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My completely idiosyncratic but definitive ranking of Pixar movies by feels

Everyone is ranking Pixar movies wrong. Here is the right way to do it.

“Inside Out” is billed as a “major emotion picture,” but how does it stack up against other Pixar works? (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

The hardworking staff here at Spoiler Alerts took the family to see Pixar’s latest, “Inside Out,” last weekend.

Now the release of “Inside Out” has prompted a veritable geyser of efforts to rank the 15 Pixar films in terms of quality. And that’s just fine: Rankings are supposed to produce vigorous debates. Reading through these myriad lists, however, it has been tough not to conclude that everyone is doing it wrong and it’s starting to get annoying.

The key thing to understand about Pixar films is contained in this genius Tumblr post:

Basically, the goal of Pixar films is to evoke feelings in the audience. And not just any feelings — oh no. Pixar films are designed to induce tears. Not just among kids, but among the parents who take the kids to these films, parents whose resistance to crying has been destroyed by having children. Or, as millennials would put it: So. Many. Feels. Indeed, one could argue that all the feels contained within the millennial generation in the United States are a product of Pixar films.

So, to celebrate our country’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of sweet sadness or something, my way to rank the Pixar canon is simple: How much did the film give you the feels? Did the movie make you well up with so many tears (of joy, or sadness, or melancholy about the passage of time) that your 15-year old son had to put his hand on your shoulder and ask if you were okay? (Just to pick a random example of feels.)

My equation for ranking the feels of Pixar is as follows: (number of feels) * (depth of feels) * (how close to the end of the film you are feeling the feels).

This last part matters as a useful tiebreaker. It’s one thing to be shocked into feels at the beginning of a movie. But if you’re welling up with tears at the end, it means the film and its characters have really grabbed you by the throat.

When you use this equation, the Pixar ranking exercise becomes much easier. Furthermore, my ranking looks a bit different from the only other list I’ve seen that uses the feels criteria.

In reverse order:

15. “Cars 2” — This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. “Cars 2” always comes in last in Pixar rankings, and justifiably so.

14. “Monsters University” — The only feeling I had at the end of this movie was anger because the last minute of it implied that the entire plot before it had served no actual purpose.

13. “A Bug’s Life” — It’s not a bad movie at all — remember, even bad Pixar films are better than most of the dreck I’ve seen to placate my children. It’s just … not memorable in any way.

12. “Cars” — Look, I’m actually amazed that this movie generates any feels at all, because it shouldn’t work. The notion of combining talking, souped-up race cars with nostalgia for small-town Americana seems mildly contradictory. Paul Newman is lovely in it though, and when Lightning McQueen pushes the King over the finish line, that was nice. But this is still a below-average feels movie.

11. “Brave” — At the time, everyone was very excited that Pixar made a movie with a female protagonist!! Lost in all the excitement was that this is an idiot plot. I’m sorry, it just is.

Still, this is the first film on the list to have a heavy feels scene at the end:

10. “Toy Story” — These next few are going to be controversial, I get that. And I’m a big fan of the original “Toy Story.” In some ways, it’s unfair because the two sequels would not resonate as much without the world-building that the original film did. But I think nostalgia and a collective love for Joss Whedon have elevated its ranking, Once you get past that, however, this is a film that has a lot going for it, but doesn’t really hit you in the feels. There, I said it.

(Plus, it always bothered me a little that the only way they pulled off the last rescue was by breaking the toy rules. It’s a miracle Sid got a job as a garbage collector rather than winding up in a psych ward.)

9. “The Incredibles” — This is a painful ranking to give Brad Bird’s masterpiece, which is my favorite Pixar film. It’s brilliant in every way, especially this one:

No capes! But not a lot of deep feels, either.

8. “WALL-E” — The thing about this movie is that the first third of it is just unbearably delightful, and then the rest of the film doesn’t quite measure up. It’s lovely and all, but the feels come early and not late, which brings down its ranking.

7. “Ratatouille” — And now we hit the Major League Feels section. Given my line of work and my fondness for Brad Bird’s work, I might be biased in favor of “Ratatouille” a little bit. It usually doesn’t rank that high on Pixar lists. Still, I remember the delight I felt watching this scene for the first time:

6. “Up” — This is like an even more grandiose version of “Cars,” in that it shouldn’t work at all and yet it does. Because Dug is THE BEST.

But even though it happens early in the film, we all know why “Up” is ranked so high. Because COME ON.

5. “Toy Story 2” — The melancholy that the “Toy Story” franchise manages to instill about growing up won’t hit its peak until later, but in terms of bring out the feels, Sarah McLachlan > Randy Newman and it’s not close.

4. “Monsters Inc.” — I fear the sequel has brought down the ranking of the original film in some people’s eyes, which is a shame. The fact that I had to watch this movie at least 30 times because it was my son’s favorite film as a small child, and the fact that it still held up amazingly well upon repeat viewings, might bias me a little. Also, the voice for Boo is just perfect. And the last hug between Sully and Boo is so feels-worthy.

3. “Inside Out” — Watching this film in a packed theater, there were two waves of feels. When Bing Bong’s narrative arc came to an end, one could hear the collective cries of every child under the age of 9. Then, when Riley talks to her parents at the end, you could hear the collective sniffles of the older generation. All I will say is a quick thank you to Pixar for the closing credits sequence, which gave all the adults time to collect their wits before the lights came back on.

2. “Finding Nemo” — Nothing to see here, just a movie that opens with an awful tragedy and then keeps RAMPING UP THE FEELS until the end. It’s this monologue by Dory (voiced to perfection by Ellen DeGeneres) that always gets me:

1. “Toy Story 3” — Sure, I could embed a clip here, but that clip would have to be the entire last 20 minutes of the film. Because, basically, everything from the incinerator scene forward — which was so well done I actually thought that Pixar might go there in terms of the ending — brings out all the feels. But it’s when Andy’s mom says “Oh, Andy” at the sight of the packed bedroom that any parent’s defenses are completely eviscerated. And that’s before the final, tear-inducing goodbye.

So there it is. To be clear, I’m not saying that “Toy Story 3” is a better film than “The Incredibles,” because I don’t think that’s true. And the discussion of this list provoked many fierce debates at the Spoiler Alerts dinner table; one child who shall remain nameless is still upset that I’m slighting “WALL-E” and “Up.” But it’s a credit to Pixar that they can produce films that provoke such deep feelings.

And so, on this Independence Day weekend, I encourage you, your friends, and your family to have your own debates about this Very Important Topic.