When you think of animation studios that combines superb animation and compelling well-rounded characters who come in all sorts of lifeforms, there aren’t many studios out there who do it better than Pixar Animation Studios. Ever since they released their first film to the world in 1995, they have consistently crafted breath-taking and emotional stories that almost never fail to tug on the heartstrings of audience members everywhere. Furthermore, it would be fair to say that Pixar revolutionised the animation industry, as their debut feature film was the first entirely computer animated featured film. In the years since, the studio has only gone from strength to strength, crafting some of the finest animated films to have graced the big screen over the last three decades.
Earlier this year, the studio celebrated its 35th birthday this year. And in honour of that occasion, and with their new film Luca now out on Disney+, I’m going to take a look at all of their feature films that they have released thus far, and rank them all from worst to best. To Infinity and Beyond!
23. Cars 2
The only film on this list that is truly terrible. Was anyone really asking for a sequel to a film that, even at the time, was one of the studio’s lesser efforts? To give the film the tiniest minuscule of credit, it did try to do something different with an international espionage side plot, that felt like something out of James Bond or Mission Impossible. However, this is decidedly ruined by numerous jokes that seemed to be primarily aimed at younger audiences. But, by far and away, the biggest misstep is the filmmakers’ baffling decision to make Tow Mater a central part of this premise. As a supporting character, he was just about bearable, but as the main character, the hazard lights should have been blinking from word go. Even with Sir Michael Caine lending his voice to a British secret agent, that is not nearly enough to save this severely lacklustre sequel from its place on the scrapheap.
Speaking of the studio’s lesser efforts, comes the first film in a franchise that somehow spawned two sequels. Sentient cars seems an extremely bizarre concept on paper, but in the hands of Pixar, it just about worked. By this point, the studio hadn’t really put a foot wrong, but it had to come to a point when one film that didn’t quite hit those lofty standards, and Cars is very much that film. It is your average run-of-the-mill story about an egotistical character, in this case, Lightning McQueen, who is brought back into the slow lane when he comes across a down-on-its-luck town. The film is not nearly as memorable as those that came before it, yet, it does the of keeping you entertained. Though this is one of those films that, like this film’s sequel definitely felt as though it was geared more towards the younger generation.
21. Monsters University
Before they became best friends and co-workers at Monsters Inc, there was a time before Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan were rivals, as they learnt the ropes of how to become a top scarer at Monsters University. This uni’s modus operandi is to teach budding young monsters how to become a good scarer, so that they’re ready for life at Monsters Inc. The only prequel that the studio has thus far created, it is fun and enjoyable enough, with some good ideas in concept. Unfortunately, while seeing Billy Crystal and John Goodman return to their iconic roles is a joy, the plot, and the majority of the supporting characters, are pretty forgettable.
20. Cars 3
After the horror story that was this film’s predecessor, the bar was set very low for the third adventure featuring Lightning McQueen. Thankfully, this was a step up from Cars 2, but then again, that wasn’t too hard. The film takes the decision to stick more closely to the first entry into the franchise, where instead of looking at McQueen’s early journey into the world of racing, it goes the opposite direction. When a younger and newer race car starts to compete and become a serious threat to McQueen’s chances of success, McQueen has to reinvent himself to stay relevant. There’s plenty of familiar tropes found in lots of sports movies here, but it’s decent enough entertainment, and easily the best film in the franchise.
19. The Good Dinosaur
It’s common knowledge that several million years ago, an asteroid caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. But what might have happened had that asteroid instead missed the planet and dinosaurs continued to roam the Earth? When he gets separated from his family, young dinosaur Arlo must find his way home, and finds himself accompanied by a Neanderthal human child whom Arlo must try to reunite with his family. The Good Dinosaur boasts some spectacular animation, but given that just about every other film on this list also boasts stellar animation, that isn’t nearly enough. The film has a sweet sentiment about the importance of one’s family, but when you look at the film, and certain events that take place, it’s hard to not see the very obvious similarities between this and a certain Disney film involving lions.
