Pixar has been an animation staple pretty much since the studio hit big with Toy Story back in 1995. They were the first to introduce full CGI animation and ever since then they have continued to climb new peaks and conquer them as far as the category goes. Since making their debut into full-length film, Pixar has taken home a total of 12 Academy Awards, 11 Grammys, and 6 Golden Globes. The films have also taken awards from institutions such as the Annie Awards, Phoenix Film Critics Society, Toronto Film Critics Association, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). Pixar has also brought in some of the best voice and musical talent the world has to offer over their 20 year history.
However, with every great thing there is also debate surrounding it. To date Pixar has released just 15 feature films with a 16th coming later this year, the debate is constantly alive regarding which Pixar films are the best and which weren't so great. I am personally a huge Pixar fan and I'm not ashamed, even as an adult, to say that just about every one of them has made me cry at least once. I wanted to share my list of Pixar's work from worst to best as I see it and have seen it for a long time. Just because something is at the bottom doesn't necessarily mean I hated it, but it just didn't shine as bright as the others did.
15. Cars 2 (2011)
Easily the worst release the studio has had. While Cars was a big hit in 2006 and even inspired an entire land at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, the sequel didn't seem to resonate with fans and critics as it's pretty widely considered the least successful film of the studio's history.
Unfortunately, Cars 2 came across as overly childish, confusing, and the whole plot was just plain stupid. I would still say it's better aesthetically than most animated efforts from other studios, but story-wise it was a complete strike out.
14. Monster's University (2013)
Monster's University served as the studio's first prequel and although it wasn't a total loss, I just didn't enjoy it as much as the others. I would much rather watch Monsters, Inc.
Bringing back the voice talents of John Goodman and Billy Crystal, MU followed Mike and Sully through their days at the scare academy and allows us to see the development of their friendship, but in comparison to its predecessor it lacked the overall emotional connection and it was obvious that it was meant to be nothing more than a college-age buddy comedy. Animation wise, the film was gorgeous but story wise it was another that lacked substance.
13. A Bug's Life (1998)
Even as a kid I remember not liking Bug's Life too much. Another film to get a Disney theme park treatment, the story surrounding an insect colony seeking to protect themselves from a grasshopper just doesn't really hold up in comparison. It's an easily forgotten film and it was unfortunately caught up in the post-success of Toy Story and the studio was still trying to figure out which direction they wanted to go. Not horrible but not memorable either.
12. Toy Story 2 (1999)
I think I am one of the rare and few who weren't big fans of this sequel. Toy Story 2 followed Woody (Tom Hanks) as he was stolen from Andy by a toy collector and his toy friends attempt to rescue him. Along with this plot, the subplot of Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) meeting his enemy, Emperor Zurg, just made the film a bit busy for me. I also thought the introduction to Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Bullseye to be ridiculously sad with no real purpose.
However, you can also argue that the "When She Loved Me" segment laid the groundwork for Pixar's strong emotional connections with the viewer. It was really a catch-22.
11. Cars (2006)
I didn't dislike Cars, but I wouldn't say I loved it either. I thought the concept was fun and executed just fine, but the main character of Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) was a bit too arrogant to the point of annoying. Most of the time you want your main character to succeed and turn around. I was stuck at a point where I didn't care about McQueen and that was the downside. You are supposed to care.
Cars followed the arrogant racing champion McQueen as he unexpectedly crashes into a small desert town called Radiator Springs. While stuck in the town with its inhabitants, he eventually learns the true meaning of friendship. The voice cast also featured Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, George Carlin, and Paul Newman. As said before, the success inspired a theme land in Disney's California Adventure park, a sequel, and has pretty much stuck with the studio character wise as you still see little kids running around wearing Cars merchandise. However, I think the story lacked too much to merit the success and praise. Pixar has released better films.
10. Brave (2012)
Animation wise, Brave was one of the most gorgeous things I have ever seen on a movie screen. The attention to detail was enough to take your breath away. When I had first heard the concept I was very intrigued, as well. Brave is set in Scotland and it follows a rebellious, young Princess Merida as she attempts to push her own way through her culture in an attempt to not be a princess. She has to rely on her skills and bravery to undo a curse placed on her family as a result of her own behavior.
Great concept, right? Well, it was. It just wasn't executed properly. The story came across as rushed, lackluster, and really lacked a lot of emotional connection you would expect. It was another similar to Monsters University that I think tried to rely more on comedy than a real character driven story. I thought Merida had every chance to be a great role model, strong female character but she got lost in the mess. It's unfortunate.
09. The Incredibles (2004)
Yet another Pixar release that people went gaga over and I just wasn't too into it. I do think The Incredibles is more enjoyable than other releases, but overall I thought the plot was again was trying to get to a point that they never fully reached. But, Pixar recently announced that this was the next film to get the sequel treatment so maybe the sequel will be even better.
But, one thing anyone has to admit is the movie was a lot of fun. Who doesn't like a story about a family of superheroes? It also featured another great voice cast consisting of Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, and Craig T. Nelson.
08. Toy Story 3 (2010)
This is when picking which ones are better starts to get tough because they all start getting so good.
Toy Story 3 was a movie a lot of people didn't want because they felt it was alright leaving it with Toy Story 2 and they didn't want to see Andy grown up. However, more people wanted it than didn't and it worked like nothing before. The toys face a new crisis as Andy is on his way to college and they are accidentally donated to a daycare facility where they meet, and battle, new toys to try and find their way back to Andy.
