Ranking Every Pixar Movie
Pixar films stand in a category of its own. The breathtaking cinematography, empathic characters, and poignant storylines leveled up fans’ expectations for storytelling and animation. As Pixar prepares to release Elementals in June, here’s a ranking of the 26 feature films in the franchise.
26. Cars 2
Sequels should add a layer to an existing franchise, rather than repeating history. Cars 2 doesn’t level up from its first film. The sequel follows red racecar, Lightning McQueen, as he revs his engines to compete in the World Grand Prix. McQueen’s pal, Mater the tow truck, steers himself into a surveillance gig as a secret agent. The movie was too plot-heavy for young fans to follow and it moved at a breakneck pace. There was little to no character development. Cars 2 shows that this franchise ran out of gas.
25. Cars 3
Cars 3 squeaks ahead of Cars 2, but just barely. It has the visual panache of a Pixar film, but without the emotionally resonant, clever script. In this installment, a rusty Lightning McQueen becomes the Rocky Balboa of the Pixar universe by competing against flashy new champs. While Pixar tries to right all the wrongs of Cars 2, the third film in the franchise doesn’t stand out. The “former champion tries to regain glory against younger competitors” has been done better before. The plot felt familiar and repetitive, with no new ground to cover.
Lightyear was a new spin on the Buzz Lightyear character fans knew and loved. Instead of putting the beloved toy forward as protagonist, the film explored the human Buzz Lightyear. The meta “story within a story” felt too far removed from the Toy Story series. Since Lightyear’s Buzz Lightyear lives in a different fictional universe from Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear, the characters and plot felt watered down. Fans of Toy Story know the rough outline of Buzz’s past. He was a space ranger deserted on an uncharted planet who battles aliens and attempts to chart a course home. The toy version of Buzz Lightyear had more personality than the human version that took himself too seriously. To differentiate between the two Buzz Lightyears, Pixar hired a new voice actor. This was a missed opportunity for Pixar and Tim Allen fans.
23. The Good Dinosaur
The Good Dinosaur has an interesting premise. It reimagines what the world might look like if humans and dinosaurs lived alongside each other. Arlo, an Apatosaurus, can’t find his place in the world. After an accident, Arlo forms an unlikely friendship with a human boy named Spot. Arlo and Spot work together to help Arlo find his way home. This potentially interesting premise lacked execution. Characters fell flat, especially compared to other standout Pixar films. The film’s emotional moments borrowed from other Disney’s classics, like The Lion King, but didn’t add a layer of insight. The Good Dinosaur lacked the epic, Pixar-level tone of its predecessors. This one was a prehistoric flop for Pixar.
Onward told the story of two elf brothers who embarked on an adventure inspired by their late father. While the Goonies-style plot may appeal to some, this film did not move Pixar onward in style, execution, or storytelling. It was heartwarming in its own right, but not memorable. Even the voice talents of Chris Pratt did little to make this film shine. There was a lot of potential to elevate the setting, but it was uninspired compared to the likes of Finding Nemo and Cars.
Pixar’s inventive spin on Formula-One racing put the vehicles in the driver’s seat. Like Toy Story, Cars gave inanimate objects personalities and real-world stakes to contend with. Owen Wilson voiced Lightning McQueen, a hotshot racecar who speeds his way into Radiator Springs. Radiator Springs is home to some old-fashioned vehicles, much like the outgrown toys of Toy Story. The movie harkened to simpler times and reminded the audience that happiness is knowing when to slow down and savor experiences. The world-building was quite impressive, as the different communities of vehicles were distinct. Values of sportsmanship and friendship wend through the plot. While Cars was a road trip for car enthusiasts, it was a middle-of-the-road hit for Pixar.
20. The Incredibles 2
While entertaining, The Incredibles 2 didn’t pack the WOW! BOOM! POW! of its original. The plot meandered, as the Incredibles tried to balance their public images, crime fighting, and home lives. The humor is still there, in the physicality of the characters and the dialogue. Mr. Incredible became a stay-at-home super dad while his wife picked up the crime-fighting mantle. Much of the humor lies in Mr. Incredible’s desperate attempts to wrangle his impossible children. The villains didn’t have the subtlety of previous Pixar villains. While a family of superheroes could have infinite storytelling potential, this volume of the series couldn’t capture the original magic. The ending was satisfying to the storyline, but didn’t leave open enough possibilities for future sequels.
19. Toy Story 4
While it was fun to see the Toy Story gang back in action, this film had a melancholy tone without an upbeat ending to balance it out. The first three films in the franchise had philosophical undertones, with emotionally resonant insights. This movie felt weighted with sadness. There was no payoff or lesson learned at the end. It doesn’t measure up to previous installments in script, direction, or character development. In Toy Story 4, Woody felt obsolete as his owner, Bonnie outgrew him. This plot was already explored in Toy Story 3. The ending of Toy Story 4 felt like Woody was giving up. It snuffed out the spark of hope longtime fans had for the series, and for the trajectory of the characters. Toy Story 3 would have been a more satisfying place to leave the gang.
18. A Bug’s Life
Pixar’s second foray into motion-picture films told the story of Flik, an ant who causes more problems than he solves. When a gang of grasshoppers threatened Flik’s colony, he put together an army of circus ants. A Bug’s Life had stunning and immersive animations for its time. Flik was a likable protagonist and his merry band of ants added humor. Hopper, the grasshopper supervillain, was appropriately terrifying. His menacing demeanor raised the stakes of the story. This was a solid addition to the early Pixar library.
17. Monsters University
Monsters University had an interesting premise to give fans a way to revisit Sulley and Mike Wazowski. Although this movie aired 12 years after the original, it’s a prequel. The film showed how Sulley and Mike formed their unlikely friendship as college students. John Goodman and Billy Crystal’s talent as performers and chemistry together carried the story. Monsters University was a perfectly respectable edition to the Pixar vault, although it didn’t rise to the level of its predecessor.
Brave was Pixar’s remix of a traditional Disney princess movie. Princess Merida wanted to carve her own path outside of her prescriptive princess one. When Merida’s refusal to follow tradition incited a curse upon the Scottish Highlands, she and her trusty bow stepped up to save the kingdom. Brave was a pleasant departure from traditional princess movies. Pixar’s vivid animation brought the Scottish Highlands to life. The Celtic music score was lively, but didn’t stand out against the musical likes of Coco. Even the storyline, about a princess forging her own path against her family’s wishes, didn’t have the philosophical thoughtfulness of previous Pixar classics.
15. Finding Dory
Finding Dory was the most anticipated Pixar sequel after Toy Story 2. With a smash hit like Finding Nemo to live up to, Finding Dory had its work cut out for it right from the start. In this sequel, the unforgettable, forgetful fish Dory went on a mission to find her parents. Her adventure led her to a marine institute, where sea animals were kept in captivity. Fans of the original movie will love the return to basics. Finding Dory had the same immersive aquatic scenery and lovable characters of the original. Dory was a standout character in Finding Nemo, and a worthwhile protagonist to invest in. Her bubbly enthusiasm leapt off the screen, although her fast talking was challenging to keep up with. This was an enjoyable, yet safe and predictable film that tread water.
14. Monsters, Inc.
Monsters, Inc. had a clever premise that inverted traditional monster story tropes. Monsters Sulley and Mike Wazowski are employees at Monster’s Inc., a place where children’s scares are its currency. John Goodman and Billy Crystal were pure magic at bringing Sulley and Mike to life. Their paternal relationship with Boo let the audience see fears are a matter of perspective. Pixar shines when it finds creative ways for kids to see things from an unexpected viewpoint. Analyzing the existential crises of our fears was a unique storytelling device.
Soul is another example of Pixar’s brilliant ability to take abstract concepts and bring them to life in meaningful ways. Music teacher Joe Gardner finally got the chance to fulfill his dream of becoming a jazz musician. An accident left Joe stuck between life and death, where he befriended 22, a kindred soul trying to find her own life’s purpose. Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey had great chemistry as a soulful musician and a hyperactive soul, respectively. Pixar illustrated the concept of a life’s purpose well. The sequences in the cosmic sliver between life and death had a hypnotic fluidity to them. Soul’s characters pondered the meaning of life and purpose with realistic relatability. Soul is the kind of movie that sits with the audience longs after its end credits roll.
This zippy trip to the Italian Riviera was so much more than a reimagining of The Little Mermaid tale. