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

Into the Unknown

Frozen II was bound to happen eventually. Since the Frozen franchise never truly ended after the first movie. There seemed to be something Frozen related every year until the sequel came out. There was the passable Cinderella released spring short Frozen Fever and misguided Coco released winter short Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. There was an endless barrage of merchandise, dolls, LEGO, video games, and an entire half season of Once Upon a Time dedicated to Frozen. Plus children continuing to sing Frozen songs non-stop for 6 years. Sure other Walt Disney animated movies distracted them, but Frozen was always there. Since Ralph Breaks the Internet was also an unconventional theatrical sequel, I’m more convinced that it starts what I’ll temporarily call the sequel era.

Frozen II is the fifty-eighth animated Disney movie and the first to officially phase out computer animation pioneer John Lasseter. Replacing him with Frozen writer/director Jennifer Lee. Only time will tell if later projects can benefit from her input. Frozen II seems like it was only made to cash in on the massive success of Frozen, but Disney once again gave the “We only make sequels when the story is good” response. Now Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen is practically irrelevant. Since the furthest they go is working in a very heavy amount of Scandinavian folklore. A lot of the production can actually be seen in the Disney+ documentary Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2. While Frozen II was obviously another billion dollar success, the lack of Best Animated Feature nomination is pretty telling of how the sequel is in comparison…

FROZEN 2

Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf travel into the unknown

Frozen II was a definite viewing experience regardless of how tired I might of been with Frozen. My brother and I never got tired of the first movie, but everyone should’ve let it go. Then I saw the stunning teaser trailer and was immediately sold on the idea of a Frozen II. The silent, serious tone definitely made it seem more grown up and sophisticated. In keeping with the seasonal change tradition, Frozen II now takes place during the fall. Snow isn’t seen half as much as falling leaves, pumpkins, and other parts of nature. The main goal for Frozen II was to answer questions left open in Frozen. Effectively taking away the mystery of the fairy tale. While at the same time having an obvious checklist of callbacks to keep fans happy. Once upon a time, Anna & Elsa’s parents told them all about their kingdom’s past. With a whole lot of exposition that’s bound to confuse kids.

Water, Earth, Fire, Air. Long ago, the Enchanted Forest was in harmony. Then, everything changed when Arendelle and the Northuldra tribe attacked each other. Only the fifth spirit, master of uniting all four spirits, could make things right, but when the forest needed it most, it placed itself under a curse. Several years passed as King Agnarr and Queen Iduna ruled after the King’s father perished in battle. And although the dam given by Arendelle remains in tact, it’s only a matter of time before the past catches up to them. But Anna & Elsa believe there’s more to the story than their parents are telling them. Since the King & Queen didn’t have names or A-list voice actors in their brief first appearance, Alfred Molina and Evan Rachel Wood serve as replacements. Their mother continues the story by mentioning a place of answers called Ahtohallan. All this before the title is even shown.

I have no problem with Scandinavian folklore, but it’s just not necessary to get this deep in Norwegian culture. That’s not why people keep going back to Frozen. It’s characters like Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven. All of whom return with Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad never seeming to get a break from their roles. Alan Tudyk is a bit harder to spot. 3 years after Elsa’s coronation, she starts to hear a voice call out to her. Meanwhile, Anna enjoys the changes made to the kingdom and Olaf now has a whole existential bit about growing old. If there’s one thing Disney sequels always have to deal with, it’s having their wacky comic relief present for the entire movie. Olaf is tolerable, but his random educational facts and contemplations aren’t always funny. Once again a modern Disney (and/or Pixar) movie favors emotion over comedy. There’s way too much somber quiet moments, talking, and overall exposition.

Along with characters that they likely needed an excuse to keep relevant in the story. Kristoff has more to do sure, but his arc is just comically trying to propose to Anna and feeling bad when she keeps misreading everything. After a game of charades that acknowledges Frozen one of many times, Elsa gets distracted by the voice again. Anna tries to comfort Elsa, but she can’t shake the call to go into the unknown. With the four elements out of control in Arendelle, Grand Pappie rock troll returns to direct them to their next adventure. Righting the wrongs of the past and doing the next right thing to save the Enchanted Forest. Despite Elsa being the only one who should go on the journey, Anna wants to protect Elsa, Kristoff wants to protect Anna, and Olaf wants to tag along. Sven takes their sled to a magical barrier that engulfs the entire forest. As they enter, Olaf mentions water having memory. Which somehow reveals the past through Elsa’s ice powers. Call it magic or conventiant storytelling.

They also discover each elemental spirit has a physical form. Each one being hostile before it softens up. First they encounter the air spirit tornado that’s really just a leafy wind Olaf names Gale. Then they meet the Northuldra people who have been imprisoned for years with feuding Arendelle guards. So Olaf comically recaps all of the events of Frozen that we already know. Yelena leads the Sámi inspired Northuldra and Lieutenant Matthias leads the small Arendelle group. With Sterling K. Brown cast, Matthias becomes the only black man in Scandinavia. While other new characters like Ryder and his sister Honeymaren aren’t fleshed out nearly enough to get invested in them. Really it’s the fire spirit of pink flames that’s really an adorable salamander named Burni that’s worth talking about. Even if his only purpose is to be Elsa’s animal companion.

SPOILER ALERT! It’s then revealed that the Queen was really Northuldra and the one who saved the King’s life. Making that the reason why Elsa has powers. Kristoff is left with his reindeer as Anna, Elsa, and Olaf then discover the truth about where their parents were heading when their ship sank. The destination was Ahtohallan. Since it was the only place they could find answers about maintaining Elsa’s magic. So Elsa sends Anna & Olaf away as she intends to find it herself. Anna & Olaf encounter earth spirit rock giants and they find themselves lost in a cave. Meanwhile, Elsa is determined to cross the sea with the full force of her ice powers. Then she encounters the final water spirit known as Nøkk. A mythological water horse that Elsa tames in order to reach Ahtohallan. A glacier that reveals the mysterious voice to be the memory of her mother revealing Elsa to be the fifth spirit. She also finds more ice memories that showcase Frozen references yet again.

Despite the many references to Hans, Frozen II doesn’t have a villain since Disney keeps settling on complex themes that make everyone look bad. In this case, it’s Anna & Elsa’s grandfather who attacked the Northuldra out of fear of their magic and used the dam to cut off their resources. Elsa freezes, but not before getting the truth to Anna. Who watches as Olaf fades away in her arms. All alone, Anna realizes destroying the dam (and Arendelle with it) will right the wrong. Kristoff rides in to help as Anna leads the rock giants to the dam. Although it seems like Arendelle will face the consequences of the past, Elsa swoops in last minute to stop the flood. I’m definitely not the kind of person who thinks tearing things down fixes the past, but Frozen II is almost meaningless without it. Olaf doesn’t even stay melted since it’s enough just to traumatize kids with the possibility. Anna & Elsa find that they’re equally important and Kristoff finally proposes. In the end, it’s satisfying to see Anna crowned queen of Arendelle, Elsa free with the Northuldra, and everyone living happily ever after.

