Inside Out, the fifteenth movie from computer animation hit factory Pixar, begins public previews this weekend in New Zealand.
The delightful film is yet another winner for the studio - it takes the joyful reverence for child-rearing demonstrated by the 'Production Babies' lists in all Pixar end credits and spins an entire movie around it. It's also preceded by what may well be Pixar's best-ever short film. It's definitely their nuttiest.
While Pixar is yet to release a (financially) unsuccessful film, some of their efforts stand above the others.
As their main rival - Dreamworks Animation - matured creatively with films like Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon, Pixar also evolved, albeit very much on its own terms.
The last decade has seen increased audience awareness of how ruthless the Pixar brain-trust is when it comes to internal quality control, a ruthlessness which has seen more than one director fired mid-production.
The results speak for themselves I suppose, but the nature of the methods employed to achieve them don't sit particularly well with Pixar's public emphasis on boundless creativity and warm fuzzies, and thus can't help but take a little of the sheen off an otherwise impeccable brand - a brand which nevertheless continues to set the industry standard.
To mark the release of Inside Out, I am going to rank the Pixar films from best to worst - starting with the worst - and determine where the new film fits into the hierarchy.
To definitively quantify the quality of so many amazing films is of course an impossible task, so I'm allowing this list to be informed by my own personal preference a little more than usual. Feel free to disagree though.
15. Cars 2 (2011)
Lasseter and pals always spoke about how they weren't interested in ever making a sequel that wasn't creatively justified. It's a policy they seemed to forget when Pixar made more money from Cars licensing tie-ins than from any of their previous movies. Also: Larry The Cable Guy steps into the spotlight. Joy.
14. Cars (2006)
It feels churlish to rag on a movie so clearly aimed at younger children, but Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter's passion project was the first Pixar film to really disappoint, and we all know it. The basic design, plot and characters undermine everything Pixar is supposed to stand for.
13. Monsters University (2013)
There are some cool new characters and plenty of impressive design elements, but Pixar's next-to-most-recent film suffers from overstated character arcs and the dearth of suspense inherent to all prequels.
12. Wall-E (2008)
I'm all for going weird, but I still can't reconcile Wall-E's nutty low-concept second-half with its transcendent opening. The idea of Pixar going into outer space got me very excited, but the opportunity was entirely wasted. The 'overweight-humanity-on-a-space-cruise' scenes were so bewildering, I almost got nostalgic for Titan A.E. Almost.
11. A Bug's Life (1998)
Pixar's follow-up to Toy Story is probably their only film in which the story makes less of an impact than the always-impressive visuals. It's very nice to look at, but the only part anyone remembers is the end-credits 'bloopers'.
10. Brave (2012)
Pixar's first film with a female protagonist (if you don't count Dory, EVE or Jessie) throws up a few genuine surprises, which you can't say about most Pixar films. It's also a little bit forgettable.
9. Toy Story 2 (1999)
Although the charms of this film have been roundly outshone by the vastly superior Toy Story 3, there's more than enough awesomeness in here to justify Pixar saving this project from its originally-intended direct-to-DVD fate.
8. Ratatouille (2007)
A film more offbeat in concept than in execution, Ratatouille was able to move beyond its production turmoil (project conceiver/director Jan Pinkava was replaced by Brad Bird) by focusing on core Pixar values - well-rounded characters facing big challenges in a visually dynamic world. It still bothers me that the rat didn't use soap when he washed his hands, though.
7. Toy Story (1995)
The increasingly dated graphics may be close to making Toy Story the Steamboat Willie of the computer animation era, but Pixar's debut film maintains most of its original power. Still stands as an accurate mission statement for what Pixar went on to achieve.
6. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Returning to their flagship franchise after more than a decade away, Pixar wisely allowed the sophistication of the storytelling to grow with the characters. It serves as a masterclass in how to turn audience goodwill into emotional filmmaking. Pixar's tensest ever climax.
5. Inside Out (2015)
As will soon become apparent to everyone who sees it, Inside Out is one of 'those' Pixar movies. Its storytelling warmth is simply undeniable, and the visual splendour on display truly something to behold. It got me in the gut. Plus: cool stuff with ball-bearings.
4. Monsters Inc. (2001)
Following two Toy Story movies and the (relatively) lacklustre A Bug's Life, Pixar made what was then its largest ever stylistic deviation for its fourth effort, and blew open the visual possibilities of what the company could potentially achieve. An almost perfect story, told beautifully.
3. Finding Nemo (2003)
By crediting its young audience with the ability to handle a major death in the opening five minutes, Pixar helped turn this blue wonder into an instant and enduring classic. Toy Story and Monsters Inc. were both impressive and beloved, but Finding Nemo showed the Pixar machine working with never-before-seen fluidity and confidence. A sequel is out next year.
2. Up (2009)
An all-time classic for its opening sequence alone, Up is both Pixar's strangest movie and its most heart-wrenching. It has a wry, melancholic tone all its own, and easily pulls together some ridiculously disparate threads. The glorious mounting of an unspoken collective fantasy in the first half seamlessly gives way to an artful riff on the old Road Runner cartoons (think about it) and an insane aerial climax involving a blimp. It shouldn't work as well as it does. Only Pixar could've pulled it off.
1. The Incredibles (2004)
Brad Bird's colourful masterpiece, (which is finally getting a sequel) is still the only Pixar movie to be written and directed by one person, and it shows - no Pixar movie is more 'movie-ish. The Incredibles not only ably satisfies various classic Pixar criteria - it's hilarious, has all-ages appeal and is ceaselessly eye-popping - it just happens to be one of the most creatively impressive action films ever made. The potently-executed family-first plot also makes it best Fantastic Four movie we'll probably ever see, official or otherwise.
To clarify, I think all Pixar movies are pretty great except for the first two entries on this list. And their existence helps on some level, because it means that Pixar aren't infallible, so when they knock one out of the park, it's that much more satisfying. This is very much the case with Inside Out.
• Agree? Disagree? Comment below.