbert. While she reveals her hairs true power.

Leading to perhaps the most believable Disney animated couple I’ve ever seen. Rapunzel & Flynn spend most of Tangled tangled up together. Allowing them to convincingly fall in love thanks to them being presented as equals. Maximus eventually catches up to them, but Rapunzel’s Princess appropriate way with animals makes him a traveling companion. When they reach the kingdom, Rapunzel & Eugene bond even more. A flower filled braid at least helps Rapunzel get around better. Their boat ride in the middle of the floating lanterns is one of the most gorgeous sequences in recent Disney animation. Their kiss is interrupted by the Stabbington Brothers. Who make Rapunzel think he’s run off with the crown. Then Gothel back stabs them by continuing to keep Rapunzel for herself. Except Rapunzel subconsciously remembers her past as a Princess. Turning on her so called mother. Flynn is sentenced to death, but the sensitive ruffians return to free him.

Flynn finally says the iconic words, but he’s met with a dagger instead. Honestly the only reason the movie has a PG rating. Rapunzel promises to willingly go with Gothel in exchange for healing Flynn. SPOILER ALERT! Flynn instead cuts Rapunzel’s hair in one swift motion. Turning it brunette with a stylish pixie cut and draining all the youth out of Gothel. Her disturbing villain death ends with her falling out a window (thanks to Pascal) and turning to dust before she hits the ground. All hope seems lost, but the power was inside all along. Rapunzel’s tear brings Eugene back to life and they finally share a kiss. In the end, Rapunzel at last reunites with her parents, Eugene is embraced by the kingdom, and they both lived happily ever after. Tangled could really only be done justice in 3D animation. The look stays true to Disney’s older 2D animation in a way that sets it apart from Pixar. John Lasseter may have had a lot of influence on both studios at the time, but I can easily tell the difference between both styles.

Rapunzel still feels right at home with her fellow 2D Disney Princesses. A process was used that blended 2D with 3D. Backgrounds appear painted with motions that mimic hand drawn artwork. Rapunzel’s famous long hair was still the most impressive feat in the end. As instantly enjoyable as Tangled is, the only thing holding it back is the music. Great Disney musical composer Alan Menken returned to score, but his work ended up sounding a bit derivative. It’s hard to call any of them overly catchy. “When Will My Life Begin?” is a fine longing song for Rapunzel, but it’s just okay. “Mother Knows Best” is a unique villain song with an upbeat tone that sounds oddly mainstream. “I’ve Got a Dream” is fun if kinda rambling. Primary love song “I See the Light” is the only truly Oscar worthy song of the bunch. Tangled is a hair raising spectacle that gave Rapunzel the movie she deserved.

77. Tangled

Rapunzel and Flynn see the light