Frozen II has such breathtaking animation that they had to stylize things a bit just to keep it from being too realistic. Water just gets more and more lifelike with every passing Disney movie. The spectacle of ice and snow may be smaller, but the Enchanted Forest is still very impressive. Characters remain the same, but now they have plenty of toy friendly costume changes. Anna & Elsa both let their hair down with more fall appropriate outfits. Elsa’s new signature is her all white dress that she creates after discovering herself. With Elsa continuing to not have a love interest and Anna as queen, they feel even less like official Disney Princesses. Maybe that’s why they still haven’t been inducted. Well the musical tradition continues at least. With 2 time Oscar winning married duo Robert & Kristen Anderson-Lopez forced to live up to their incredible Frozen soundtrack. Although the songs are high caliber with a Broadway feel, they ended up being seriously overproduced. The Frozen songs are extremely catchy and easy to learn. So much so that they incorporated the “hey-ya” choir into the sequel.

I literally forgot almost every Frozen II song after leaving the theater. They’re all either too long, complex, rambling, or frequent. “All is Found” is a fine Norwegian lullaby that doesn’t feel like opening song material. “Some Things Never Change” is catchy, if longer than it needs to be. “When I’m Older” is about as necessary as Olaf’s previous solo. Kristoff finally gets his own love solo with “Lost in the Woods.” A completely out of nowhere 80’s power ballad. Anna has a solo too with “The Next Right Thing.” A very slow, sad number that’s clearly trying to get awards attention. Just like Elsa’s second empowering solo “Show Yourself.” The only song to gain awards attention ended up being “Into the Unknown.” An obvious “Let it Go” clone that’s still the most catchy song in the movie. The notes leave you gasping for breath and the AURORA call makes it more memorable. Frozen II is a fine addition to the flurry of Frozen media, but nothing could possible live up to the impossible hype of the first movie.

92. Frozen II

Elsa meets the Nøkk

Preceded by: Frozen

Oh My Disney

Ralph Breaks the Internet is the most mainstream Disney animated movie ever made. As well as their biggest vanity project by far. When it comes to sequels, Walt Disney animation almost never goes for a theatrical release. With the exception of The Rescuers Down Under, Fantasia 2000, and Winnie the Pooh. Everything else was relegated to direct-to-video sequels of varying quality. Since the Disney Revival era was such a big success, Disney broke their unofficial rule not to release sequels in theaters. Making Ralph Breaks the Internet the fifty-seventh film from the studio and the first sequel made with the original crew (except John Lasseter). Although some might consider it to be part of the Revival era, Moana should be considered the end since it was original.

Ralph Breaks the Internet uses the basic setup from Wreck-It-Ralph, only it moves things to the ever changing giant known as the internet. Director Rich Moore originally wanted to explore more video games with online and console gaming. When the internet became the primary setting, the story went through many changes. Along with deciding on all the memes and websites they could cram in. Eventually Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It-Ralph 2 became the title (before the subtitle was dropped). Despite “Wreck” making more sense than “Break.” Not to mention the fact that Googling “Break the Internet” will take you to Kim Kardashian’s naked butt. Well Ralph Breaks the Internet was another success for Disney, but it’s probably best that an internet based movie didn’t win Best Animated Feature…

89. Ralph Breaks the Internet

Yesss shows Ralph and Vanellope around the internet

Ralph Breaks the Internet offered a lot to Disney fans like my brother and I. More than just a Wreck-It-Ralph sequel, Disney leaned way more into the possibilities the internet presented. Absolutely everyone uses the internet. Including myself at this very moment and whoever ends up reading this review. Video games were one thing, but I honestly didn’t know how to feel about both a Disney sequel and one that seemed way too modern for the old fashioned studio. Well Ralph Breaks the Internet ended up being a more competently made version of The Emoji Movie. Both feature worlds based on devices we use, but the difference is heart. Although I thought Ralph Breaks the Internet would just be Ralph & Vanellope wandering around the internet for 2 hours, the sequel is actually about their friendship.

6 years after Ralph helped save Vanellope in Sugar Rush, the two have been best friends ever since. Hanging around the arcade, making immature jokes, and getting stuck in Tron. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman return with hardly any difference. Since video game characters don’t age. As if the trailers weren’t telling enough, very little takes place in Litwak’s Arcade. Thus Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch have hardly any screen time as Felix & Calhoun. Sonic has slightly more to do, but it’s about as much as any of the other video game characters. They don’t even use Mario like they promised. Ed O’Neill has a slightly bigger role as Mr. Litwak. Since he plugs a WI-FI router into the power strip. I might as well say now that Ralph Breaks the Internet doesn’t have a specific villain. So it’s yet another Disney movie that makes its heroes look bad because of it.

When Vanellope wishes for something new and exciting, Ralph builds an unauthorized race track for her. Causing the steering wheel to break in the real world. Some kids immediately find it on eBay, but it’s too much and Litwak decides to unplug the game instead. Leaving all of Sugar Rush homeless. All Felix & Calhoun have to do is adopt the racers and raise them perfectly off screen. Meanwhile, Ralph gets the idea to physically go to the internet and find Vanellope’s steering wheel on eBay. The router blasts Ralph & Vanellope’s code out of Litwak’s, through the power lines, and straight to the internet. The idea of a physical internet world isn’t a new one. Ralph Breaks the Internet only benefits from a creative take on the idea. Websites like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, IMDb, Pinterest, Fandango, and Snapchat are buildings in a neverending metropolis with Google at the center.

It seems like blatant product placement, but original websites are really the main locations. Except for eBay, which is of course like an auction. Internet users are represented by blocky avatars that only interact with the websites they click onto. Spam is represented by pop up salesmen with all that bogus clickbait you see on various websites. A search bar is represented by KnowsMore, an academic voiced by Alan Tudyk. He takes Ralph & Vanellope to eBay where they frustratingly overbid on the steering wheel. Now the conflict is the two of them trying to raise $27,001 any way they can. So they go to J.P. Spamley, who mentioned getting rich playing video games. Spamley takes them to the dilapidated deep web where his weird assistant Gord hands them loot to find in various online games. New characters like these can be funny, but it’s a little too random.

We then go to another new location in Slaughter Race. An MMORPG racing game set in a violent city likely modeled after Grand Theft Auto. With a little Fast & Furious thrown in since Gal Gadot voices Shank. A badass streetracer with a crew of philosophical misfits. Although internet gags are the best source of humor in the movie, I really wish Disney would stop relying on modern humor like this. An emotional core is fine, but everyone’s a little too touchy feely here. Vanellope falls in love with the chaos of Slaughter Race and Ralph starts to feel insecure about it. Especially after Shank and her crew give them the perfect way to make money on the internet. By shooting a dumb video with Ralph on BuzzzTube. YouTube is shown, but setting another major location there would be pushing it. It’s on BuzzzTube that Ralph & Vanellope meet the websites fashionable algorithm Yesss voiced by Taraji P. Henson.

Yesss and her assistant Maybe point out the most popular trending videos online and Ralph decides to do everything in order to make money. Since an 80’s arcade villain becoming internet famous is just the kind of random thing you’d expect to see become a meme. Between cameos from Miranda Sings and the floss dance, there’s no way the movie won’t become dated in the future. Then it becomes more blatant when Ralph sends Vanellope to ohmy.disney.com. An excuse for Disney to show off their corporate hold on all of pop culture. With Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and the Muppets on full display. I know Disney are a bunch of greedy corporate overlords, but I still eat this stuff up. That’s why I have the biggest love-hate relationship with Disney. Characters like Eeyore, Iron Man, Buzz Lightyear, Baymax, Groot, Grumpy, Stormtroopers, Nick Wilde, C-3PO, and even Stan Lee make cameos. But it was the inclusion of every Disney Princess that was promoted the heaviest and the biggest reason I wanted to see the movie.

Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Anna, Elsa, and Moana all appearing together is a major achievement. I just wish it wasn’t in a Wreck-It-Ralph sequel. Disney managed to bring back Jodi Benson, Paige O’Hara, Linda Larkin, Irene Bedard, Ming-Na Wen, Anika Noni Rose, Mandy Moore, Kelly MacDonald, Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, and Auli’i Cravalho. The three classic Princesses had to be replaced for obvious reasons. Although the modern Princesses sound the same, the older ones have understandably aged. Except for Jodi Benson who always sounds like Ariel. Since Vanellope is technically a Princess, she’s the one who meets them. I have very mixed feelings about the whole sequence. While it is hilarious to see the Disney Princesses compare their many similarities, dressing in comfy clothes, and showing off their signature traits, the cynical PC undertones just doesn’t feel right. Almost like Disney is trying to insult their own characters at times.

It doesn’t help that Vanellope is so anti-princess. She can’t sing, but that doesn’t stop her from singing about her dream of joining Slaughter Race. “A Place Called Slaughter Race” is a babbling parody of Princess songs that benefits from Gal Gadot’s beautiful voice, but suffers from Sarah Silverman’s obnoxious voice. Ralph finishes getting the money on BuzzzTube early on, but makes the mistake of reading kid friendly mean comments. Only feeling worse when he overhears Vanellope wanting to stay in Slaughter Race with Shank. So Ralph makes another terrible decision to get a virus from the deep web. Alfred Molina voices Double Dan, a slug with a face boil who creates viruses. Yet another random for the sake of random character. He gives Ralph an insecurity virus that copies Vanellope’s glitch and spreads it across Slaughter Race. As the game reboots, Vanellope discovers the awful truth.

SPOILER ALERT! Then the virus enters the internet and actually spreads Ralph’s insecurity across the web. As represented by zombie Ralph’s who literally break the internet to be with Vanellope. Then they form a giant Ralph of insecurity that’s only defeated when Ralph agrees to let Vanellope go. I wish I was making this up, but they really do try that hard to say something with an internet movie. Ralph & Vanellope tearfully say goodbye as they part ways as best friends with different dreams. Then a mid-credit scene gets meta by featuring the bunny & kitty feeding game played by baby Moana. Then an after-credits scene trolls the audience with a sneak peak of Frozen II that’s actually a Ralph Rickroll. Ralph Breaks the Internet is loaded with internet jokes and trendy pop culture references. It’s really a miracle that the movie wasn’t torn apart by critics. Well high caliber Disney computer animation, storytelling, and voice acting are to thank for its success.

They build on what was already present in Wreck-It-Ralph with more characters and locations than any other Disney animated film. A grand total of 434 characters can be seen in the movie. Like the internet, it does feel neverending at times. You have video game characters in the arcade, internet users, internet workers, a lot more humans than we saw before, Slaughter Race NPC’s, and a bunch of Disney owned characters that all needed to be computer animated in the same style. The internet is an impressive construct and they’re just showing off with the giant Ralph made up of a billion Ralph’s. Apart from Vanellope’s song, the catchy “Zero” by Imagine Dragons is the only other original song. Although Ralph Breaks the Internet is one of the better representations of the internet, a kids movie could never do it justice. The internet is a very R rated place full of cruelty and debauchery. Sure there are some risque jokes, but it’s mostly just Ralph & Vanellope’s juvenile humor. That being said, Ralph Breaks the Internet is still worth logging onto if you’re looking to kill time on the internet.

90. Ralph Breaks the Internet

Vanellope takes a selfie with all the Disney Princesses

Preceded by: Wreck-It Ralph

To Infinity and Beyond

Toy Story 4 is the 1 hour & 40 minute epilogue to Toy Story 3. If there’s any Pixar sequel I was against from the very beginning, it was Toy Story 4. There’s never been a more perfect trilogy than the Toy Story trilogy. Pixar’s crowning jewel and poster child. Toy Story 4 is what I like to call the “fatal fourth.” An unnecessary 4th installment in an already wrapped up trilogy. It took 15 years for Toy Story 3 to pick up where Toy Story 2 left off. Despite everything that happened since then, it managed to be a heartfelt conclusion that gave every toy a time to shine. Toy Story 4 was really more of a tag on that was made for money and nostalgia purposes.

Former Disney & Pixar head John Lasseter or director Josh Cooley can claim that it wasn’t, but did it really deserve to win Best Animated Feature compared to more adventurous Oscar nominees? Toy Story 4 asks questions about toys that become far more philosophical. Despite my frequent objections, I was still drawn back as a 24 year old longtime Toy Story fan. My entire family went to see Toy Story 3 (and Incredibles 2), but Toy Story 4 didn’t feel like a big enough event. So my brother and I instead decided to see it with our mom. As a tribute to when she took us to see Toy Story 2 20 years ago. More than anything else, we found it to be really funny. Unfortunately, it was at the expense of its emotional core…

42. Toy Story 4

The toys search for a way out

Toy Story 4, for whatever reason, has no short film attached to it. 24 years of filmmaking and I’m still in awe of the stellar computer animation Pixar has made since Toy Story. The detail is so excessive that you can see the toys every stitch, scratch, and thread with a magnifying glass. I don’t know how you could possibly top something like that. Not to mention how much better humans look with each passing film. Every new location is beautifully animated and so impressive that it’s really what makes Toy Story 4 worth the experience. Toy Story 4 was made in response to Rex mentioning Bo Peep as one of the toys who’s been given away since Andy grew up. If there’s anything that cooled my criticism for a 4th installment, it was my need to see Woody reunite with his true love. The entire respectable cast of aging celebrities reunites, but it was far from the first time since Toy Story 3.

Pixar kind of went overboard with continuations. Whether it was theatrical Toy Story Toons like Hawaiian Vacation, Small Fry, and Partysaurus Rex or TV specials like Toy Story of Terror! and Toy Story That Time Forgot. Each one a lighthearted visit with the characters that offered greater insight into other parts of the toy world. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, Estelle Harris, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Timothy Dalton, and Jeff Garlin all return, but sadly Don Rickles passed away before recording anything. So they instead made use of archive recordings. Since Bo Peep was now a major character, Annie Potts returned for the first time in 20 years. Just like everyone else, her voice had noticeably aged. Which is once again okay considering toys age on the inside instead of the outside.

Toy Story 4 hits its nostalgia mark by beginning at Andy’s house when he was still a kid. Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Jessie work with Bo Peep to rescue RC from a rainstorm. Together with Barbies and a barrel of monkeys, they rescue their fellow toy. Unfortunately, it’s at that moment that a friend of Andy’s mom shows up to take Molly’s Bo Peep lamp. Woody contemplates going with her, but they instead have a tearful goodbye. Cue the obligatory “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” opening credits. This time it’s Andy playing with the toys in a montage that recaps Andy giving his toys to Bonnie and her growing up with them. Only Andy’s design is practically unrecognizable for some reason. Although the Toy Story movies have always been either buddy or ensemble pictures, Toy Story 4 is entirely Woody’s story. To the point Hamm, Rex, Slinky, Bullseye, the aliens, and especially Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head have almost nothing to do. Even Dolly, Trixie, Buttercup, and Mr. Pricklepants are rarely used. Sometimes it feels like they’re coming up with any excuse to keep Buzz & Jessie relevant to the story.

