With the release of Toy Story 4, I thought it would be fun to look back at the filmography of Pixar Animation Studios and roughly rank the films before they hit the BIG 21. Its difficult to look at these through a completely objective lens, so I will first and foremost admit that most of these choices will involve some subjectivity. Pixar has a canon of films extremely close to my heart – I mean, the large majority of them are the filmography of my childhood – so, please, take into account that some of these movies may not sit where you would like them to on this list… but its my list, so get over it. So, without further ado, to infinity (well, to number one) we go, and beyond.
#20 Cars 2
The black sheep of the heard. In Cars 2, during Lightning McQueen’s campaign in the World Grand Prix, Mater finds himself involved in a world of international espionage. So, that should tell you all you need to know about this movie. I am a bit of Cars franchise apologist, but this movie really shat on any of the good merit I believed the Cars films to still have. The first and third Cars movies are solid character studies, but Cars 2 is a derivative, non-sensical advertisement for toys that completely trashed the name of Pixar and may have very well been the studio’s “jump the shark” moment. Sidelining everything that worked about the first Cars to instead follow the original film’s most annoying character in one of the most generic movie plots ever, really did no favours in helping Pixar survive its sudden wave of sequel-itist franchising that followed.
That time Pixar weirdly attempted to make a Disney Princess. In Brave, a series of enchanted, wicked events in the Scottish Highlands leaves Princess Merida in a beastly situation with her cursed mother. So yeah… Pixar went full Disney for one movie and the result was highly forgettable. Despite having not seen Brave for quite a while, it cannot be denied how dull this movie stacked up to the rest of Pixar’s filmography. I don’t know if I would call this movie terrible, but with a release following Cars 2 in 2012, Brave didn’t do much to return Pixar to their former glory. Lacking originality and going so far to blatantly copy and paste Disney films like Brother Bear, Brave lost points because it just was not that impressive in hindsight. Seriously, did you even remember this movie existed before I just brought it up? Let alone it be a product of Pixar? Speaking about forgettable…
#18 Monsters University
Why was this necessary again? In Monsters University, Sully and Mike befriend one another whilst attending university… for monsters…. Again, this movie wasn’t horrible, but the reason for its existence still boggles my mind. Sure its a bit charming and cute, but Monsters University failed at being the prequel it set out to be. Adding nothing to the original, near perfect, Monsters, Inc., this movie basically played as a series of outtake skits from the first movie, wedged together with a cliché university narrative that was bested in 22 Jump Street literally a year later. Sure Monsters University was passable – for a studio like Illumination – but this is Pixar and being Pixar there should be more layers of creativity and heart. Monsters University was just cheap entertainment that could be enjoyed but should not be your number one on your watchlist.
#17 The Good Dinosaur
Yeah, wow, so this existed. In The Good Dinosaur, within a reality where dinosaurs never went extinct, the young, timid Apatosaurus, Arlo, teams with a human child to brave a harsh wasteland and safely return home. What can I say about this movie? Although The Good Dinosaur was not a bad movie, it certainly was not to the standards of Pixar. The film did indeed borrow elements from past Disney films like Brave had and, as a result, appeared forgettable and unoriginal… however the film did indeed have an interesting concept to fall back on at least. The idea of a world where dinosaurs and humans co-exist could have allowed for more creative stories to be told, but due to this movie’s troubled production, I guess what we got was the best we could have hoped for. By the way, The Good Dinosaur had some amazing animation – so that’s a plus at least.
#16 Cars 3
This should have been Cars 2. In Cars 3, an ageing Lightning McQueen attempts to prove his ability as the world’s best racecar within a world of motorsports that begin to advance without him. In my honest opinion, I really liked this movie and believe it to be a little underrated. It may not be anything to write home about, but Cars 3 worked best as an apology letter for Cars 2 and furtherly fulfilled the story of Lightning McQueen set up in the first Cars film. Although flawed in parts with a meandering plot and a lack of attention given to some characters, Cars 3 really proved the strength of good story and good character work to make a once ridiculous concept kind of work. And sure, this movie may have just been made to sell toys, but at least there was an ounce of quality and heart in this movie that was missing in the series’ last installment. Despite not being a standout, Cars 3 worked for what it was and if you’re invested in Lightning and his story then the movie really made the effort to continue said story with laser focus and organic progression.
