Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you the responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:
Q: Pixar's new film, "Brave," opens this Friday. What is Pixar's best movie?
The critics' answers:
"As passable as the work of Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton et al. tends to be, Brad Bird's two Pixar features belong to a substantially higher level of achievement. Though they are, in my view, roughly equivalent in terms of their quality, I remain more inclined to cite 'The Incredibles' as the studio's best, if for no other reason that it excelled Pixar's previous peak by such a large margin. The singularity of writer-director Bird's accomplishment can be felt on nearly every level here, from the picture's sharp, comedic dialogue to the filmmaker's extremely visceral and effective simulation of action to 'The Incredible''s incisive challenge to the culture of self-esteem and even a surprisingly sober (and very early) look at global terrorism. (The last of these, of course, prompted a panicked think piece or two within the ideologically lock-step world of Bush-era film criticism.)"
"This is kind of a tough one because I'm 'that guy,' in that I find Pixar movies, with only two exceptions, to be kind of disturbing and alienating. It's not that I'm self-conscious about crying at the movies or anything dumb like that, it's that my defensiveness about submitting to Pixar has me on the outside looking in, looking at the frame rather than the painting, and where most of the rest of you see delightful pop entertainment, I see a brutally efficient sentimentality algorithm. (The first ten minutes of 'Up,' for example, felt like they were being inflicted rather than animated.) However, considering that I'm in a distinct minority with regards to these movies, I'm willing to admit the problem might be with me. But we did not come here to bash Pixar, we came to praise, and so I declare 'The Incredibles' the best Pixar's done, and not by default or anything either. That movie's legitimately awesome. (So were the first two-thirds of 'WALL-E,' 'til that damn sentimentality algorithm got me again, which I really should shut up about because Pixar fans are going to come at me with torches and pitchforks. Sorry to Scrooge at y'all.)"
"Picking a favorite Pixar movie is like picking a favorite Beatles song — there are just too many right answers. I'll say 'Toy Story 2,' because I just love all those characters so much, and this is the best version of them. Everything that's said in this series is said best in part 2."
"I’m Mr. Documentary, so can I say 'The Pixar Story?' Just kidding. Since I’m hearing that 'Brave' is a movie aimed at six-year-olds, I think it fitting to point to 'Ratatouille' as Pixar’s best movie and also their most grown up (if only because the opening of 'Up' isn’t separated from the rest of it). The movie certainly can play to kids, but it mostly plays to a kind of refined palette that is intelligent and mature yet has a childlike sense of wonder and is open to the simplest of pleasures as well. That final, titular dish is all the more perfect for that reason. Also, Brad Bird exhibits the greatest directorial command of animated sequences since Miyazaki."
"While I think many people would argue that 'WALL-E' is Pixar's most ambitious film, for me, there's no doubt that 'Up' is their best. People always talk about the opening sequence, which communicates through its visuals and Michael Giacchino's wonderful score an entire lifetime of love and heartbreak. But beyond that, there are so many beautiful moments in that film that render me speechless on both an aesthetic and emotional level. Additionally, I think 'Up' is the Pixar film that best balances mature themes and adult storytelling with a comedic adventure that is appropriate for people of any age."
"'Toy Story 3.' Out of all their films, I feel it's the one that best connects their younger audience to their older fans. It's a great example of how Pixar films are for people of all ages, and that rare movie where you walk out smiling AND crying, and that's why it's awesome."
"For me, Pixar's best film is 'Finding Nemo.' The attention they pay to the construction of stories and visual universes is evident in most of their films, but 'Finding Nemo' always appealed to me on a more visceral level. The range, diversity and intensity of colors is truly awe-inspiring. When they're at their best, Pixar films bring an entire world to life through the soundness of their stories and the detail and imagination of their visuals, and no film offered a more engrossing universe than 'Finding Nemo.'"
"That's certainly the most subjective Criticwire Survey question so far and I'm sure you're going to get a dozen different answers — or removing the 'Cars' movies, just ten. The obvious answer would be either the first or most recent 'Toy Story' movie since the first one started the wave of being able to do feature films using CG animation and the third showed that doing a threequel can work even after over a decade, but no, I'm going to go with one of the more innovative Pixar films, Brad Bird's 'Ratatouille,' which somehow took the tried-and-true talking animal family comedy and turned it into a true foodie's wet dream at a time when everyone was getting into shows like 'Top Chef' and the like. It was probably one of Pixar's films that took some time to find its audience but it's also one that works on many more levels than some of their others and Patton Oswalt is just great as the main character."
"I know I can't get away with 'the first half of 'WALL-E,'' but I'm still going to cheat and declare it a tie between two movies that exemplify what Pixar does best. 'Toy Story 3' is the best of their character-based comedies that tug at your heartstrings in the smartest way possible, and 'The Incredibles' is the best of their character-driven action movies. (And still, for my money, the best superhero movie ever made.)"