Toy Story 4 is about Woody realizing he’s no longer the favorite with Bonnie not even playing with him anymore. Which seriously undermines the touching speech Andy made to Bonnie at the end of Toy Story 3. It feels so disrespectful and out of nowhere that I kind of don’t even like Bonnie anymore. Bonnie puts Woody’s badge on Jessie and leaves him to collect dust in the closet. Along with other aging toys like Old Timer. As well as Bonnie’s toddler toys Melephant Brooks, Chairol Burnett, Bitey White, and Carl Reineroceros who are all voiced by their legendary namesakes. When Bonnie gets anxious about going to kindergarten, Woody stows away in her backpack. Unknowingly helping her cope with her first day. Woody pulls art supplies out of the trash and Bonnie makes a new friend out of a plastic spork, gum, plasticine, a popsicle stick, a pipe cleaner, and googly eyes named Forky. I swear Pixar is trolling us at this point. Going so far as to give a spork emotion. Another question that Toy Story 4 sort of addresses is what makes a toy a toy. My theory of a child’s imagination seems to be correct.

Forky is a panicky spork voiced by Tony Hale who faces an existential crisis. He thinks he’s trash, but Woody makes it his mission to make sure he stays with Bonnie. Bonnie’s father makes his first appearance when he takes Bonnie and her mother on a vacation in an RV. Forky’s limited understanding of the world and constantly trying to throw himself away is really funny. Randy Newman of course returned to score and write the catchy song “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away.” So Newman’s had a song nominated from every Toy Story movie. When the job becomes too much, Woody has a heart to heart with his best friend. Only Buzz for whatever reason mistakes a conscience for his voice box. Alerting them to Forky as he throws himself out of the RV. Woody goes after Forky with the intention of meeting everyone else at an upcoming stop. While dragging Forky, Woody tells him all about the joy of being a toy. Including one of several references to previous movies. Forky accepts his place as Bonnie’s toy, but Woody sidetracks them when he spots Bo’s lamp in an antique store window. I can appreciate the level of detail in Second Chance Antiques since my parents are antique dealers.

While searching for Bo, Woody & Forky encounter the villain of the movie. A Chatty Cathy type doll named Gabby Gabby voiced by Christina Hendricks. She gets around with a stroller pushed by creepy ventriloquist dummies. As she talks to Woody, she makes it clear that she needs his voice box in order to fix her broken one. When her Dummies get grabby grabby, Gabby Gabby has them take it by force. They only succeed in taking Forky. Leaving Woody in the hands of the shop owner’s granddaughter Harmony. It’s at that moment in a park amongst lost toys that an inanimate Woody finally reunites with Bo Peep. One thing I definitely wasn’t expecting was her taking on a more adventurous look as opposed to her frilly dress. Bo now has a bow, pants, a cape, and her trusty crook that PETA complained about. The time between her last appearance also meant minor improvements to her porcelain appearance. Her three headed sheep are also given more attention and the names Billy, Goat, and Gruff.

In the time since Bo was given away, she’s had her lamp passed around from child to child until she wound up in the antique store. Her whole story can be seen in the Disney+ short Lamp Life. Bo was never all that deep of a character. Spending most of her appearances flirting with and caring for Woody. There’s no way she could have survived the physicality of Toy Story 3, so it’s ironic that they found a way to make her so adventurous. It just feels like a drastic character change at times. Woody & Bo awkwardly embrace and she introduces him to her new friends. Every new toy in the movie was likely chosen from a list of toys that hadn’t been covered yet. Ally Maki voices  Giggle McDimples, a Polly Pocket type cop and Bo’s closest friend. A clever bit of continuity is a set of Combat Carl toys voiced again by Carl Weathers. They’re lost toys just like Bo. Who gets around with a skunk race car and hops around from park to park. A carnival is the main backdrop for the action.

Bo agrees to help Woody get Forky back, meanwhile the toys look to Buzz for leadership. He decides to go after Woody using the ridiculous inner voice thing from earlier. Except most of Buzz’s phrases were never even heard before. Buzz flies with the aid of rides, but a carny with a Pizza Planet truck tattoo makes him a prize in a carnival game with a pair of prizes named Ducky & Bunny. A couple of joined stuffed animals voiced by Key & Peele. Like their show, they’re definitely the funniest toys in the movie (especially with their daydreams), but their brand of humor doesn’t feel right for the franchise. Their insult comedy felt like it took too many shots at beloved characters. Buzz escapes, but is chased by the toys who just want a kid. Back at the RV, Jessie flattens the tires to buy some time. Buzz reunites with Bo and Ducky & Bunny join the makeshift group. The plan is to get to Forky in Gabby’s china cabinet, get the key from the owner, and avoid the perfectly rendered cat. Although it turns out Gabby is just misunderstood. Confiding in Forky that she just wants to be loved by Harmony.

Woody puts Bo’s sheep in danger, so she goes to another toy for help in jumping the gap between the cabinet. People’s favorite Keanu Reeves voices Duke Caboom. A Canadian stuntman based on Evel Knievel stunt toys. Duke is another highlight due to his tragic past with his former kid. SPOILER ALERT! The stunt works out, but everyone leaves when rescuing Forky puts everyone else at risk. Leading to Woody being constantly told he’s wrong for holding onto to the past. A problem that goes with a lack of villains. Since it makes the hero look bad. Gabby convinces Woody to give his voice box to her and it practically destroys me to see Woody without his trademark pullstring. Woody finds Bonnie’s backpack that Buzz was trying to mention, but stays to help Gabby when she’s rejected.

Bo returns too when she realizes Woody’s need to help toys is right. The rest of the toys comically redirect Bonnie’s parents to the carnival, Duke believes in himself enough to make a major jump, and Gabby is stopped by another girl. A lost child that gives her a happy ending. The RV’s awning bridges the gap between toys, but Woody has conflicting emotions. What was supposed to be the peak tear worthy moment of the franchise, didn’t make me cry one bit. I saw Woody & Buzz parting ways coming from a mile away. Woody gives his badge to Jessie and stays lost with Bo. Tearfully saying goodbye to his best friend. Emotional sure, but the whole movie tries too hard to be emotional. So Toy Story 3 is still the perfect ending for me. Toy Story 4 is a commendable addition to the franchise, but I can take it or leave it “To Infinity and Beyond.”

43. Toy Story 4

Woody introduces Forky

Preceded by: Toy Story 3

Behold the Underminer!

Incredibles 2 is the nearly incredible 14 year follow up to The Incredibles. If there’s any Pixar sequel I was most excited for, it was Incredibles 2. Unlike most of the other Pixar continuations, superheroes are made for multiple movies. So it was only a matter of time before it was greenlit. After directing Ratatouille, Brad Bird was questioned about the possibility of an Incredibles 2. He already had ideas for it, but he didn’t want to do it until it was perfect. Incredibles 2 asks questions about the superhero family that help their relatability. Rather than follow adult versions of the kids like I briefly assumed, Incredibles 2 takes place exactly 1 minute after the first movie.

