Has there ever been a motion picture studio that has produced as many quality films as Pixar? In the course of its 25 years of producing feature films, Pixar films have been nominated for a remarkable 49 Academy Awards, winning 19, including a phenomenal 10 for Best Animated Feature. Their latest feature, the fantasy adventure “Onward,” is hitting streaming service Disney Plus for families stuck at home due to the coronavirus outbreak to enjoy.
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. So please call this a ranking of my personal favorites among all 22 of their feature films.The Pixar touch is certainly a golden one, to say the least.
Next up for Pixar is “Soul,” Pete Docter‘s first film since “Inside Out,” which will be released in the summer of 2020. While we wait, what’s your favorite among the 22 Pixar movies? Here are our favorites, ranked from worst to best, in the photo gallery. Check them out and see if you agree.
22. CARS 2 (2011)
Director: John Lasseter. Writer: Ben Queen. Voices: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro.
“Cars 2” has the dubious distinction of being the sole Pixar film deemed “rotten” by the critics at Rotten Tomatoes, with only 37% favorable reviews. The film’s plot — Lightning McQueen travels to Japan to compete the the World Grand Prix, while his tow-truck Mater gets caught up in worldwide espionage — lacked whatever spontaneity and charm that was a hallmark of the first “Cars.”
21. THE GOOD DINOSAUR (2015)
Director: Peter Sohn. Writer: Meg LeFauve. Voices: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, Steve Zahn, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand.
“The Good Dinosaur,” a fantasy focusing on the unexpected relationship between Arlo, a young timid Apatosaurus (Raymond Oshoa) and Spot (Jack Bright), a human caveboy, as they try to find their way out of a dark, mysterious landscape, was expected to be Disney’s holiday smash for 2015. But because of mediocre reviews and lack of audience interest, “The Good Dinosaur” became the first Pixar film to actually lose money.
20. CARS 3 (2017)
Director: Brian Fee. Writers: Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, Mike Rich. Voices: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Armie Hammer, Larry the Cable Guy.
After the unfavorable reviews earned by “Cars 2,” how could there ever be a “Cars 3?” It seems that the “Cars” series is a particular favorite of Disney Animation chief John Lasseter (who directed the first two “Cars” films), and what the boss wants, the boss gets. Happily, “Cars 3” received much better reviews that its predecessor, thanks largely to a much more relatable plot, with Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) aiming to show the new high tech race cars that he’s still the best in the world.
19. MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (2013)
Director: Dan Scanlon. Writers: Robert L. Baird, Dan Gerson, Dan Scanlon. Voices: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Peter Sohn.
The first (and to date, the only) prequel that Pixar has made shows how Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) first met as rivals at Monsters University and, when both are shunned by the cool monsters on campus, they decide to team up and soon become best friends. That friendship endures as they both later get jobs at Monsters, Inc.
18. CARS (2006)
Director: John Lasseter. Writers: Dan Fogelman, John Lasseter, Joe Ranft, Kiel Murray, Phil Lorin, Jorgen Klubien. Voices: Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Keaton, Tony Shaloub, Paul Dooley.
Disney Animation boss John Lasseter directed and cowrote this road comedy featuring anthropomorphic talking cars, each of which has a personality of his own. In the final race of the Piston Cup season, the favorites are retiring Strip “The King” Weathers (Richard Petty), regular runner-up Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton) and cocky rookie Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), who soon learns that his arrogant attitude can come at a price.
17. ONWARD (2020)
Director: Dan Scanlon. Writers: Dan Scanlon, Jason Headley, Keith Bunin. Voices: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez, Tracey Ullman.
The unusual premise of “Onward,” Pixar’s 22nd and latest release, is that a modern American city is entirely populated by mythological medieval creatures, including the elfin Lightfoot family — widow Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), her overbearing older son Barley (Chris Pratt) and his timid brother Ian (Tom Holland). Ian’s late father left him a birthday gift of a magical staff and a spell that could bring his dad back for 24 hours. But the spell goes wrong and only their father’s very active legs materialize, and the boys have to find a way to bring back his top. Minor Pixar, but very entertaining.
16. 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 acclaimed 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, and the film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
15. FINDING DORY (2016)
Director: Andrew Stanton. Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse. Voices: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy.
Returning to the blue ocean waters of “Finding Nemo” (2003), the narrative of “Finding Dory” has been flipped, and we follow Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), the ever-forgetful regal blue tang who helped to find Nemo (Hayden Rolence) in the first film. When Nemo makes an offhand remark, it prompts Dory to suddenly remember that she has parents. Determined to find them, Dory, accompanied by Nemo and his father Marlin (Albert Brooks), sets out on her quest. “Finding Dory” was only the second Pixar film (after “Toy Story 3”) to gross over $1 billion worldwide.
14. A BUG’S LIFE (1998)
Director: John Lasseter. Writers: Andrew Stanton, Donald McEnery, Bob Shaw. Voices: Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Hayden Panettire, Phyllis Diller, Richard Kind, David Hyde Pierce.
In Pixar’s second feature film, Flik (Dave Foley) is an ant whose colony is terrorized annually by a pack of grasshoppers led by the ruthless Hopper (Kevin Spacey). Determined to stop Hopper’s reign, Flik takes it upon himself to go out and finds what he thinks is a colony of warrior bugs, which he brings back to the ants to his colony for battle, only to learn that his warrior find are actually theatrical Circus Bugs who must rise to the occasion when the grasshoppers return.
13. INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)
Writer/Director: Brad Bird. Voices: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huckleberry Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Brad Bird.
The Parr family, who known in superhero circles as The Incredibles, vanquished the evil Underminer in their first film adventure, but the reulting collateral damage to the city turns its citizens against superheroes. The Superhero Relocation Program is shut down, and the Parrs are left without an income. To the rescue comes a wealthy brother/sister team who want to send The Incredibles on secret missions and film them to regain the public’s confidence in superheroes again. The hitch is that they want Helen (aka Elastigirl) (Holly Hunter) to be the face of the team, leaving a befuddled Bob (aka Mr. Incredible) at home to take care of the kids.
12. 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. The success of “Monsters, Inc.” was such that it spawned a prequel, “Monsters University.”
11. TOY STORY 4 (2019)
Director: Josh Cooley. Writers: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom. Voices: Tom Hanks, Annie Potts, Tim Allen, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele.
“Toy Story 4” became the 10th Pixar film to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature since the category was established in 2001. The gang appears to be very happy living with Bonnie, who has created her own new toy from a discarded spork, naming him Forky (Tony Hale). Bonnie has developed her own favorites among the toys, but Woody (Tom Hanks) is not one of them. Forky is a neurotic mess, but she loves him the most. Anxious to be loved too is Woody who sneaks into Bonnie’s backpack on a family road trip, but he and Forky soon become separated from the family and must find a way to get home together.
10. COCO (2017)
Directors: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina. Writers: Adrian Molina, Matthew Alrdich. Voices: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renee Victor.
Coco 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” the greatest Pixar film ever. 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 displays 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 (Patton Oswalt), 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, 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 (Amy Pohler) 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.