After seeing Disney Animation Studios great success with the Princess genre over the years, Pixar clearly fancied taking a leaf out of their sister studio’s book, with their own version of a Princess tale. The results were decidedly a mixed bag. What Brave has going in its favour is the feisty, flaming haired protagonist Merida, a Princess who is a dab hand with a bow and arrow and definitely does not conform to what society expects from her, which puts her on a collision course with her mother. The big creative direction that the film chooses to go in, is an odd choice for sure, and while it does provide for some laughs, and a touching look at the relationship between mother and daughter, it sadly feels like too much of a creative misstep.
17. A Bug’s Life
If you’re a studio that absolutely revolutionises the animation industry with your very first film, whatever your next film happens to be instantly has an uphill task to match those lofty heights. Following in the wake Toy Story was always going to be a tough act for any film to follow, but A Bug’s Life has plenty of things going for it that make it a strong film in its own right. The story about about an underdog (or should that be under-ant?) who has to prove his worth to his people has admittedly been done numerous times. However, there’s lots to like about lead protagonist Flik, as well as the leader of the colony Princess Atta. Additionally, there’s plenty of humour to be found with the colourful troupe of Circus bugs that enter on the scene to defeat those dastardly grasshoppers.
16. Finding Dory
After playing her part to reunite Marlin with Nemo in Finding Nemo, for the sequel to Pixar’s adventure through the big ocean blue, the loveable Blue Tang Dory became the centrepiece of the sequel. Which, thankfully, was not just a cynical cash grab. When Dory remembers something of her past that could lead her to her long lost parents, she sets off on another adventure in a bid to reunite with them. There aren’t any appearances from Bruce and co, and those pesky (yet hilarious) seagulls are only given the most fleeting appearances. Though in their place, are an equally amusing collection of characters, including a hilarious pair of sea lions and a grumpy but loveable octopus. Note to Cars 2, this is how you take a supporting character from one film, and successfully utilise them as a main character in a sequel film that is not extremely annoying.
After going deep into the emotions of the emotions that define who we are as people for his last film, Pete Docter went one step further with his next film. Taking a deep psychological look at humanity, the essence of what makes us who we are and our existence as human beings, and asking what is it we were put on this Earth to do? Focusing on Joe Gardner, the very first Pixar film to feature a Black lead character, who is deeply passionate about jazz music. After suffering a fatal accident right after landing his dream gig, Joe ends up at the Great Beyond, where souls who have lived their lives ascend.
Convinced though he has more to give, he ends up at The Great Before, where fledgling souls get their personalities before heading to Earth. The film is bold in its attempts to tell a very existential story, that will surely speak to anyone who has a passion for something, and for that it is to be commended. However, the film lacks that emotional punch that so many films before it have. Furthermore, what positive steps forward it makes for representation is hindered somewhat by a problematic creative decision that could have very easily been avoided.
14. Incredibles 2
Another sequel a long time in the making. The Incredibles was a game changer for the superhero genre, as it came out at a time when superheroes and superhero films were not quite the dominating force that they have since become. Hence, the sequel to Pixar’s answer to Marvel’s first family wasn’t quite as revolutionary. Nevertheless, it proved to be a worthy successor to the ingenuity of the first film. It took a risk by picking up straight after the events of the first film, but it was a risk that paid off. With superheroes still unable to come out of hiding, a corporation offers superheroes the chance to regain the public’s trust, which has Elastigirl front and centre, leaving Mr Incredible on parenting duties. And little baby Jack Jack almost steals the entire show.
13. Toy Story 4
After the third instalment of Pixar’s most lucrative franchise wrapped everything up in a beautiful and emotional manner, questions would have undoubtedly been to whether there was really any need for a fourth entry into this franchise. Would this be a worthwhile sequel that earnt its place, or a cynical cash grab of the nostalgia of fans who grew up with these characters? Thankfully, it was definitely the former as it earnt its place as a worthy continuation of this beloved franchise. While the majority of the old gang were side-lined, the film tells a story worth telling, most notably for Woody as he has an important decision to make, after having been reunited with Bo Peep. While it was a shame to see the rest of the old gang side-lined, the film introduces a bright and memorable collection of new characters including the voice talents of Keanu Reeves, Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele, and yes, even a loveable plastic fork named Forky.