#15 Incredibles 2
And here we enter serious sequel territory. In Incredibles 2, the Parr family try to adjust to a new era of superheroes (and family life) whilst their matriarch, Elastigirl, rejoins the hero game on a new mission. This movie was wildly anticipated and… it kind of fulfilled its duties. There’s no doubting the talent of filmmaker, Brad Bird, and in Incredibles 2 he really proved that talent to still be present. With some fascinating ideas on public perception, media impacts and superheroes in general, alongside arguably Pixar’s best animation to date, Incredibles 2 had a lot to be enjoyed. Yet, never living up to the genius of the first film with a lacklustre finale and some goofy comedy to pad out the runtime, Incredibles 2 was still an inviting return to Pixar’s superhero world at a time where superheroes currently saturate the media. Despite never reaching the heights it could have, Incredibles 2 certainly had its charm but lacked the originality and, dare I say it, genius of its predecessor.
#14 Finding Dory
“Finding” a reason for a sequel. In Finding Dory, the amnesiac fish, Dory, travels to the Marine Life Institution to find the family and home she forgot about long ago. I liked this film more than the majority of other Pixar sequels, even though it may just be because I love Finding Nemo so much. Returning to one of my favourite cinematic worlds, the vast and inviting oceanic environment in Finding Dory really felt advanced in this sequel. For a visually inviting, heavily humorous and adventurous successor, Finding Dory recaptured the joy of the original film to some degree. Although not entirely fulfilling the promise of a thematically rich film on the level of Finding Nemo, this sequel at the very least packed an emotional punch that did, in some ways, feel earned. It may have got a bit too goofy at times, namely towards its conclusion, but providing a stripped down, entertaining story proved its strong point and I cannot argue with how invested I got with the film’s narrative.
#13 A Bug’s Life
That 90s bug movie that didn’t star Woody Allen. In A Bug’s Life, Flik the ant recruits a team of circus bugs to protect his colony from grasshopper led devastation. A Bug’s Life was Pixar’s second film ever… and it shows. Wedged between Toy Story and Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life may not have been as impressive as the bread that sandwiched it, but the film clearly showcased Pixar’s raw, early days creativity. With loveable characters and a strong grounding in morals, A Bug’s Life worked as the small-scaled story it strived to be. It may not be a standout in Pixar’s canon but its very much deserving of its title as one of the studio’s purest animated adventure flicks… ha, flicks… get it? Because the protagonist’s name is Flik… anyway, it was funnier in my head.
Here we enter the “lightning” round. In Cars, the notorious racer, Lightning McQueen, accidently lands himself in the quaint town of Radiator Springs, somewhere along Route 66. Like I said, I’m a Cars apologist and, hence, I really liked this movie. The conceit is dumb and overall the movie is a bit more childish than most Pixar films, but there’s a very human story to be found at the centre of Cars that I think most people overlook. A loveable tale of one taking the advice of Ferris Bueller to slow down and take a good look around at life instead of speeding through it, Cars is a smarter film than you think, with good messages and ethics to boot. A rather sentimental flick for me, I remember loving Cars upon its initial release and although my enjoyment of the movie has soured slightly overtime, I still regard it as one of the better Pixar films. The next film on this list only beats it for technical reasons, but other than that I highly rate Pixar’s Cars.
A film I still think should have been named “The Old Man and the Sky”, but what are you gonna do? In Up, the elderly Carl sets off on an adventure to the wilderness of South America as a last ditch effort to fulfill a promise to his late wife, Ellie. So here we have the film widely known and beloved for its opening 10 minutes. I have never been the biggest fan of Up personally, for a few reasons, but there is no denying that it’s one of the most inventive, colourful and emotionally resonating animation films of the 21st century. In my opinion, I think Up is a good movie which is only really made great by its initial 10 minute opening of pure visual storytelling. After the first 10 minutes, Up has its moments but it never lives up to the talent of the “could-be” short film it began with. Exhibiting some overly childish gags and adventure tropes, Up may not be a perfect movie but its still an extremely light, unpretentious ride through emotional avenues and thematic strengths that Pixar are recognised widely for. I mean, this is a film where a man travels the world in a house carried by balloons… its f****** art, guys!
Finally, we’re getting a bit cultured. In Coco, the 12-year-old Miguel is transported to the Land of the Dead where he seeks his deceased great-great-grandfather: the famous musician, Ernesto de la Cruz. Easily one of Pixar’s best films in their current era of, well, technical flops, Coco came as an original, lively surprise that hit almost every nail on the head perfectly. Being ever so slightly predictable at points in the structure of its story, Coco worked because of how strongly its heart pumped at a rapid pace from deep within its core. A film about family and legacy that managed to celebrate a culture so gorgeous and fascinating, Coco gave a voice to not only the Day of the Dead festival but Mexico in general. Visually stunning and wildly spell-binding, if there’s any indication that Pixar have still got it, Coco is it.