Anticipation for the long awaited sequel was bigger than any Pixar sequel at the time. Since superheroes only grew in popularity since 2004. Thanks to Disney owning Marvel as well. My generation made it clear that the movie was made for us. Any child that saw Incredibles 2 wasn’t even born when The Incredibles came out. Going from 9 to 23 years old, superhero movies were such a big deal that my entire family went to the theater to see it. Something we hadn’t done since Toy Story 3. Sure originals like Coco were successful, but nothing beats name recognition. Making it the third Pixar movie to cross the billion dollar mark. Incredibles 2 was a fun experience, but the only thing strong enough to take its Best Animated Feature win was another superhero movie…

40. Incredibles 2

The Incredibles fight together

Incredibles 2 has its family theme represented in its Oscar winning short Boa. A sentimental Chinese allegory where a mother experiences motherhood all over again through a baozi bun. Incredibles 2 was far from the only sequel made in the time gap. Sequels were also made in the form of the video game The Incredibles: Rise of the Underminer and comic books made by BOOM! Studios. I played and read both, but I had a feeling they wouldn’t use material from either. Since computer animation had advanced exponentially since 2004, Pixar no longer feared human focused stories. The only difference was the software that no longer contained the original character models. Like Toy Story 3, they had to be re-rendered from scratch. The Incredibles was still impressive, but it was a very early attempt at a human centered computer animated movie. So characters are now cleaner with slight improvements made to their stylized appearances. Along with the usual increase in locations.

All the primary respectable cast members return including Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, and of course Samuel L. Jackson. Which would be his 11th appearance in a superhero movie since the first Incredibles. Spencer Fox was understandably replaced by Huck Milner. Like the replacement voice for Nemo, Milner does a fine job recapturing the energetic voice. Since John Ratzenberger could only voice the Underminer at the end of the first movie, it only made sense to follow events immediately after he emerged from the ground with the Incredibles ready for action. A Pizza Planet truck was also included, but tear worthy moments are in short supply. Can’t say I was expecting to open on Tony Rydinger recapping events. Tony was Violet’s crush who asked her out at Dash’s track meet. He describes how he witnessed the Incredibles suited up and accidentally saw Violet without her mask to Rick Dicker. Since Bud Luckey retired, then passed away, Jonathan Banks replaces Dicker. He erases Tony’s memory the same way he did to Kari in the short Jack-Jack Attack.

The Incredibles are still learning to fight as a family. Mr. Incredible faces Underminer directly, Elastigirl stretches to help citizens avoid the drill, Dash runs to help, Violet shields people with her force fields, and Jack-Jack is passed around. Frozone arrives to use his ice on the drill and Mr. Incredible uses his super strength on it when Underminer escapes. The long awaited fight starts the sequel with a bang, but it’s a little underwhelming compared to the video game. Really the devastation is meant to highlight a bigger issue. Despite the Parr families very confident expressions while masking up, Elastigirl & Frozone bring up superheroes being illegal. The government shuts down the Superhero Relocation Program in response to City Hall’s destruction. Dicker says his goodbye’s, but Bob mentions Tony before he leaves. Bob & Helen disagree on the anti-supers law over dinner while the kids just want to be super. Lucius arrives at their motel and tells Bob & Helen all about a rich tycoon who wants to make supers legal again.

The three of them arrive at DevTech dressed in their classic costumes. Bob Odenkirk is the eccentric head of the company Winston Deaver. A man who loves superheroes so much he knows their theme songs. Catherine Keener is his unseen sister Evelyn Deaver. A laid back, behind the scenes part of the company who designs all their technology. They each disagree on the death of their parents who died waiting for supers after they’d been made illegal. Winston’s goal is to fix the public’s perception of supers with calculated heroic missions using a body cam. Some people read too much into it, but Brad Bird always intended Elastigirl to be the lead in Incredibles 2. She’s chosen by Deaver since her stretching powers cause less collateral damage. Since superhero movies & shows are all over the place, Elastigirl is the one given the most superhero action. Since Bird wanted to put more focus on the family dynamic.

I should be disappointed, but I love the characters too much not to appreciate anything they do. Having a mom with a new job gone while dad watches the kids was very relatable. It’s something my own mom and dad did once when I was younger. Helen gets a new dark grey costume from an alternative designer and a snappy new Elasticycle. Meanwhile, Bob becomes Mr. Supermom back at Deaver’s lavish house that he lends to them. Elastigirl is sent to a crime filled city to wait for crime. When a runaway train occurs, she stretches into action. Elastigirl’s stretching is easily the most creative use of those powers I’ve seen put to screen. The Elasticycle breaks apart for better elasticity and the rest of her stretching comes in handy to stop the train. Even though Bob would much rather be the one fighting crime, he begrudgingly accepts his new role.

All members of the Parr family have their own problems to deal with. Dash only has math homework to deal with and Violet has relationship problems with Tony. Bob is unable to comprehend new math and is accidentally responsible for Tony forgetting Violet. Staying up with Jack-Jack starts to drain him as well. After the end of The Incredibles and Jack-Jack Attack it was obvious that Jack-Jack would be the highlight of the sequel. Who doesn’t love a superbaby? Jack-Jack’s unexpected fight with a raccoon had the whole theater erupting with laughter. While every new power he exhibits is funnier than the last. Powers like fire, demon transformation, heat vision, floating, and phasing were seen in the movie/short, while new powers like multiplying, cross dimensional travel, blobbing, enlarging, and morphing are just as entertaining. Bob hides Jack-Jack’s powers from his wife and kids while Helen interviews for her train rescue. It’s then that she discovers the main villain Screenslaver. A villain capable of hypnotizing anyone with a screen, including the pilots of a foreign Ambassadors helicopter.

Elastigirl makes another daring rescue before anyone gets hurt. I continue to forget The Incredibles was set in the 60’s, but the sequel makes it even more obvious. Even though Evelyn’s technology mirrors our own. It’s just that the Screenslaver’s message of escaping into a TV screen would have made more sense in the modern world. Meanwhile, Violet renounces superheroes after Bob mentions Dicker erasing Tony’s memory. Bob also gets mad when he sees his old Incredi-bile being bid on live TV, but he decides to make the most of his time with the kids. Learning Dash’s new math and attempting to make it up to Violet by going to Tony’s parent’s restaurant. When the kids discover Jack-Jack’s powers, they call their Uncle Lucius. An exhausted Bob shows Jack-Jack’s powers to Lucius and he decides to take him to Edna Mode. Incredibles 2 does check off a few boxes, but at least Edna’s role is different. She instead helps Bob by studying Jack-Jack’s powers which can be seen in the short Auntie Edna. She reworks his super suit and builds a control panel to help keep his polymorph abilities under control.

After another successful save, Winston introduces Elastigirl to fellow aspiring heroes who just came out of hiding. Each one stranger and more stylized than the last. The main one is Elastigirl’s biggest fan Voyd, voiced by Sophia Bush, with the power to create portals. Other supers include strongwoman Brick, electrical conductor He-Lectrix, telekinetic crusher Krushauer, owlman Screech, and elderly lava vomiter Reflux. Helen and Evelyn have many mature conversations throughout, but one conversation gives them an idea to catch Screenslaver. She finds him in an apartment with seizure inducing hypnotizing screens. Screenslaver is unmasked, then locked up, but Helen can’t shake the feeling that something is off. Surprise, another twist Disney villain! SPOILER ALERT! It was Evelyn Deavor who had the evil endeavor all along. Her reason to hate supers makes sense, but she doesn’t hold a candle to Syndrome. Her evil plan is to hypnotize supers like Elastigirl after she’s made progress in gaining public trust, then having them attack at a televised summit meeting.

