John Goodman says in Argo, “You can teach a rhesus monkey to be a director in a day,” but there’s something about being a director of a Pixar feature film that puts you in rarified air. Maybe it’s that there are only 14 Pixar films so far and even fewer directors of those films, but not just any monkey can join the elite fraternity of Pixar directors.
Ask and most people will know John Lasseter, the original kid at heart who helped start Pixar. Some might even say he’s the answer the question we’re asking: Who is the best Pixar director so far? While it might be true, I decided to test it statistically.
Here are the specs: 10 points for being the director. 7 points for being the only credited writer for the original story. 3 points for being credited, along with others, for the original story. 5 points for each sequel after the original movie. 1 point per Academy Award. Lose 2 points if not nominated for Academy Award. 3 points if the film was rated better than the Pixar average 88.7 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Lose 3 points if the film doesn’t reach the 88.7 percent rating. 1 point per developed, central character. Lost 3 points if the director did not also write the original story. 3 points for a film about an inanimate object or monster. 2 points for a film about an animal, reptile, bug, etc. 1 point for a movie about a human(s).
JOHN LASSETER: 93 POINTS
The brains behind the operation directed the first three Pixar films–Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2–and has the Cars franchise on his resume. He didn’t direct Toy Story 3, though he and a couple others get credited on the original story for the third film of the franchise.
Lasseter’s long-lasting movie franchises don’t benefit him on the character end necessarily because I’m not awarding points to repeat characters throughout a movie series. The way the math works, Lasseter actually gets docked more points than any other Pixar director. His Cars 2 was the only movie not to receive an Academy Award nomination (though we’ll wait and see for Monsters University). Also, his Cars franchise is the worst reviewed of the Pixar movies; in fact, Cars 2 got a 38 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
Something else of note. Lasseter didn’t branch out onto any other projects unless he was directing them (or they were the third movie of the Toy Story franchise). That is unlike other Pixar directors, who often contributed as writers.
ANDREW STANTON: 77 POINTS
My favorite of all of the directors on this list, for he directed my favorite animated movie of all time: Finding Nemo. He won an Academy Award for Nemo as well as WALL-E, which is something Lasseter never did.
Stanton gathers a lot of points from having his hands in everything. He either solely wrote or co-wrote six of the 14 Pixar films, including the first three. Also, he received seven points for being the only name credited for Nemo’s original story–only Brad Bird and Brenda Chapman (two names you’ll read later) have done that.
It’s also important to note that a Nemo sequel, “Finding Dory,” is slated for about 2016 and he is projected to direct it, giving him his third such credit. He earned points for his characters, developing fish and machines. He and Lasseter are in an elite category as being the only two directors to adapt machines into a film.
PETE DOCTER: 68 POINTS
Docter won more Academy Awards (4) than any other Pixar director for his two films, Up and Monsters Inc. He, like Stanton, is slated to direct another film within three years. “Inside Out” is the title for the film, coming in 2015.
He was a writer on the first two Toy Story films, while being the only director on the bill for the original story on each of his two films. One unsung hero in all of this is Bob Peterson, who is one of the original story writers for Up. Peterson is making his directorial debut for Pixar in May 2014 on a movie titled, “The Good Dinosaur.”
BRAD BIRD: 42 POINTS
Bird, like Stanton, created The Incredibles out of thin air, by himself. He got seven points for that film alone. He also directed Ratatouille and won three Academy Awards between the two.
Also, Bird is like Lasseter in that he doesn’t mess with projects that he’s not directing. Similarly, he and Lasseter went to art school together and eventually wound up at Pixar together as original animators.
Where Bird should get a lot of credit is in his trend-setting. The Incredibles was released in 2004 before the whole superhero film fad hit its stride. “Spiderman” came out in 2002, which started the trend, while Incredibles was the first animated film of its kind. Incredibles beat out the new Batman franchise, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Watchmen. Bird’s film was released at similar dates as the X-Men franchise.
Also, The Incredibles came out when superhero films were drooping, see: Hellboy, Catwoman, The Punisher, and Daredevil.
LEE UNKRICH: 31 POINTS
He may have been given the toughest assignment of any Pixar director to date. He was given the reigns to the Toy Story franchise and told not to screw up the third film. Often, a franchise’s third film turns out to have taken the story too far and it’s unappreciated. That wasn’t the case for Toy Story 3, which won two Academy Awards–something Lasseter couldn’t do with the first two.
Unkrich is an unheralded piece of the puzzle for Finding Nemo, receiving co-director credits for that movie (although, don’t get that confused with the director credit for Stanton). He finally got his directorial debut on Toy Story 3.
He did so well, Pixar is giving him another film, which is untitled and slated for a release date in 2016. Also, he didn’t get credit for the Toy Story 3 characters.
BRENDA CHAPMAN: 23 POINTS
The only female to direct a Pixar feature film, Chapman made up all of her points with the success of Brave. The film won an Academy Award and Chapman was credited with being the only writer on the original story. The other director given credit for directing the film, Mark Andrews, had no part in the original story.
DAN SCANLON AND MARK ANDREWS: 13 POINTS
Scoretakers can note that Andrews was the only Pixar director who had points taken away from him for not writing the original story. Instead, he got his points from getting the director credit and the critics’ good reviews. Similarly, Scanlon made all of his points for Monsters University, the latest of the Pixar family.