#9 Monsters, Inc.
Fun fact: this was the first film I ever saw at a cinema. In Monsters, Inc., the monstrous employees at an energy generating factory spiral into chaos when a human child stumbles into the world of monsters and is taken under the protection of the motley pair, Sulley and Mike. So yeah, being the first film I ever saw at the cinema, of course I’m going to be bias talking about Monsters, Inc.; lucky thing is, this film is near perfect anyway so I’m not about to sound like a douche. Monsters, Inc. exhibits one of the best tropes of Pixar’s creative process: it asks the question, “what if?”. And this hypothetical “what if?” question offered a world, characters and story so unique and rich that people still discuss and love it today. What if the monsters in your wardrobe at night thrived in an alternate reality where they lived off child’s screams? Now… that could’ve easily been a horror movie, but its a credit to the strength and integrity of Pixar’s creative team that this film worked as a family friendly, compassionate, cute film about friendship and lifelong bonds. Monsters, Inc. was, and still is, something so special that not even Monsters University can ruin it.
Well this future is becoming horrifyingly real by the year. In WALL-E, a solitary trash compactor robot wonders a desolate, uninhabitable Earth until his path is crossed with a mysterious probe from outer space called EVE. Here we start to discuss Pixar’s masterpieces and WALL-E is above and beyond a masterwork in filmmaking. Going from a first half silent film love story to a second half cosmic odyssey environmentalist tale, WALL-E is everything a film should strive to be. I honestly didn’t understand WALL-E the first time I watched it (mainly because I was just a kid when I first saw it) but this is a film that has grown on me and has resonated with me as not just a kid’s cartoon but a work of real visual art. Entertaining to a T but also clever and witty with a constant breath of respect for the Golden Age of cinema, WALL-E is an important, down-to-Earth piece for observation on the past, present and future of humankind. Exploring humanity’s most cherished relationships, those that range between our bonds to loved ones and the natural world, WALL-E is easily one of Pixar’s most significant films, culturally, to date.
#7 Toy Story 3
The one that made big kids cry about their discarded toys. In Toy Story 3, Woody, Buzz and the rest of the toybox find themselves lost in a daycare centre as their owner, Andy, prepares to leave for college. The third installment we never thought we would get and, equally, never thought we needed, Toy Story 3 ended up being, well, just as brilliant as its first two predecessors. A rare case of a film using nostalgia in an effective, impactful way to story tell (other than just cheaply manipulate its audience like other Disney flicks), Toy Story 3 powerfully continued the story of everyone’s favourite toys in a tearjerker adventure that I think we’re all still recovering from. A beautiful tale built off the back of beautiful characters, Toy Story 3 may very well be the only current Pixar sequel that genuinely sits at the standards of the studio’s more original, early day, flawless work. The film that currently makes me fear the quality of the upcoming Toy Story 4, Toy Story 3 worked so well in ways it had no right to.
Talk about out-of-the-box concepts. In Ratatouille, a rat named Remy dreams of becoming a chef in Paris, when, one day, luck has him befriend Linguini, the son of world-renowned chef, Auguste Gusteau. Say what you will about Ratatouille but this film is f****** amazing! Like an indie movie, animated and starring a rat, Ratatouille had no business being a Disney cartoon… and yet, it is… and yet, its perfect. Another of Brad Bird’s workings, Ratatouille is a rare film made for a child audience which managed to be so entuned with its adult crowd that it worked best as a buffet for anyone and everyone. For a movie about a rat controlling a chef with the tuffs of his hair, this was a film that seemingly understood the language of cooking and the essence of Pairs, all in one. Ratatouille was actually the film where I learnt the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” – that’s right, it wasn’t my school nor my parents, but a film about rats that taught me one of life’s most valuable lessons. Along with being a story about dreams, legacy and… hey… sounds very familiar to Coco now that I think about it… but hey, you cannot judge a book by its cover.
