Pixar keeps on doing it! Their 22nd feature film, “Onward,” is hitting screens on March 6, 2020. In honor of their latest release, let’s take a look back at 12 of the animation studio’s greatest films, ranked worst to best.
Just reeling off the best of Pixar — four “Toy Story” movies, “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory,” “Inside Out,” “The Incredibles,” “Up,” “WALL-E”… these titles are among the best animated features (even movies in general) of the last two decades. When asked to rank them, I balked — Pixar films hit at your heart and soul, so the choice of what’s best is so incredibly personal. There are a few Pixar films that are simply good, but by and large, the company has a hugely impressive track record. So please call this a ranking of my personal 12 best.
Pixar has been a staple in the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars, picking up their 13th prize in 2020 for “Toy Story 4.” So the Pixar touch is certainly a golden one, to say the least.
What is your favorite Pixar movie? Which ones on our list would make your own Top 12. Not making the cut for our photo gallery might be some of your favorites.
12. BRAVE (2012)
Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell. Writers: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi. Voices: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson.
Pixar’s Oscar-winning film follows Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a Scottish princess who shocks the kingdom by bucking a long-time tradition when she decides that she has no interest in marrying whatsoever. The female-centric film marked an acclaimed first for Pixar.
11. MONSTERS, INC. (2001)
Director: Pete Docter. Writers: Andrew Stanton, Dan Gerson. Voices: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn.
One-eyed monster Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and woolly monster Sulley (voiced by John Goodman) are employees of Monsters, Inc., a factory devoted to scaring children whose screams generate power for the city. But when a little girl accidentally wanders into the shop, all heck breaks loose.
10. COCO (2017)
Directors: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina. Writers: Adrian Molina, Matthew Alrdich. Voices: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renee Victor.
Pixar’s latest takes place in a small town in contemporary Mexico where the Rivera family members are the town’s shoemakers, but 12 year-old Miguel dreams of being a musician. Like most Pixar films, the narrative is rock solid, but it is “Coco’s” visuals that depicts a color-filled world in the afterlife that distinguishes “Coco” in the Pixar canon. “Coco” fits right into the Pixar universe in another way — its themes are “following your dreams” (like most Pixar movies), the importance of family (like many of its movies) and memory (in “Inside Out” and especially “Finding Dory”).
9. UP (2009)
Director: Pete Docter. Writers: Bob Peterson, Pete Docter. Voices: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai.
After one of the most beautiful sequences ever in a Pixar film detailing a couple’s life together in a few short minutes, the story focuses on the surviving husband (voiced by Ed Asner) who, together with a young Wilderness Explorer scout (voiced by Jordan Nagai), tries to fulfill a promise made to his late wife to go to South America via his house, which is held aloft by thousands of helium balloons. Not only did “Up” win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but it was also only the second animated feature (after 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast”) to be nominated for Best Picture.
8. WALL-E (2008)
Director: Andrew Stanton. Writers: Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon. Voices: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin.
I know I’m in the minority on this one, and there are many fans who would name “WALL-E” a great film. Personally, I think it’s half of a great film. The first hour of the film is simply breathtaking, a master class in visual storytelling, as WALL-E, the little robot trash compactor, is surrounded by a decimated Earth but finds a small seedling that he hopes to nurture into growing with the help of love, an EVE robot probe. Simply gorgeous. The tone of the film’s back half, however, changes sharply as “WALL-E” becomes, among other things, a rather ham-handed satire on obesity that occasionally displayed a bit of a mean streak. Nonetheless, the film’s first hour remains one of Pixar’s finest achievements.
7. RATATOUILLE (2007)
Writer/Director: Brad Bird. Voices: Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano, Janeane Garafolo, Peter O’Toole.
There have been many “follow your dreams” stories in the Pixar lineup, but unquestionably the most bizarre is the dream of Remy, an ambitious young Parisian rat, who wants nothing more in life than to become a chef at a fine French restaurant. And with a bit of luck, a lot of talent and the help of lowly clean-up boy Linguini, Remy manages to realize just that dream. Under writer/director Brad Bird’s vision, “Ratatouille” manages to be both hilariously thoughtful and hugely inspirational.
6. TOY STORY (1995)
Director: John Lasseter. Writers: Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow. Voices: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn.
The one that started it all for Pixar. The company’s first feature film was a smash hit right out of the box, as the story of children’s toys that pretend to the inanimate until humans leave the room spawned one of the most successful animated franchises in history. What’s even rarer is that the subsequent films in the franchise, instead of dropping off in quality, top one another in exploring human feeling through non-human characters. And it all started here.
5. THE INCREDIBLES (2004)
Writer/Director: Brad Bird. Voices: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, Samuel L. Jackson.
Writer/director Brad Bird has had a knack for creating archetypal characters and placing them in the wrong situation, and here he takes a family of superheroes, who should be battling wizards in space and plunks them down in a quiet suburban neighborhood, just wanting to live a normal life. They can’t, of course. Thanks to a richly developed villain and a strong storyline, “The Incredibles” manages not only to upend the structure of the superhero movie but even manages to provide a better superhero experience than any most any film out there now.
4. FINDING NEMO (2003)
Director: Andrew Stanton. Writers: Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, David Reynolds. Voices: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe.
One of the most primal fears of any parent is the idea of their child going missing. And that’s just what happens to a clownfish named Marlin whose disabled young son Nemo is captured by scuba divers. Desperate for help, Marlin enlists the aid of Dory, a regal blue tang who suffers from short term memory loss. They find that the lost mask of one of the scuba divers has a Sydney address, so they swim off to find Nemo. While packing a powerful emotional punch, “Finding Nemo” also was a landmark in the development of breathtaking underwater animation.
3. TOY STORY 3 (2010)
Director: Lee Unkrich. Writer: Michael Arndt. Voices: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Ned Beatty Wallace Shawn.
“Toy Story 3” is all about farewells and the feeling of loss that comes with them. Thought at the time to be the final installment of the franchise (there will actually be a “Toy Story 4” in 2019), the story also marks the farewell of Andy, the proud owner of Woody, Buzz, Jessie and all the rest as he heads off for college. “Toy Story 3” is the third animated film (after 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast” and 2009’s “Up”) to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
2. INSIDE OUT (2015)
Directors: Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen. Writers: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley. Voices: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Lewis Black.
“Inside Out” is one of Pixar’s most audacious creations, as it is set in the confines of the mind of an 11 year-old girl. Personified in the animation are five emotions — Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness — which the young girl regularly draws upon and that Joy finds herself trying to keep in check. While young audiences were clearly entertained by the animation, adults were drawn to the complex psychological themes with which the screenplay dealt. “Inside Out” won the 2015 Oscar for Best Animated Film.
1. TOY STORY 2 (1999)
Directors: John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, Ash Brannon. Writers: Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlin, Chris Webb. Voices: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack.
Many sequels have tried to outshine their first films, but “Toy Story 2” did it. Expanding on the “Toy Story” universe that the first film established, the sequel ponders the possibility of Andy outgrowing them or, even worse, the group being broken up or discarded. The fears and emotions this film evokes are palpable, and its universality makes “Toy Story 2” one of the best examples of what makes Pixar great.