"'Ratatouille,' and it's not even a little bit close. Perhaps the most dense, emotionally expansive, and morally complex film in Disney's history, Brad Bird's hectic character piece refuses to resign to its third act ('WALL-E'), shrink into a shadow of its influences ('Up'), or become seduced by corporate mandates and heart-mashing histrionics (the 'Toy Story' franchise). Directed with palpably kinetic energy and absolutely crawling with memorable characters (the scene in which Anton Ego has his first taste of the title dish is the apex of western animation), 'Ratatouille' is glorious proof that genuinely great movies can come from anywhere. Oh, and finding out that Janeane Garofalo provided the voice for Colette was pretty much my own personal Keyser Söze moment."
"To my mind, the original 'Toy Story' is still the best film they've ever made. On their first try with a feature, Pixar nailed the storytelling template that the studio more or less still follows to this day: total immersion in a very specific world; a deft mixture of comedy, action, and sentiment; a refusal to play down to the audience; and ending with a rousing third-act finale that's both thrilling and character-based. Pixar's animation has improved tenfold since, but I don't think any of their films more perfectly captures the company's childlike wonder and inventiveness. And the Randy Newman songs are better than you remember."
"The oceanic adventure, 'Finding Nemo' is my pick. Having elements of action, comedy and drama, the film is beautiful and even scary at times."
"Pixar's best film film is 'Monsters, Inc.' it's the most creative, most antic, has quality zings — and who's cuter than Sully? Well, maybe Lots-O Huggin' Bear, but he's evil. Sully is a good man. Also, you didn't ask, but the best short is 'For The Birds.' Maybe I just like the color blue."
"Best doesn't apply. I've spoken before about the unbelievable run of Powell & Pressburger films and wondered why the masses don't spend their lives laying prostate before the altar of their dozen or so masterpieces. Real Deal Top Shelf First Tier Masterpieces. With Pixar, it's in that vein. That being said, 'The Incredibles.' For the moment when Dash realizes he can run across water. It's every childhood fantasy of mine distilled into one perfect moment of joy."
"In terms of artistic ambition, it's tempting to go with 'WALL-E,' but the fact is that 'Finding Nemo' is and may always be my favorite Pixar film. It's a story about fatherhood and the perils of raising a child that came out the year after my first son was born, and it was the first movie he ever watched incessantly the way my younger sisters did when 'The Little Mermaid' came out. Somehow I never got tired of staring at 'Nemo' or hearing it on in the background (while I let the TV play babysitter)."
"As a critic who's seldom heard an explication of the job as eloquent as the one spoken by Anton Ego at the end of 'Ratatouille,' I think I have to put aside my disdain for foodie culture and pick that one. 'Ratatouille' all the way! Now I just need to hit 'send' before I start rewatching 'The Incredibles' in my brai — aw, nuts, too late."
"I'd actually like to shout out a couple of the Pixar shorts, notably 'Knick Knack' and 'Lifted.' The Pixar shorts that don't use dialogue are essentially 'Film School 101' for screenwriters in studying structure. They are deceptively simple in their storytelling, but they perfectly establish their characters and their wants for the narrative. A lot of screenwriters today focus too much on making clever and unique dialogue, and their films suffer from a lack of basic storytelling. Pixar shorts always go back to basics, but they execute those basics with such elegance and ingenuity. It's the reason why the Pixar films are so good; they all started learning on the silent short film model."
"A question I've avoided for years, as it's so tough to answer. I reserve the right to change this after another viewing of any given Pixar film, but for today I'll say 'Finding Nemo.' An original story, impeccable vocal performances, amazing animation and loads of laughs. Not to mention that it hits Pixar's sweet spot: acting like a movie for kids, but really being one for their parents (in this case, the ones terrified about sending their firstborn off to school)."
"'Toy Story.' The animation doesn't QUITE hold up as well today, but everything else does. It set the pattern, and it hasn't been topped."
"That's funny, I did a list of the five best Pixar movies a year ago with the opening of 'Cars 2' (which is by far their weakest film). It was really hard to pick but it went like this: 'WALL-E,' 'The Incredibles,' 'Up,' the original 'Toy Story' and 'Monsters, Inc.' I still stand by 'WALL-E' as their best, though. It's daring and delicate at the same time — inventive yet sweetly old-fashioned. It's essentially a silent picture in which the two main characters, a mismatched pair of robots, communicate through bleeps and blips and maybe three words between them. And yet director Andrew Stanton finds infinite ways for them to express themselves — amusingly, achingly, and with emotional precision."
"While I briefly considered going with 'WALL-E,' Pixar's boldest film to date, I keep coming back to 'Toy Story 3.' How often is it that the final film in a trilogy of near perfect movies ends on the best note? I may be courting mockery by saying this, but this conclusion to the franchise brought me to tears on no less than three occasions, something few films have ever been able to do. Not only is it my favorite, I see it as Pixar's crowning achievement to date. I don't know if it can be topped, but I sure hope that they try (and no, 'Brave' isn't on that level for those still wondering, it's more second level Pixar, to me at least)."
