When it comes to animation studios, there is not a single doubt which one is the best. There’s no question about it. It’s Pixar. It just is. Sure, DreamWorks have some good stuff, but they’re very hit and miss. For every Shrek, there’s a Shark Tale. For every Kung Fu Panda, there’s a Turbo. Pixar would never make something that could be enjoyed ironically by millennials like Bee Movie. They craft beautiful stories about family and love and the human spirit (mostly with characters that aren’t actually human). They create characters who – whether they’re toys or cars or bugs or robots or hell, even rats – are more human than most of the other characters on the silver screen. It’s really quite spectacular what they do and how they do it. You could argue that there are no greater storytellers working in film today than Pixar. They’ve made 19 computer animated feature films since they literally invented computer animation, and they’ve got sequels to both The Incredibles and Toy Story on the way in the next couple of years. How will they stack up to the rest of the Pixar filmography? Only time will tell. For now, here is every movie that Pixar has ever made, ranked from worst to best.
19. Cars 2
Cars 2 is easily the weakest of all the Pixar movies. All the critics agree. It has an abysmal 39% approval score on Rotten Tomatoes, which is unheard of for Pixar. It’s because there’s nothing substantial in it – it’s just a run of the mill animated kids’ movie. It doesn’t have that special Pixar magic about it. The idea to sideline Lightning McQueen and make Mater the star of the movie, in some sort of spoof of the James Bond franchise and the spy genre, was extremely misguided. Who the hell’s idea was that? Where did that come from? That’s not organic, it’s a car movie! It should be about cars, not spies!
Believe it or not, Pixar did not have a movie with a female lead character until 2012. That’s almost twenty unabashed patriarchal years! In 2012, they gave us Brave, which was their first movie to star a woman. But what sucks is that they kept women waiting nearly two decades before properly representing them on screen, and then they made the character a princess. Really? Come on, guys, you can do better than that. The men get to be monsters and cars and dinosaurs and robots. The women still have to be bratty teenage princesses. Great. Focusing the movie on the mother-daughter relationship of Merida and Queen Elinor was a wise move, and the movie is strong emotionally, but overall, it’s not a fantastic movie. It doesn’t grip you in the way that a movie like The Incredibles or Finding Nemo does. Brave is still head and shoulders above Pixar’s competitors in the computer animated movie market, but it’s below par for the studio itself.
17. Cars 3
Cars 3 managed to be marginally better than the dumb spy movie spoof Cars 2 by once again focusing on the driving aspect that the first one had introduced. If you introduce a world that’s populated by motor vehicles, then surely the plot has to be about driving and racing. Who knows what they were thinking when they made Cars 2 about spies? The first act of Cars 3 was a bold and strong move with its dark twist. Unfortunately, though, after heading into darker territory to hook you in, the movie retreats back to being conventional and colorful and by the numbers.
16. The Good Dinosaur
The Pixar team are great at coming up with rich premises and worlds in which to set their stories, and they’re usually great at coming up with stories that are worthy of inhabiting those worlds, but The Good Dinosaur is not one of those cases. They had the idea of creating a world where the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago missed Earth, so dinosaurs survived long enough to co-exist with humans. What a premise! But sadly, the movie doesn’t stack up. Considering what Pixar could’ve done with the world of dinosaurs, this is pretty conventional and by the numbers. Such a shame.
15. Monsters University
Prequels are never a good idea. This is a fact that Hollywood should’ve learned by now. Star Wars tried to make prequels work and failed. The Hobbit tried to make prequels work and failed. We already know how it turns out! Prequels are simply unworkable. They’re best left as backstory. But if anyone could pull it off, if not George Lucas or Peter Jackson, then surely it would Pixar. Monsters University is not a particularly bad movie – in fact, it’s pretty good – but it’s sort of a middling affair. The riffing on college comedies like Animal House (albeit for an audience of children and their parents) makes for a fun movie, even if it’s not perfect or especially deep.
Pixar’s animators have transported us into so many beautiful and exciting worlds over the years. They’ve taken us into outer space, they’ve taken us deep under the surface of the ocean, they’ve taken us inside a volcano, they’ve taken us into the skies, inside the human mind – point is, they’re great at building worlds. But sadly, the world of Cars is just stupid. How did it even happen? How did all those cars create a world for themselves when they have wheels for hands? Anyway, you have to suspend your disbelief even from the beginning. The first Cars movie is the best of the trilogy, but that’s really not saying much. Its predictable plot is a rip-off of the Michael J. Fox movie Doc Hollywood and we’ve seen those character dynamics – the mismatched lovers, the mentor/mentee etc. – a million times before in every other movie ever made. Come on, Pixar, you’re better than that.
13. Finding Dory
Finding Dory, unfortunately, was a bit of a disappointment. It didn’t have the epic feel of the original Finding Nemo. The original had a sweeping scope. The filmmakers took you across an entire ocean – and the full spectrum of human emotion while they were at it. The sequel also suffered, at least partly, because Marlin and Dory didn’t spend enough time together. They made the first one so great! The chemistry of voice actors Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres, combined with their characters’ endlessly entertaining dynamic, is mostly what made the first Finding Nemo movie such a resounding success. The problem with Finding Dory is the same problem that a lot of sequels have – it lost the magic of the original by trying to be different.
12. A Bug’s Life
A Bug’s Life was the subject of an intense feud between Pixar and rival animation studio DreamWorks, because DreamWorks’ first ever movie using the animation format that Pixar had invented was a rip-off of the movie that Pixar were working on at the time – they were both about a neurotic ant! So, an intense rivalry grew from that. A Bug’s Life is the far better one of the two ant-imated features, but compared to its predecessor Toy Story, it’s a bit of a disappointment. A Bug’s Life is a good movie, but if you look at it next to the wonder factor and oomph of Pixar’s other work, it is unfortunately a bit meh.
What’s great about Coco is that it deals with death in such a way that kids who watch it will better be able to handle when Grandma dies. It’s no easy feat for a movie to not only be an entertaining ride, but also improve the lives of a worldwide audience of children. The only thing that lets Coco down is the way that the villain is brought down. The bad guy revealing himself by explaining his evil plan in full detail without realizing there are cameras on him is not only a cliché, but it’s also a direct rip-off of another Pixar movie: Monsters, Inc. But on the whole, it’s an uplifting and beautiful and moving film. Plus, as a celebration of Mexican culture, it’s a giant middle finger to President Donald Trump. Oh, and “Remember Me” – what a hell of a song!
10. Toy Story 2
Toy Story 2 is a great sequel. It expands on the characters of the original and their dynamics and it also introduces us to a whole host of great new characters – namely, Jessie and her lovable trusty steed Bullseye. Jessie’s “When She Loved Me” flashback sequence in Toy Story 2 rivals the opening eight minutes of Up for the saddest moment in Pixar history. The movie features thrilling sequences like the toys crossing the road disguised as traffic cones and the whole climatic scene at the airport where things keep getting worse and worse and the conflict is escalating until we reach a satisfying narrative conclusion. The story structure isn’t as tight as the first one, but other than that, it’s a terrific movie. Plus, we get a lovely emotional payoff for Jessie as she finally has another kid who loves her and wants to play with her and she’ll never have to go back in a cardboard box again (well, until Toy Story 3, of course).
On the surface, WALL-E is a cute robot love story, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s also a warning that that’s where we’re headed as a society on many different levels. Our throwaway culture is killing the planet, and eventually, if we continue like this, it’ll all be trash and we’ll have to leave. We’re also heading more and more into a completely sedentary lifestyle, and we all will be obese hovering around on food-dispensing Alexas. It’s a smart movie – sadly, a lot of people missed the warning and just saw the cute funny robots. The movie is full of emotional moments, too. Pixar literally made you care about robots!
The Pixar brain trust are just full of inventive ideas. When conceiving a movie set in the culinary world, who else would come up with the idea to make it about a rat? That’s Pixar for you! Advertised with the pronunciation guide “rat·a·too·ee,” Ratatouille works as a metaphor. Chefs work tirelessly, night and day, to make sure that rats are kept out of the kitchen. But in this movie, one rat is given a chance in the kitchen, and he’s like the greatest chef of all time. So, the lesson is, if you give people a chance who you wouldn’t normally give a chance, they just might surprise you. Plus, the movie is led by a terrific performance by the alternative comedy legend Patton Oswalt.
The trailers for Up made it look ridiculous. A house taking flight attached to helium balloons? You must be kidding, audiences thought. But then the movie came out and its beautiful opening sequence – as we see Carl and Ellie meet and fall in love and get married and grow old and then Ellie dies tragically – silenced all of those naysayers. It’s a truly beautiful movie. The plot lags in the third act as it all gets a little absurd and detracts from the main motivation of the story, but in Carl and Russell and Dug, Up is populated with some very amusing and watchable characters.
6. Toy Story
The original Toy Story movie has a perfectly structured narrative. All of the three acts are clean and masterfully crafted. The inciting incident and the midpoint and all the steps in Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey are all where they should be. It’s the perfect screenplay. The animation is a little rough, but you can give them the benefit of the doubt, since this was the first computer animated movie ever made. The voice actors – including comic legend Don Rickles and The Princess Bride’s Wallace Shawn – all suit their roles really well. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen stand out as Woody and Buzz, respectively, who in the first movie, go from hating each other to loving each other. It’s weird going back and seeing cinema’s two best friends not getting along, but the actors sell it so well. The climax never lets up – it’s just conflict after conflict. Toy Story is a masterpiece, through and through.
5. Inside Out
Pixar has always liked toying with your emotions. They’ve always been tickling your ribs and tugging on your heartstrings, one movie at a time. It made sense that they would eventually make a movie that was actually about your emotions – and it may be their most emotional work yet. Remember that Bing Bong death scene? “Take her to the moon for me.” You can’t say you didn’t cry! The voice cast – Bill Hader, Richard Kind, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, and particularly the fantastic Amy Poehler – all give terrific performances that really capture the emotions they’re portraying. Inside Out was jokingly marketed as “a major emotion picture,” but that’s an accurate description.
4. Monsters, Inc.
The allegorical savaging of corporate America goes over the young audience’s heads, but Monsters, Inc. is a smart movie. It is also, first and foremost, a funny, sweet, wildly entertaining adventure. The casting of John Goodman and Billy Crystal as the lead duo of Mike and Sulley was an incredibly inspired choice – they have terrific chemistry and both have different comedic talents that somehow just click together and give us one of the greatest cinematic duos of all time. Steve Buscemi is great as the villain Randall, too. Oh, and the kind of surrogate father-daughter relationship that develops between Sulley and Boo is simply beautiful.
3. Toy Story 3
Can you think of any more emotionally charged scene than the one at the end of Toy Story 3 where all the toys are in the trash incinerator and accept that they’re going to die and just reach out and hold each other’s hands as they face it together? No matter how many times you watch it, you never get used to the feeling it evokes. It’s quite some achievement to make your audience care so much about a bunch of toys. You can’t say you didn’t tear up at the end either, when Andy drove off and the toys all watched him leave their lives forever, and you feel like you’re closing a chapter of your own life, because Pixar’s been telling you this story for fifteen years at this point. The first one was about a kid forgetting about one toy when he gets a cooler toy, but the third one is more emotional, because it’s about the kid growing older and forgetting about all of the toys altogether. Powerful stuff. Wow.
2. The Incredibles
Before superhero movies were in, Brad Bird burst into the multiplex with his own beautifully animated superhero story, complete with exciting action sequences and witty dialogue. There are so many great moments that make The Incredibles a classic, like when Elastigirl is in Syndrome’s base and gets stretched out and trapped in several doors, fighting off henchmen in like four separate rooms – this is just one example of the truly inventive and unique stuff that Bird came up with for the movie. The comedy works best when it balances the end-of-the-world stakes with the simple and relatable foibles of family life, like when the family’s driving down the freeway to the middle of the city to save the world and Bob and Helen are bickering about which way would be quicker. It’s a damn good movie. The upcoming sequel should be awesome!
1. Finding Nemo
One fateful day, when Andrew Stanton was at an aquarium with his son and admired the beauty of the creatures and their surroundings and realized that it would make for a gorgeous, colorful animated movie. That was the setting, but the setting wasn’t enough. It doesn’t matter how beautifully animated the ocean is if there’s no substance to the movie. What makes Finding Nemo so goddamn brilliant is its premise. Losing your child is every parent’s worst nightmare, and that’s what drives this plot forward and keeps us on the edge of our seats and makes us empathize with Marlin’s desperate struggles. That’s what makes it Pixar’s finest movie. Hell, it might even be the best movie ever made. It certainly evokes more emotions from its audience than Citizen Kane or Casablanca. Finding Nemo is sad and funny in equal measure – not many movies can manage to be hysterically funny in some parts and bring you to tears in other parts. Most movies struggle to do just one of those things! Stanton’s screenplay is perfection: the conflict keeps on coming, there’s danger around every corner. Every writer’s advice tells you to make audience care deeply about your characters and then put them through hell. Well, that’s exactly what Finding Nemo does. Plus, as a bonus, Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres give great lead performances as Marlin and Dory, respectively, and share a special kind of chemistry.