12. Monsters, Inc.
Every night before bed as children, we may have been told of a story by our parents about the supposed monster that was hiding under our beds. Well what if there was, and these monsters were just looking to utilise the screams of terrified children as a means to power the city that the monsters live in? On that description, that does sound completely terrifying, but leave it to Pixar to take that premise and turn it into a winning formula. Focusing on the small and not very intimidating Mike Wazowski and his best friend, the much more intimidating James P. Sullivan. These two are together are the top scarers at Monsters Inc. Everything is going well for them, this is until an adorable little child named Boo comes along to challenge the perception that these monsters have about human children. Much like Woody and Buzz, what makes Monsters, Inc. roar is the winning dynamic between Mike and Sully, which is no small part due to the excellent voice work of Billy Crystal and John Goodman.
Imagine a world where the wonder of wizardry and magic, co-exist with the modern technology that we have in the world today. When two brothers receive a gift from their late father that they barely got to know before he passed away, they set off on a magical quest to bring him back to life for a day via some magical wizardry. The ensuing adventure is extremely funny and exciting, but the heart of the film lies in the relationship dynamic between the brothers (wonderfully voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) that really pulls on the heartstrings. Even in the face of such devastating personal tragedy, such as the loss of a parent at a young age, the love and support that one can find from a brother can be an emotional and unbreakable bond, especially for an older sibling that they looked up to and relied on to get them through those difficult years. This film wonderfully celebrates that.
And so we come to the top 10, and believe me when I say that ranking these movies was extremely hard. As in all honestly, all these films are as close to perfect as a film can get, but as this is a ranking list, they must be ranked, and so on we go with….
There’s some extremely satisfying about tucking into a delicious meal that was lovingly prepared by someone. Yet it takes a certain kind of skill to take ingredients of a dish and turn it into a culinary masterpiece. We may go to fancy restaurants to have the pleasure of the finest chefs in the world serve up a delicious meal. So the idea of one of those chefs being a rat that has a real culinary talent, sounds like a repulsive idea in real life. Yet, under the vision of Brad Bird, it works an absolute treat.
Inspired by his hero Gusteau, Remy dreams of becoming a world renowned chef. The problem is that given who he is, it seems an impossible goal. This is until he meets Linguini, a bumbling garbage boy at a nearby restaurant who works with Remy to help them both achieve their goals. It may be a familiar story of not being afraid to be who you are, but with under Bird’s direction, and a wonderful Michael Giacchino score, the end result is Chef’s kiss, a five star delight. Bonus points for the extremely clever pun in its title.
9. Toy Story 2
Given the phenomenal success that Toy Story enjoyed, a sequel was bound to happen at some point, and it really set the benchmark for the studio on how to craft a sequel that goes very very close to matching its predecessor. When Woody is toy-napped by a collector, he finds out he was once the star of a much beloved children’s TV show, along with a handful of new toys, namely Jessie the Cowgirl, Stinky Pete the Prospector, and Bullseye the Horse. With plans for Woody and his new friends to be sold to a museum in Japan, Woody’s loyalty is torn in two directions, between his new gang, or being loyal to his beloved owner Andy.
Picking up on the first film’s themes of what is the true purpose of a toy, whilst continuing to explore Woody’s relationships with his friends, both old and new. The film is once again filled with plenty of heart, emotion (see Jessie’s When She Loved Me moment) and brilliantly humorous moments, such as the traffic cone sequence, and of course the wonderful references to The Empire Strikes Back. And to think, originally, the film was planned to be a straight to home video release!