"This question is hard, because I love most of Pixar's movies (buzz off, 'Cars 2!') and I love them for different reasons. If forced to choose just one, I'll go with 'Finding Nemo.' Most of the Pixar movies share the same great qualities — strong storytelling, breathtaking animation, memorable characters, warm humor — but I can find little nitpicky things to gripe about if I want to. (One example: the talking dog stuff in 'Up' feels a bit out of place with everything else). 'Finding Nemo,' on the other hand, achieves a balance among those trademark Pixar elements that, to me, feels just about perfect."
"Simple. 'WALL-E' is not only my favorite Pixar film, its also one of my top three favorite films period."
"'Ratatouille.' From the voice work to character design and complex narrative, it's beautifully realized. But beyond that, it's incredibly funny, poignant, and it's the one I revisit the most often. Plus, there's Anton Ego. Maybe my favorite 'movie' critic."
"I'm going to cheat a bit here, but as far as a singular, stand-alone work of art, 'WALL-E' is tops. Visually inventive from top to bottom and while the first act is brilliant, the rest is also a wonderful adventure. But, their 'Toy Story' trilogy is a nearly perfect, complete journey and certainly their most iconic. BONUS: My favorite Pixar short has to be 'Partly Cloudy,' with 'Presto' as a runner-up. Also, don't see 'Brave.' It's not a good movie."
"'WALL-E.' The people who think the second half is bad are crazy — the lyrical beauty of WALL-E's solo 40 minutes really are incredible, but the adventure that happens up on the Axiom is the epitome of Pixar's layered, dense storytelling, with so many robots and human blobs to invest in, so many good jokes, and such an incredibly good love story driving it all. The 'Define Dancing' scene, where WALL-E and Eve dance in space, is reason enough to be glad movies exist."
"With its ridiculous story, 'Ratatouille' was improbably great."
"Well, I can assure you that it's not 'Brave.' I have a feeling 'Toy Story 3' might be a popular answer, but I can't help but answer 'Toy Story 3.' First, it's remarkable enough that the movie is even coherent, considering the eleven year gap between the second and third installment (which may not be a fair statement, but, the track record for such things is a tragic record), let alone Pixar's Best Movie (or, at least, my personal favorite.) I mean, the incinerator scene is one of the best acceptances of death I've ever seen in a film — and it happened in a 'Toy Story' movie. (And, yes, I cried at the end. I'm getting teary-eyed just writing about it, so I'm going to stop now.)"
"Boasting fantastic animation, two phenomenal lead vocal performances by John Goodman and Billy Crystal, and a story that effortlessly melds comedy and pathos while addressing Big Questions via rollicking fantasy – 'Monsters Inc.' is Pixar's best film (over, in this order, 'The Incredibles,' 'Up,' and 'Toy Story 2')."
"This is a great question, and a tricky one. In terms of narrative construction, 'Toy Story 2' is probably their best overall film in its balance between adventure elements and broader themes, particularly the status of artifacts as loved personal items versus their long-term cultural value. (In this respect, the film is a distant cousin to Assayas's 'Summer Hours.') As for emotional depth, originality and successful exploration of archetypes, the Brad Bird Pixars, 'The Incredibles' and 'Ratatouille' are both top-notch, but both have an almost Ayn Randian, individual-over-society undercurrent that prevents me from fully embracing them. So, true to form, I will go with the highbrow critics' choice, 'WALL-E.' From its extended wordless prologue to its assimilation of live-action elements ('Hello, Dolly!,' Fred Willard), and a masterful use of monumental space, it's very likely 'WALL-E' will come to stand as Pixar's crowning achievement. It's 'Idiocracy,' but, you know, for kids!"
"Not only do I think 'Toy Story' is Pixar’s best movie, but I think the 'Toy Story' trilogy is arguably the best cinematic trilogy of all time."
"It's too hard to pick just one great Pixar movie; several stand out as contenders for the claim of 'all-time greatest,' including 'Finding Nemo,' 'The Incredibles,' and 'WALL-E.' 'Toy Story' is a nostalgic favorite, but then I also have to give props to 'Toy Story 3.' Family films rarely put their characters in genuine danger, but in 'Toy Story 3' the filmmakers did exactly that, and in a way that drew out their humanity, bravery, and dignity. So often, when critics say a children's film is for kids and adults, they mean it has jokes that kids won't get. But in Pixar's best movies — and I think any one of these counts — adults enjoy them because they combine childlike wonder with an emotional maturity adults can relate to. What parent needs double entendres or pop culture references when you have that?"
"'The Incredibles' is the best Pixar movie. It's got the best action, the strongest voice actors, and Samuel L. Jackson."
The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on June 18, 2012: