To Infinity… And Beyond! Ranking Our Favorite Pixar’s Films
Happy Thanksgiving, readers! With Pixar’s latest The Good Dinosaur just around the corner, we’ve taken on the notoriously difficult task of ranking all 15 films from the beloved Disney animation studio known for their commitment to quality. Humbly submitting our approximation of the films from Pixar’s least inspiring low to their most impressive high, we’ll offer speculation about the upcoming sequels Finding Dory, Toy Story 4, Cars 3 and The Incredibles 2 in amongst our worst to best ranking. Consider this a little light holiday reading for your commute, or for when you're splayed out on the couch, post meal. Here goes nothing.
15. Cars 2
The idea for a sequel based on one of Pixar’s already least loved original films seemed ill-advised on paper, and unfortunately the final film result didn’t inspire any more confidence in the franchise. Ultimately proving the fallibility of a studio whose record had previously remained unsmudged, Cars 2 shined up the dull premise of the original, but it’s ultimately wooden protagonists couldn’t withstand the new revved up engine. An unmistakable knick on an otherwise polished reputation (proving that Pixar was run by actual humans), Cars 2 not only shuddered under the weight of audience expectations, it proved that one of Pixar’s weakest IPs didn’t quite have enough gas.
Speculation—Cars 3: Based on a script penned by the guys behind films like the schlocky Jonah Hex and Mr. & Mrs. Smith and with Larry the Cable Guy set to return, the prognosis doesn’t look too bright for the third Cars follow-up. All but guaranteed to be extremely profitable for Pixar and their parents at Disney, Cars 3 shows no signs of edging its way into Pixar’s best works any time soon—then again, this is a studio that rarely slips up, and one imagines they'll bring something special to their least beloved franchise.
At first causing a significant amount of buzz for its self-possessed and confident female protagonist, Brave ultimately let expectations down by delivering a film that seemed almost unidentifiable as Pixar’s, with little markers of the requisite larger scope or healthy doses of maturity. Setting its sights instead on low-brow jokes and the occasional abandonment of logic, Merida quickly became a difficult to like (though easy to love) heroine. And with enough questionable decision-making to make the climax feel rote and unimportant, the potentially game-changing Brave felt like film filled with missed opportunities.
Though the initial Monsters, Inc. ranks high on this list, Pixar gave the creepy-crawly classic a truly puzzling prequel treatment, despite the original film’s clear opportunities for a satisfying sequel. Proving that the Monsters universe benefitted from the presence of a pink and pig-tailed kindergartner, the whole adventure came off as good, clean but slightly soulless fun. Despite its impressive vocal talent, this ultimately dull peek at the past never quite found its footing in its own right, finding the world of college a difficult one to reconcile with viewers of the younger set.
For an animation studio that has made its name humanizing some of the most challenging characters, Pixar’s Nascar-friendly Cars didn’t quite live up to its impressive reputation, offering a vehicle for Owen Wilson and ultimately little else. The film was an impressive landmark work of Pixar’s characteristic world-building and animation skill, but Cars’ shiny exterior ultimately obscured a story that was relatively empty under the hood.
11. A Bug’s Life
Pixar’s follow-up to their beyond-stellar Toy Story proved to have less in store for adults than its previous film, which pits menacing grasshoppers against a well-meaning but generally unorganized colony of ants. While A Bug’s Life is still an potent laugh machine for those of the younger set and stays held afloat by the iconic Randy Newman score, its now-rusty approach to animation and lack of dual appeal places it relatively low on Pixar’s prestigious history.
The first 10 minutes of Up was some of the most masterfully devastating work in animation or otherwise, bringing the audience through a deceptively deep circle of emotion in record time, challenging you not to shed a tear or two in the process. But the film’s divining plot, which involves a malevolent ex-film star and some evil weaponized dogs falls flat against the film’s heartwarming center, dragging the ultimately buoyant film a bit closer to earth.
9. Inside Out
An impressive and characteristic display of Pixar’s endless imagination and worldbuilding, the tender and occasionally totally devastating depiction of the young mind at a transitional moment in life is a touching and realistic look at growing up that transcends any notion of the term “kid’s movie.” But the charming narrative device of stranding Amy Poehler’s unrelenting happy Joy with Phyllis Smith’s charming Sadness in the annals of a girl’s mind works better in theory than it does in practice, briefly slowing down Pixar’s otherwise tightly choreographed recent outing.
Perhaps Pixar’s clearest pander to their adult of fans, Ratatouille has got considerably less star-power than some of their other outings (with alt-comic Patton Oswalt nabbing the lead rat role), but has got enough suave and big ideas to get along by itself. Consistently underrated despite its Oscar win, Ratatouille has enough slapstick jokes and madcap action to even out its mature ruminations on food, life and smooth jazz, making the whole concoction go down as smoothly as a perfectly executed tiramisu.
7. Toy Story 2
Proving the validity of sequels everywhere is Pixar’s update on their first film. Toy Story 2 nearly improves its predecessor, preserving the uniquely biting sense of humor while exploring the ins and outs of the pains of growing up. Introducing Joan Cusack’s relentlessly sunny Jesse with one of the most painful montages Pixar has ever created, the film refused to intimate the flows of the previous film, preferring instead to broaden its already admirable scope. The biggest action set piece which takes place on an airport turnstile runs a bit overlong, but the ultimate effect of Toy Story 2 is to prove the validity of preserving the virtues of childhood, and the film does so with admirable and tear-jerking aplomb
Speculation—Toy Story 4: Helmed by the ever reliable John Lasseter and Inside Out story supervisor Josh Cooley, the newest Toy Story iteration will team Woody and Buzz back together in search of a Woody’s beloved Bo-Peep. With a screenplay penned by the impressive Rashida Jones and her writing partner Will McCormack, the creative team and returning vocal talent should bring a well-executed fourth entry to the franchise.
Turning nightmares into a warm and fuzzy alternate reality, Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. is easily the scariest film in Pixar’s oeuvre thanks to Steve Buscemi’s chameleonic Randall, but possibly the sweetest, pitting weirdling monsters Sully and Mike against a singularly terrifying pre-language little girl. Humanizing the creatures under your bed while devising a world that stands as one of their most ingenious, it’s a testament to Monsters’ compelling emotional core that one of Pixar’s most outlandish concepts remains one of their most engaging.
A perfectly pitched and intricately choreographed art film, Pixar’s WALL-E is certainly their most audacious to date, featuring a dialogue-free but nonetheless extremely affecting first third. Presenting one of the purest and yet most convincing love stories in animation history, WALL-E plugged an important stance on climate change and social awareness into a wildly human story all placed on the back of a charming little robot. Not since R2D2 has a hunk of metal been this cute.
4. Toy Story 3
Though first and foremost a family film studio, Toy Story 3 found Pixar catering to a slightly older audience, cunningly delivering Andy’s move to college just as fans of the original film were also finding themselves ready to depart from home. Catching up with the iconic toys 15 years after the first film, the beloved cast finds themselves caught up in a web of schemes involving a surprisingly malevolent teddy bear. Delivering one of the most harrowing third acts in the studio’s history, the third installment ensured tears for kids and parents alike while breathing fabulous new life into Pixar’s oldest story.
3. Finding Nemo
A stunningly beautiful and even-handed look at parenthood and growing up, Finding Nemo’s plot improved upon its visual perfection with an alternately goofy and wrenching story that follows Albert Brooks’ overprotective clownfish as he searches for his lost son, aided by the unforgettable (yet unrelentingly absent-minded) Ellen Degeneres-voiced Dory. One of Pixar’s most suspenseful outings, featuring a trip through a jellyfish field that left no viewer unscathed, Finding Nemo is a high-stakes but incredibly warm take on a family of cold-blooded creatures.
Seeing Andrew Stanton’s return as director with Albert Brooks and Ellen Degeneres being joined by voice talents like Idris Elba and Dominic West, Finding Dory sets its sights on the amnesiac blue tang, as she seeks out her own parents with Marlin and Nemo in tow. With the creative team looking satisfyingly similar to the ones who brought the original Nemo to life and with a more packed cast than ever before, Finding Dory should be boon to the reputation of the Pixar sequel.
2. Toy Story
Marking an incredible first adventure for the beloved studio is the first feature length computer animated feature, but Toy Story deserves more than just its share of technical accolades. An intensely funny and imaginative look at the secret life of toys, the film brilliantly dropped two of comedy’s best into a film that is alternately effervescently light and threateningly dark. Creating iconic lines and images from its very first scene, this enduring 20-year-old film carved out a well-deserved space in animation history and in the collective hearts of anyone’s inner kid.
Made before the crest of the superhero boom, Pixar delivered an impressively dark post-superhero world that sees Pixar’s kids/parents approach working better than ever before. Presenting a supervillain who strikes the perfect balance between the sympathetic and malevolently evil as well as flawless side characters like the fire-demon baby Jack Jack and the brilliant Brad Bird-voiced Edna Mode, The Incredibles stands as the most effective and enduring take on the superhero film, Marvel or otherwise.
Speculation—The Incredibles 2:
More than a decade after The Incredibles teased future adventures with the Parr family, details about the long awaited sequel are finally pouring in, with Brad Bird back to write and direct. The plot is still unknown, it’s been said that the original film was so packed with ideas that many plot points ultimately had to be cut, leaving creators with plenty of thoughts about the possible direction for the follow up. Let’s hope it’s as super as its predecessor.