There’s no way anyone can talk about this film without talking about the opening 10 minutes. Without a single word of dialogue, and just that beautiful score from Michael Giacchino, the heart-breaking montage captures blissful young love and marriage, before transitioning into the devastation of miscarriage, and the sobering fact of mortality. And that’s just the first ten minutes!
The opening montage is undoubtedly the film’s strongest asset, and if someone makes it through that montage without sobbing their eyes out, I would genuinely worry that their soul is missing. The ensuing adventure that follows after the montage is also extremely entertaining. Focusing on an elderly Carl who’s determined to fulfil his last wish to his beloved Ellie by fulfilling their dream to relocate to the picturesque Paradise Falls in South America. Throw in an eccentric collection of creatures, the plucky young Wilderness Explorer Russell, and the late Christopher Plummer in the role of the villain, and you have the only film on this list that secured a Best Picture nomination!
7. Finding Nemo
The ocean, a vast, deep, dark, terrifying, and seemingly never-ending place. It’s not the sort of place that you would want to have to venture across to try and find your son. However, that’s exactly the task that clownfish Marlin faces. As a single father due to a traumatic incident in his past, he’s overly-protective of his son Nemo. However, after he’s fish-napped by scuba divers he must venture across the ocean to reunite with him. Thankfully, for him he’s not alone in this task as he’s accompanied by Dory, the forgetful Blue Tang fish.
Pixar’s animation is almost always on point, but the work that is accomplished to capture the depth and vastness of the ocean is an extraordinary accomplishment. As well as Marlin and Dory, the film is filled with an eclectic bunch of characters, from friendly(ish) sharks, to super laid-back sea turtles, to those ominous seagulls (mine!). The film demonstrates the unshakable love that a parent has for their child, and one who will stop at nothing to be reunited with them, the love of a parent who will stop at nothing to be reunited with their child. But most of all, you must remember: “Fish are friends, not food!”
It says a lot about any film that if it can absorb its audience into the world its created, all without any character uttering a single word of dialogue, at least for the first 30 minutes or so, that is an extremely impressive achievement. In the far future, Planet Earth has been long abandoned by humanity due to excessive consumerism and climate change. One of the last beings left to clean what has been left behind is a Waste Allocation Load-Lifter: Earth-class robot (or WALL-E).
This bot’s existence is a very lonely one, until a very sleek futuristic looking robot named EVE shows up, looking for signs of life on the surface of the planet. As the two central characters, WALL-E and EVE sharing such heart-warming chemistry, the film is proof that any love story, even if it is one about two robots, can melt your heart if done well. Despite being released in 2008, the film has only become more relevant in recent years with the acceleration of climate change that represents an existential threat to our planet, and our very way of life.
5. The Incredibles
Cast your minds back to 2004, a time before the landscape of superheroes and Hollywood was forever changed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the gigantic money making behemoth that it is today. Superhero films were being made, but they didn’t quite enjoy the popularity they do now. So in many ways writer/director Brad Bird was ahead of the curve, with this thrilling superhero flick, that one could argue is the best un-official Fantastic Four film that has been made to date.
When superheroes are declared illegal and must adopt regular lives, the lives of the Parr family are forever changed. This is until Bob (AKA Mr Incredible) gets a chance to don his superhero outfit for a secret mission, in the hopes that it will enable supers, like his family to come out of retirement. Though behind the scenes, the dastardly plans of arguably Pixar’s best villain Syndrome, force this super-family to suit up to save the world. Thanks to its exhilarating action scenes, an entertaining dynamic between the titular family and a fantastic array of supporting characters, this is one of the best superhero films ever made. Incredible by name, incredible by nature.
3= Toy Story 3
It is a rare feat for a third film in a franchise that can lay a legitimate claim to be the best film in the franchise, but it’s a testament to the magic that director Lee Unkrich brought to the table for this entry into the studios’ most successful franchise, that no one could really argue if anyone said this is the best of the franchise.