#5 Toy Story 2
Did you know this was originally going to be a straight to DVD movie? In Toy Story 2, Woody is abducted by a toy collector, promoting Buzz and the rest of the toys to stage a rescue mission, despite Woody’s life suddenly taking a turn for the unexpected. I remember this movie was always on in my household; I loved it. From the heavily entertaining adventure following Buzz to the more character dissecting think piece involving Woody and the new character of Jesse, Toy Story 2 continues to hold a special place in my heart. With sequences that still make me cry (Jesse’s backstory) to sequences that continue to give me thrills (the airport fight… no, not Captain America: Civil War), Toy Story 2 is a movie that’s unbelievably brilliant to the point I question sometimes whether its even real. A sequel that had no need to rely on nostalgia like most Pixar sequels and instead chose to work off the back of its own merit, Toy Story 2 succeeded on viable grounds.
#4 The Incredibles
Just think: the Fantastic Four… but good. In The Incredibles, the superpowered Parr family are forced to work as a team when a malevolent supervillain, Syndrome, unleashes an attack on the world’s last remaining superheroes. Brad Bird’s stylish, sleek breakdown of the superhero genre (before said genre even became big), The Incredibles tackled superhero tropes so creatively like it was almost nothing. Similar to Ratatouille in its staunch adult appeal, The Incredibles captured that 1960s comic book Golden Age style with the cold espionage visuals and the zany, colourful superhero worldbuilding with ease. At the centre of the piece, a relatable family with fleshed out characters litter The Incredibles with memorable one liners, smartly delivered gags and moments of cinema gold that only come around rarely in the movies. A film that weirdly remains more relevant now than it did back in 2004, The Incredibles is like the gift that keeps on giving.
#3 Finding Nemo
Here is where we start getting really sentimental. In Finding Nemo, the overprotective clownfish, Marlin, travels the length of the ocean to find his son, Nemo, after he was abducted by divers. Guys, I’m getting emotional just writing about this one. Finding Nemo was my favourite movie as a child. A beautifully animated fantasy world of wonder and ore, residing just below the ocean waves, this little story about fish taught me more about life than I could have ever expected. A story of letting go, trusting others, taking risks, understanding the limitations of loved ones and coming to terms with the raw, passionate emotion of love, Finding Nemo really was, and still is, a cathartic experience unlike any other. A film that understands two sides to the same coin: parenting and coming-of-age. Finding Nemo is like the key to life, funnily enough. Not to mention the amazing adventure the film takes its audience on, alongside awesome characters and lively worlds. You know, I used to be able to recite this whole movie’s script from start to end off by heart when I was younger… that’s how much I loved it. The reason Finding Nemo is not higher is purely because I recognise that, even though it may be my genuine favourite, there are two other films that technically top it. Only just.
#2 Inside Out
Maybe the best animated film of the 2010s…. In Inside Out, during her family’s move from Minnesota to San Francisco, the young Riley finds difficulty in adjusting to her new life when her controlling emotions, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, hit a slip. Those who say this film has plot holes and inconsistencies are missing the point that Inside Out is one of the smartest, most emotionally powerful films ever made. Personifying emotions to teach children psychological lessons on depression, puberty and the strengths of both joy and sadness, I honestly believe watching Inside Out is a more valuable education than most lessons offered at any school. Its important for children to learn the lessons and concepts on show in Inside Out as it is these lessons and concepts that will shape a person and their identity for the rest of their life. Along with being devilishly creative with amazing voice talent, genius world-building, entertaining segments and just impossibly teary eyed scenes, Inside Out literally changed me. On both a subconscious and conceptual level, Inside Out is proof that Pixar are geniuses in filmmaking, storytelling, the arts, oh, and also the psychology of human beings.
#1 Toy Story
Here we stand, beyond infinity. In Toy Story, Sherriff Woody grows jealous of his owner Andy’s new toy, the amazing spaceman Buzz Lightyear, who cannot quite comprehend his role as a plastic child’s “play thing”. The film that started it all, Toy Story is a brilliant exploration of friendship and identity in the world’s first ever entirely CG animated feature… yeah, Toy Story was quite literally the first of its kind. An animation pioneer; without this 1995 Disney classic, well, animation would not be what it is today. Earning merit from its place in technical filmmaking history, but still holding up as a down-to-Earth study on the human condition, Toy Story is the definition of brave, out-of-the-box filmmaking and storytelling. The reason this movie beats all other Pixar productions is because without it, well, Pixar, Disney, animation and films as a whole would not be where they are today without it. Toy Story is a classic that I doubt could ever be beaten… its just that special.
- Debruge, P 2015, Cannes Film Review: ‘Inside Out’, Variety, Variety Media LLC, viewed 23 June 2019, <https://variety.com/2015/film/festivals/inside-out-review-disney-pixar-cannes-1201499227/>