After an hour of mostly family drama, the superheroic climax was more than worth the wait. Mr. Incredible is hypnotized along with Elastigirl and the rest of the supers go after Dash, Violet, and Jack-Jack. Frozone arrives to help after a brief shout out to his wife. They do their best to fight the hypnotized heroes and Dash even signals for the Incredi-bile. Frozone is taken over, but the kids escape. Leaving them as the only ones who can save their parents. The climax on Deavor’s boat is another incredible blend of multiple powers that ends when everyone comes together to free the supers and stop the runaway boat. Evelyn is arrested, Violet gets a new date with Tony, and supers are made legal again. Ending in another call to action that hopefully won’t take another 14 years to see. Followed by the always epic Michael Giacchino score. Incredibles 2 did a serviceable job at standing out from other superhero blockbusters and was well worth the wait.

41. Incredibles 2

Elastigirl rides into action

Preceded by: The Incredibles

Remember Me

Coco is muy grandioso. Winning 2 Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. Much like Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur in 2015, there was no competition between Cars 3 and Coco in 2017. The idea for Coco came from Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich. He was fascinated by Mexican culture and the holiday Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos. Coco asks the question, what if a human was lost in the land of the dead? Unkrich and Pixar made an effort to respect Mexican culture as much as possible. Apart from Disney’s attempt to trademark the holiday. Coco was the first movie with an entirely latino cast to have a big budget.

The moment I heard about Coco, I had a feeling it would make an impact since it was based around a culture with a lot of influence. I thought the first trailer was interesting and bared a strong resemble to The Book of Life. Another computer animated movie about Day of the Dead, a musician, and a magical realm of the dead. At 22 years old, my brother and I saw Coco in a theater almost exclusively packed with hispanic families. Coco is definitely one of Pixar’s best films, but I couldn’t relate to much. I’m not hispanic, but you don’t have to be to understand the universal language of music and family. Coco is another human focused Pixar movie with music as the central theme and the dead being the one’s given emotion…

38. Coco

Miguel strums Ernesto de la Cruz’s guitar

Coco was foolishly paired up with the 21 minute Disney “short” Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. A woefully misguided decision that forced audiences to endure another piece of Frozen media against their will. The short was obviously removed after many complaints. Coco itself was worth the endless wait. Like with any culture focused Disney movie, Pixar artists researched Mexican traditions and architecture with trips to the country. The fictional city Santa Cecilia is a fine representation with sparing uses of color. Coco has a respectable latino cast that consisted of Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, and child actor Anthony Gonzalez. With the exception of smaller parts for Cheech Marin, Gabriel Iglesias, and Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Benjamin Bratt was the only major performer I recognized.

After having no clue what the title meant, I learned while watching the movie that Coco referred to Mamá Coco. The emotional core of the story. Coco is the great-grandmother of Miguel and the daughter of his great-great grandmother Mamá Imelda. A woman who banned all music from her house after her husband left to pursue the career and never came back. Sure the anti-music element has the same problems as Footloose, but it is handled well enough to be different. The large Riviera family stick to shoemaking and their Abuelita keeps all forms of music out of their house. One of which comes from a Pizza Planet truck radio. The ban is particularly tough on 12 year old Miguel. Your standard precocious child with a deep love for music. Despite the more Disney-like focus on culture, characters still retained the traditional Pixar look. With even greater attention to detail that rendered more natural looking skin. Coco actually looks like a woman in her late 90’s. Miguel spends a lot of time with her, but she slowly starts to lose her memory.

Miguel keeps his musical talent from his family, along with his admiration for the musician Ernesto de la Cruz. A Mexican Frank Sinatra famous for his musical movies and songs like “Remember Me,” before he was crushed by a bell. Miguel has more interest in a talent show than Day of the Dead. Outside of its basic honoring the dead message, I knew practically nothing else about Día de los Muertos. So I at least learned what the ofrenda display of portraits and offerings meant. I don’t believe in the ritualistic side, but I do agree that remembering loved ones is the best way to keep their spirit alive. A portrait accidentally falls off the ofrenda and Miguel discovers his great-great grandfather might be Ernesto de la Cruz when he folds back the torn photo to reveal his guitar. Miguel takes it as a sign to pursue music, but his Abuelita smashes his guitar in defiance. When Miguel runs away from his family, he attempts to take Ernesto’s guitar.

A single strum of his guitar sends Miguel into the spirit world à la Spirited Away. Where he’s invisible to all except the dead and his hairless stray dog pal with a floppy tongue Dante. Pixar had a hard time animating skeletons, but they’re rife with comedic possibility. They just have eyeballs since proper Day of the Dead skeletons would have been too creepy. Miguel runs into his many deceased family members who take him to the Land of the Dead to sort the mess out. The computer animation is most impressive in the crisp, vibrant, and extra colorful Land of the Dead. Petals create a bridge to the world with buildings stacked on top of eachother. The gateway between the Land of the Living is like a train station where the dead can only pass if their picture is on an ofrenda. One of the dead passers by is voiced by John Ratzenberger. He only says one word so as to not call attention to the fact that he’s not hispanic.

Although Miguel’s deceased family is pretty nondescript, his Mamá Imelda has all the personality. She’s unable to cross since Miguel took her photo and Miguel is stuck due to his stealing from the dead. If he’s not returned by sunrise, he’ll become a skeleton and be stuck forever. Only a petal blessed by a relative can send him back. Imelda sends him back at first, but he returns when he breaks her condition to never play music. Miguel runs off and bumps into Héctor. A trickster who desperately wants to crossover into the Land of the Living. Miguel agrees to take Héctor’s picture to an ofrenda in exchange for getting him to his only remaining relative Ernesto. Miguel & Héctor are an unlikely Pixar duo getting to know each other as they travel. Héctor disguises him with makeup and he reveals small details about his death, musical background, and connection to de la Cruz. They also meet famous hispanic figures like painter Frida Kahlo.

Meanwhile, Imelda has her families alebrije track down Miguel. Alebrije are colorful fantastical creatures that supposedly look over the dead. Héctor gets the idea to enter Miguel in a talent competition where the winner meets Ernesto. He gets a guitar from an old friend at a forgotten part of town and we learn that being completely forgot by the living results in a final death. Héctor convinces Miguel to play something other than “Remember Me” and he also teaches him to loosen up. Their singing is a hit, but they separate when Miguel’s family tracks him down. Imelda reveals her secret singing talent, only it’s not enough to convince him that she only wants what’s best for him. When Miguel sneaks into Ernesto’s lavish mansion, an impromptu performance washes away his makeup. Ernesto accepts him as the great-great-grandson he never knew he had and they bond over music and his career. Just as Ernesto is prepared to give his blessing, Héctor confronts his ex-partner.