After an 11 year absence, Woody, Buzz and all of the gang returned for what was meant to be the last hurrah for these beloved characters. With Andy now soon heading off to college, having long moved on from playing with his toys, they are all left are left with a heart-breaking dilemma as to what to do. Believing that they’ll be better off at a day care where toys are constantly played with find themselves, life appears to be rosy for them, until it decidedly isn’t. This culminates in a thrilling Shawshank Redemption-esque prison break, and the hilariousness of Spanish Buzz. And to cap it all off, not one but two extremely tear-jerking moments that should have had anyone who grew up with this franchise sobbing their eyes out.
3= Toy Story
The one that started it all, and the film that made history as the first fully computer animated film, and it certainly set the bar very high for the franchise and for animated films in general. We may have always wondered as kids what happens to our toys when we leave the room, what if they came alive? Working on that genius premise of the lives our toys live when we’re not at home, the film is filled to the brim with an array of colourful characters, and the studio arguably created their most memorable characters in the lovable cowboy doll Woody (voiced wonderfully by Tom Hanks) who gets jealous when his owner Andy, gets a shiny new toy, Buzz Lightyear, to usurp him as Andy’s favourite toy.
The lovable nature of Woody may or may not be down to the man that lends his voice to him, but just about every character here is memorable, and the dynamic between Woody and Buzz cemented these two as one of the most iconic duos in cinematic history. Even decades and multiple films later, the one that started it all off, is still one of the best films that Pixar has made.
2. Inside Out
The human brain is a wonderful thing, and as we go about our lives, the emotions we feel at any given moment, make us who we are. But what if the emotions in our brains also had emotions? Focusing on the five emotions in the head of 11 year old Riley as she is uprooted from her cosy Minnesota life to California, and the adjustment that she, and her emotions go through during this time. The premise of this film is quite simply, from the mind of Pete Docter, is a work of absolute genius. Furthermore, it matches that extraordinary innovation with an extremely witty, and emotional story.
Furthermore, with one of Pixar’s most memorable voice cast including Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader and Lewis Black as Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger respectively. Each actor perfectly brings their emotion to life in a hilarious and emotional manner. While these five are great, one must not forgetting Richard Kind’s beautiful performance as Bing Bong. It’s a film that definitely feels more geared to older audiences with some of its ideas, whilst serving an important reminder to us all that while we may dislike feeling sad, it is acceptable to let that emotion overwhelm you, because it’s an emotion that plays an integral role in our lives.
As this list has demonstrated, Pixar have no shortage of incredible films that are filled with beautiful storytelling, excellent characters, and absolutely stunning animation. However, on a personal level, nothing has captured the beauty, and the wonder of their work, quite like this beautiful look at the culture of Mexico and the celebration of Día de Muertos, or The Day of the Dead festival. For young Miguel, he aspires to be a musician and play for the world, but due to an incident in his family’s past, music is outright banned. Determined to not let his family’s hatred of music stop him from pursuing his ambition, he mistakenly finds himself in the Land of the Dead, and must get home safely before it’s too late.
Touching on so many deep themes including, family, music, grief and the need to remember loved ones after they’ve moved on from this world, it’s all just captured with so much beauty and emotion. Pixar’s animation is often just absolutely mesmeric to look at, however the animation here, particularly in the Land of the Dead, is some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. And for a film where music is such an integral part of the story, the music is so immaculately beautiful and emotional. Just typing the words “Remember Me” is just making me want to break down crying. I genuinely don’t think I’ve cried quite as much whilst watching a film at the cinema, as I did with Coco. I adored this film so much but what makes it hit even harder is that just a week or so after seeing this film, my grandmother (the only grandparent I ever knew) passed away. Every time I watch this film, and hear those beautiful lyrics, I always think of her and my late mother. For these reasons, Coco holds such a special place in my heart and it is my favourite Pixar film.
And that concludes my ranking for each and every Pixar film, thank you so very much for reading, especially if you read all the way through! What did you think of my list? Do you agree or disagree my choices? Please comment below and let me know.