I’ve loved growing up with Pixar movies. No other American animation studio has had such consistently marvelous output over the years and revolutionized the medium as strongly. Pixar pioneered CGI animation, and now that seems to be all U.S. studios care to work with anymore. Yet DreamWorks and Blue Sky and the rest can’t compare with the original masters, and even if Pixar’s more recent films have been overshadowed by the resurgence of Disney, Pixar is in such a class of its own that even its lesser films are better than most cartoons.
Now that I’ve reviewed all of Pixar’s films through Cars 3 (and eagerly await Coco in November), it seemed like the right time to finally count down my favorites list. Feel free to tell me which Pixar classic you prefer, and let’s hope there will be plenty more in the future.
- Monsters University (2013)
After the disappointment of Cars 2, this is one Pixar sequel that I skipped entirely, not seeing much potential in its college frat storyline, but it was quite a pleasant surprise. Replete with colorful gags and throwbacks to Monsters, Inc., Monsters University proved to be a highly entertaining prequel that balanced its “dream big” message with sensitive practicality. Plus, it was just fun hearing John Goodman and Billy Crystal as younger versions of Sully and Mike.
- A Bug’s Life (1998)
Let the record show: A Bug’s Life is better than Antz. There, I said it. Even if it’s clearly based on Seven Samurai (which I know now but I didn’t in elementary school), A Bug’s Life was and is still great fun. Following Toy Story, it confirmed that Pixar excels at animated ensembles full of diverse personalities. Kevin Spacey is an ideal villain as Hopper, and I saw this movie so early in my life and many times since that I can picture practically every scene in my head.
- Cars (2006)
Again, the plot of Cars may be a rip-off of Doc Hollywood, but I love that movie so why wouldn’t I love Cars too? Pixar’s automotive world is just believable enough to still be relatable, and there’s nothing like seeing an arrogant hotshot brought down a peg to learn the value of small-town life. Another great voice cast (Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy) adds to the fun as well.
- Toy Story 3 (2010)
I really wish Pixar didn’t have a Toy Story 4 in production because they ended this trilogy as perfectly as I can imagine. Building on the previous films’ concerns over Andy getting older and abandoning them, Toy Story 3 addresses that insecurity head-on with a prison-like daycare, a despotic teddy bear, and a frighteningly dark climax. The very end, though, is a tear-jerking beauty of a conclusion that doesn’t really need any more sequelizing.
- Up (2009)
I think everyone agrees that the first twelve minutes of Up are some of the finest scenes Pixar (and animation in general) has to offer. From those lofty heights, the increasingly absurd and high-flying adventures of a crotchety old man and a young Wilderness Explorer in a balloon-floated house balance both goofy fun and heart-tugging emotion. For a movie with such a short title, Up is bound to be a long-lasting classic.
- Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Pixar surely knows how to create memorable pairs: Woody and Buzz, Marlin and Dory, Carl and Russell, and of course, Sully and Mike. This imagination-packed buddy movie about monsters who power their world by harvesting the screams of human children still makes me chuckle and marvel at the door vault scene, and Billy Crystal and John Goodman have rarely been so perfectly cast.
After a few lackluster entries (Cars 2, Brave), Pixar returned to form marvelously with a peek inside the brain of a young girl named Riley, introducing us to the five personified emotions that rule her mental state (and everyone else’s, for that matter). With a suitably emotional storyline that mixes Joy and Sadness and stunning visuals that changed how we viewed our own inner workings, it showed that Pixar’s best days aren’t necessarily behind them.
- WALL-E (2008)
Pixar has always excelled at their wordless short films, but WALL-E was their first stab at using minimal dialogue in a feature-length film. The first half is an endearing robot love story against a post-apocalyptic backdrop, and the second half goes into the fate of the human race threatened by a rogue A.I. and their own laziness. It’s incredible how much character is lent to WALL-E and EVE by the animators and Ben Burtt’s sound effects, somehow making us care about two robots falling in love.
- Ratatouille (2007)
A rat who wants to be a chef…. Only Pixar could pull off something like that and not let it devolve into pure silliness. With a careful eye to its Parisian setting and the culinary morsels that look good enough to eat, Pixar once again proved the superiority of its animation and provided a surprisingly mature “follow-your-dream” narrative worthy of it. Plus, look at Remy’s nose. It’s so cute!
- The Incredibles (2004)
No matter how many movies Marvel and DC churn out, one of the best superhero movies of all time doesn’t belong to either of them. Pixar honored and poked fun at the Silver Age of superheroes with this action-packed tale of an undercover family of supers pulled into action by a vengeful villain. With its bombastic score, specialness message, and thrilling visuals, The Incredibles keeps getting better every time I see it. I sure hope the upcoming sequel doesn’t disappoint.
Okay, I couldn’t decide! The first and second Toy Story movies are practically perfection, all the more incredible for being two of Pixar’s earliest works. True, the animation is rough by today’s high standards, but the plots and characters of both films are second to none. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are Woody and Buzz, and their buddy dynamic is brilliantly developed with a good deal of humor and memorable side characters to play off them. The first film forced this odd couple to cooperate and become unlikely friends, while the second explored Woody’s identity as a classic toy and what it means to be “a child’s plaything.” It’s amazing that Pixar created such a fun and quotable series that simultaneously guilts its audience for abandoning their past toys. (I’m sorry, my old friends!)
- Finding Nemo (2003)
#1 and #2 might as well be tied because Finding Nemo and Toy Story are both Pixar at its best. I’ve just always had a soft spot for fish, and at the time I first saw Finding Nemo in the theater (and cried within the first five minutes), I dreamed of being a marine biologist when I grew up. That may not have panned out, but I never get tired of Marlin’s oceanic journey, traversing the colorful and dangerous underwater world to rescue his son. It really is one of the best father-son movies, animated or not, and Dory may well be Pixar’s funniest character.
And here are the other Pixar films, ranked as well:
- Finding Dory (2016) – Fun to revisit Finding Nemo’s characters, even if it’s not quite as fresh.
- Cars 3 (2017) – Uneven at times, but ends the series on a strong note.
- Brave (2012) – Derivative by Pixar standards but still stunning and emotional at times.
- The Good Dinosaur (2015) – Lackluster for Pixar (I still don’t get the creative decision of having playdough dinos against the beautiful scenery) but still entertaining and lovely.
- Cars 2 (2011) – Cool action but definitely Pixar’s low point as far as story and characters.
Now tell me, what Pixar movie entertains or moves you the most? I just found out one of my friends shockingly doesn’t like most of their movies, not even Toy Story, so feel free to chime in with different opinions. But for the record, Pixar rules!