SPOILER ALERT! Twist villains weren’t exclusive to Disney, since Pixar has a major plot twist that reveals the celebrated musician to be responsible for Héctor’s death. Ernesto is a really evil villain since he’s a murderer who poisoned his partner and stole all his songs. He throws Héctor out and does the same to Miguel when he questions his actions. It’s only in a pit that we discover a second more unexpected twist that Coco is Héctor’s daughter. Making Héctor, Miguel’s real great-great-grandfather. Imelda finally catches up to Miguel and has an awkward reunion with her husband. It’s also revealed that Dante was an alebrije all along. In order to retrieve Héctor’s stolen picture from Ernesto, his family devises a plan to sneak into his Sunrise Spectacular performance. They fight off guards and Imelda ends up singing on stage after retrieving the photo. Just as she has a change of heart about music, Ernesto admits to his crimes in front of a hidden camera and throws Miguel off a building. The crowd rejects Ernesto and a bell crushes him once again.

With the photo lost, Miguel reluctantly returns to the living with the goal to help Coco remember her Papá. Although the entire movie is understandably emotional, the central tear worthy moment is when Miguel plays “Remember Me” for Coco and she slowly starts to remember. I came very close, but I didn’t manage to cry. Really it’s the heartfelt musical conclusion where Coco joins her parents and everyone comes together to celebrate Día de los Muertos that pulls on my heartstrings the most. Coco isn’t technically a musical, but it did come closest to being Pixar’s first. The music in Coco was very necessary and captures authentic Mexican music beautifully. After their success with Frozen, Robert & Kristen Anderson-Lopez provide many songs with the help of other writers. Every song has latin charm, but the Oscar winning “Remember Me” sums up the message the best. Coco goes to shows us that a loved one is never truly gone as long as we remember them.

39. Coco

Miguel performs with Héctor

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

Make Your Mark

The Good Dinosaur is my least favorite Pixar movie without Cars in the title. Hate is a strong word, but I strongly dislike almost everything about it. Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur were the first Pixar movies released in the same year. Disney’s done it many times, but Pixar avoids awards competition as much as possible. Well there was zero competition between films. Inside Out got all the accolades and The Good Dinosaur was the first Pixar movie to bomb at the box-office. Like I said with Disney’s Dinosaur, non-Jurassic Park dinosaur movies have bad luck. The Good Dinosaur asks the question, what if the asteroid never wiped out the dinosaurs?

I was actually very interested when I first heard the concept. Even more than Inside Out, but my mind changed as soon as I found out what that meant. Rather than some kind of modern society where humans and dinosaurs coexist, we have dinosaur agriculture. The idea came from Bob Peterson after he saw animatronic dinosaurs, but there were apparently story problems from day 1. Hence the 2014 year gap, Peter Sohn replacing the director, and the movie coming out after Inside Out despite being scheduled to come out first. At 20 years old, I had so little interest in The Good Dinosaur that my brother and I very nearly made it the first Pixar movie we didn’t see in theaters. After several weeks we saw it in an empty theater…

32. The Good Dinosaur

Arlo travels with Spot

The Good Dinosaur plays with the short Sanjay’s Super Team. A visually pleasing Hindu superhero story about childhood that made me uncomfortable because of faith. The Good Dinosaur had such a perfect set up, yet you could cut out the asteroid, and it wouldn’t make a difference. A western is a hard enough sell to modern audiences, but a dinosaur western is expecting too much. The only thing that everyone agrees is flawless in The Good Dinosaur are the breathtaking landscapes. More advanced cloud rendering software was used and photorealism seemed to be the goal. The computer animation is so stunning and lifelike that the choice of overly cartoony Gumby dinosaurs is really distracting. Rex would have looked more convincing. I wasn’t opposed to the idea of giving dinosaurs emotions, but making them farmers is really boring. Arlo is a good Apatosaurus dinosaur born small and afraid of everything. His poppa Henry is a strong provider, his momma Ida is a dedicated worker, and his brother & sister Buck & Libby are better than him at everything.

The Good Dinosaur has a respectable cast with names like Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand, but the kid who voices Arlo is kinda annoying. Arlo is a real scaredy dino who screams more times than I can count. He desperately wants to earn his mark like the rest of his family, but he’s just too afraid. So his poppa shows him the magic of fireflies at night. One of many excuses to show off the animation. Pretty much the entire movie is looking at pretty things without the story to back it up. Arlo’s poppa encourages him by giving him a job to catch the critter that’s been stealing their corn. The critter is a wild caveboy who acts like a dog named Spot. Arlo doesn’t kill him like his poppa says, so he makes him go after it. In case it wasn’t obvious, a sudden storm “Mufasa’s” his poppa since he was just too encouraging. Arlo’s momma tries to work without him, but the movie sort of forgets about his siblings for a moment. Arlo blames Spot for his death and chases after him despite his fear. Setting off an uncomfortable chain of events that’s practically The Revenant for kids.

Arlo is left unconscious by the river and swept far away from his home near Clawtooth Mountain. Leading to a desperate need for survival that’s so miserable it feels more like a drama than a comedy. A big problem that Pixar started to do more and more. Despite Arlo’s grudge, Spot follows him, frees him, and even brings food for him. Arlo & Spot slowly become a dinosaur and his boy type unlikely duo. All they do is try surviving one crazy situation after another with characters that come and go with varying importance. There’s also a lot of WTF moments that seriously push the PG rating. Like Spot ripping off a giant bugs head, Spot fighting a snake with legs, and Arlo & Spot tripping on fermented fruit. Random dinosaurs include a strange Styracosaurus covered in animals who inspires Arlo to name Spot, then disappears forever. Probably the only time I felt anything was Arlo bonding with Spot over family loss represented by sticks and a circle in the dirt.

Although nature is clearly the villain, a psychotic storm worshiping Steve Zahn voiced Pterodactyl named Thunderclap is a close second. Although Thunderclap and his band seem to be friendly at first, he eats an adorable critter right in front of him. With the lifeless tail hanging from his mouth and other Pterodactyls fighting over it. Way to traumatized everyone. Thunderclap is chased off by friendly T-Rex’s who are more like cowboy ranchers. They even gallop like horses. Sam Elliott voices the father T-Rex and Anna Paquin & A. J. Buckley voice his children. They’re standard southern stereotypes who wrangle longhorns with Arlo & Spot’s help. Avoiding feathered hillbilly Velociraptor rustlers in the process. John Ratzenberger voices one of them, but he’s as unrecognizable as the Pizza Planet truck is hard to find. The T-Rex’s give Arlo advice about fear and he uses it when Thunderclap captures Spot after Arlo is left tied up.

After hallucinating a vision with his poppa, Arlo confronts Thunderclap. Spot gruesomely bites a hole through his wing and Arlo finishes him off with a tree branch. Then Arlo & Spot somehow survive the same flood that killed his poppa and Arlo tearfully says goodbye to Spot when they find a silver haired human family. It’s supposed to be the big tear worthy moment, but I honestly felt nothing. In the end, Spot goes off with his new family and Arlo reunites with his. Finally earning his mark on the silo. The Good Dinosaur does have effort put into it. Visuals are still worth the experience despite how silly the dinosaurs look. The story is simple enough for children, but the brutal aspects might be too much for them. So it’s not hard to see why The Good Dinosaur faded into obscurity and is almost completely forgotten in Pixar’s library.

33. The Good Dinosaur

Arlo makes lights for Spot

More than a Feeling

Inside Out is the most emotional movie Pixar has ever made. Winning every Best Animated Feature award and truly becoming the return to form the studio needed. Turns out taking a year off after Monsters University was exactly the right call. Inside Out asks the question, what’s really going on inside an 11 year old girl’s head? After delivering emotionally resonant stories with Monsters, Inc. and Up, director Pete Docter decided to go straight to emotion itself. Getting the idea after observing his pre-teen daughter’s mood shift and associating it with his own anxiety growing up. The idea of emotions with emotions controlling emotions was so complex that Docter wasn’t even sure kids would understand it.

I was certainly puzzled by the idea when I first heard about it, but I’m actually very fascinated by “clever visual metaphors used to personify the abstract concept of thought.” The idea of emotions using control panels inside someone’s head has been done many times. Just not quite to this level of sophistication. Psychologists were contacted, 5 basic emotions were chosen, and the story went through many variations. With John Lasseter putting more focus on Disney, they had to contend without his influence. Inside Out quickly became my favorite original Pixar movie made since their heyday. I was won over by the creative animation, hilarious representations of thought, and even though I was a 20 year old adult, I was in the theater crying like a baby…

30. Inside Out

Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust

Inside Out included the equally emotional short Lava. A sort of random musical romance between living volcanos. Inside Out is basically one big tear worthy moment. If there’s anything Pixar has always excelled at, it’s pulling emotion out of any non-human characters. Be they toy, bug, monster, car, or robot. So it was clever to have a teaser that utilized clips from every emotional moment in a Pixar movie. With the exception of maybe Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University, Inside Out had to visualize emotions from scratch. The dazzling computer animation is colorful and imaginative with a unique take on emotions. Each emotion possesses an energy based appearance with particles instead of skin. Although there are dozens of distinct human emotions, there are at least 6 core emotions. Inside Out simplified things with only 5 after surprise was dropped. Emotions include: Joy 😀, Sadness 😭, Anger 😡, Fear 😱, and Disgust 🤢. Each emotion is given a corresponding color & shape most associated with that emotion.

Joy is a yellow star with pointy blue hair and a green flowery dress. Sadness is a blue tear drop with glasses and a sweater. Anger is a red brick with a business suit. Fear is a purple nerve with a dorky outfit. And Disgust is a green broccoli with a fashionable outfit. Inside Out has a respectable cast of mostly SNL alumni. Amy Poehler is a joyful Joy, Phyllis Smith is a sad Sadness, Lewis Black is an angry Anger, Bill Hader is a fearful Fear, and Mindy Kaling is a disgusted Disgust. Each actor and actress embodies their emotion’s defining traits, but they each manage to make them more three dimensional. Bringing up questions of whether or not emotions have emotions themselves. Their office-like banter isn’t overly hilarious, but they are fun in the cartoony sense. The emotional score helps of course. Inside Out is all about average Minnesota girl Riley Andersen. The perfect mind to explore since girls are far more complex.

The opening is heavy with information, but Joy tells it in a way that’s fun and breezy. Emotions are formed the moment a child is born. Riley is a happy baby and thus Joy is manifested with just a button to activate basic emotion. Memories are represented by a clever series of orbs that appear based on each emotion that’s felt at the time. Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger manifest whenever a new emotion is felt. Their headquarters is a brainstem and a console controls Riley’s actions. Another interesting concept is that core memories are what define a person’s personality. Represented by Islands of Personality including: Family, Friendship, Honesty, Hockey, and Goofball. Not sure how hockey is a personality, but it is something she’s a big fan of. Other clever representations include gears creating imagination, lightbulbs forming ideas, and a brain freeze literally freezing headquarters.

Although the emotions have no direct interaction with Riley, they’re more like parents concerned for her well being. That’s why Inside Out doesn’t technically have a villain. Anger literally has a fiery temper, but he’s just doing his job like everybody else. Really it’s Joy who causes most of the movie’s problems since she can’t figure out Sadness’ purpose on the team. Riley is a happy child, but all that changes when her parents move to San Francisco for unexplained reasons. Something I thankfully never had to deal with as a kid. San Francisco is apparently the worst place to live according to Inside Out. Riley’s new house is dingy, the movers misplace their furniture, pizza is topped with broccoli, and there isn’t even time to spend with family. Anger, Fear, and Disgust start making it a bad day, but Joy desperately tries to see the positives of the situation. Leading her to orchestrate an optimistic first day of school and repress Sadness by placing her in a circle.

Things take a turn when Sadness makes Riley cry in the middle of class. Creating a core memory that Joy tries to get rid of. Leading to an unfortunate series of events where the very unlikely Pixar duo Joy & Sadness end up away from headquarters with Riley’s core memories. Leaving Anger, Fear, and Disgust as the only emotions in Riley’s head. As Riley grows more and more despondent, she starts to lose each of her personality traits one by one. Probably the funniest joke is seeing all the emotions inside Mom and Dad’s heads as they try to talk to Riley over diner. Joy & Sadness are complete opposites, but Joy tries her best to find common ground. They trek through Long Term Memory, which is where all of Riley’s memories are stored (including one containing a Pizza Planet Truck). When memories such as useless facts fade away, mind workers throw them into a memory dump. Except for a catchy ear worm song that they send up just for giggles.

Along the way, Joy & Sadness run into Bing Bong. Riley’s unexpected imaginary friend absent from all marketing. Bing Bong is a cotton candy elephant cat dolphin hobo who cries candy and has the friendly voice of Richard Kind. Although he means well, Bing Bong’s directions aren’t always the best. Joy chooses to listen to Bing Bong instead of Sadness and they nearly end up deconstructed in a bizarre Abstract Thought machine that changes their animation style. They take another shortcut through Imagination Land. A place where anything Riley’s ever imagined lives. The funniest being an imaginary boyfriend generator. They take a literal Train of Thought to headquarters, but it stops as soon as Riley falls asleep. My favorite visual representation are dreams being like a movie production. With mind workers as visually distorted actors and individual dreams being like mini-movies. We can all relate to certain recurring dreams like losing teeth or not having pants.

Joy attempts to wake Riley with joy, but Sadness knows scaring her is the way to go. Phobias reside in our innermost subconscious. It’s there they find the closest thing Inside Out has to a villain. Jangles the Clown scares Riley awake and the train is back on track. Unfortunately, it’s at that time Anger has a terrible idea to have Riley run away from home. Riley’s actions topple the remaining islands and Joy falls into the pit of forgotten memories with Bing Bong. It’s at that moment Joy breaks down with the realization that Riley’s happy memories have a hint of sadness to them. Meaning sadness is what Riley really needs to be feeling. SPOILER ALERT! They find Bing Bong’s song powered rocket cart and Bing Bong bravely sacrifices himself to save Joy. I never had a specific imaginary friend growing up, but I weep everytime Bing Bong fades away forever. Through a series of bizarre circumstances, Joy & Sadness launch themselves back to headquarters.

Leaving Sadness as the only one who can convince Riley not to run away. Leading to the biggest cry imaginable when Riley finally talks about her feelings with her parents and they all hug it out. Inside Out has a beautiful message for kids that it’s okay to feel sad sometimes. Just as long as you have people around who care about you enough to help you get through it. John Ratzenberger voices a mind worker who installs Riley’s new adolescent console, more complex emotional memories are formed, and her personality expands even more. In the end, a perfectly well adjusted Riley runs into a boy hilariously frightened at the sight of a girl and a bunch of other mind’s are explored. Including a teacher, an emo, a popular girl, a bus driver, a clown, a dog, and a cat. Inside Out is a show of emotion guaranteed to give you the feels.

31. Inside Out

Joy and Sadness travel with Bing Bong