Toy Story 3 is easily full of one the most tearjerker moments including the toys almost being incinerated, them being forgotten in the first place, and then being tearfully given away by Andy. The emotions flood back even writing this post which goes to show how real it was for people my age and older. I grew up with Toy Story and Andy saying goodbye to the gang was like me saying goodbye, too.
07. Toy Story (1995)
To infinity and beyond! This 1995 animation classic is what kickstarted Pixar into stardom and they haven't really looked back. The story centered around what your toys do when you're not watching was a smash with both adults and children and has kept its meaning and popularity for the past 20 years and I don't see it stopping.
Tom Hanks and Tim Allen helped bring to life a group of toys owned by a boy named Andy and we saw Andy's favorite toy, Woody, struggle through jealousy as Andy finds a new favorite toy in Buzz Lightyear.
A lot of people, including my parents, criticized Toy Story for being a bit thematic for kids and thought that the violence caused by Woody's jealousy was a bit unnecessary but I personally love it because it shows the way animation can convey as much emotion as live-action film. The lessons available in Toy Story about friendship are great and valid to this day.
06. Inside Out (2015)
Even though Inside Out was just released this past weekend, I wanted to include it because I felt that it was truly one of the better releases Pixar has had so far. Following the emotions contained within an 11-year old, the film touches on subjects such as sadness, growing up, change, and adaptation like this studio hasn't done before. The stellar voice cast made up of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Richard Kind, Mindy Kaling, and Phyllis Smith relayed the emotions in a perfect way.
I loved the way they tapped emotions in a grown up way because Pixar gets it... kids aren't stupid. People sugar coat things for pre-teens and teenagers as a mechanism to make it easier when it doesn't always do that. You can't be happy all the time and you have to learn to deal with these emotions and use them in conjunction with each other. Inside Out understood that in a beautiful way. Definitely the best Pixar release we've seen since Toy Story 3.
05. Ratatouille (2007)
I never really understood how or why Ratatouille seemed to get the short end of the stick because it's a great movie. Set in Paris, it follows a young kitchen worker when he has a chance encounter with a rat who happens to be a brilliant chef. The pair become a great team as they help each other learn that we can be anything we want to be and if you believe hard enough, you can make those dreams happen and anyone can do it.
Great message and the animation was some of the best the studio has produced.
04. Up (2009)
Prepare for the waterworks. If you've never seen Up you're going to need some Kleenex.
Up tells the story of an elderly widower, Carl, as he attempts to fly his house via helium balloons to Paradise Falls, South America to avoid it being taken away and having himself hauled away to a nursing home. Along the way he encounters a young, lonely boy scout named Russell and a dog with a talking dog collar to teach him the value of friendship and family once again.
When I saw Up in theaters I was in tears after 5-10 minutes and again near the end of the film. It is easily some of the best storytelling Pixar has produced and the emotional connection to simple life experience was fantastic. You don't really match the emotion set at the very beginning of the film, but viewers of all ages can relate to Carl and Russell.
03. Finding Nemo (2003)
Great animation: check
Awesome characters: check
Great story and message: check
Finding Nemo honestly has it all and I'm not ashamed to say that I cried more than once. It's another that taps your emotions in several areas and the way it portrays a parent's devotion to their child is remarkable. This was one of the first to fully balance funny and serious and it set a framework for the movies that came after.
The story is centered around an uptight clownfish named Marlin who loses his son Nemo and faces his fears by swimming halfway across the ocean to find him. It's a great movie for the family and don't be surprised if your dad cries because mine did and he's a pretty tough guy. It also features another stellar cast of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Allison Janney, Willam Dafoe, and Geoffrey Rush.
02. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Monsters, Inc. was the first film of the early to late 2000's post-Toy Story era and it set a pretty high standard both story-wise and in terms of animation. Telling the story of monsters who scare to provide energy for their city, scare team Mike and Sully (John Goodman and Billy Crystal) are caught in a bind after a toddler finds her way into Monstropolis.
What was done right about this movie wasn't just the characters. They did a great job harnessing a world that was pure make believe and it gave an explanation to the monsters hiding in your closet. Sully is the best scarer in Monstropolis, but the way he cares for and attaches to this toddler is a brilliant way to show what a lonely life being the top scarer can lead. It tapped the emotional connection and showed that love isn't always romantic, but it can be something more internal between anything and anyone.
01. WALL-E (2008)
Hands down, this is Pixar's masterpiece. Any film that can carry itself without dialogue for 30 minutes in the same place is something special. The cinematography and animation alone are enough to make you not want to blink so you don't miss anything. It also plays to a character that has nothing personal to gain from any of these events. He was a lonely, kind robot who fell in love. It's that simple.
WALL-E taps on the environmental theme in a positive way which is rather rare in Hollywood these days. Earth faced destruction and the human race decided that it was easier to abandon it to the care of simple robots instead of try to fix it. However, WALL-E and his kindhearted nature follows an exploratory droid as she searches for proof that life is sustainable on Earth. He loves her so much that he follows to protect her and unknowingly saves the human race and brings them back to Earth. He doesn't do it to be a hero and he doesn't do it to impress anyone. He does it because he knew it was the mission and it was the right thing to do. It's such a simple idea that translated beautifully on screen. I honestly don't think that the studio will ever release a movie or character better than WALL-E.
Hungry for more Pixar? Check out my posts ranking Pixar's saddest moments and Pixar's villains!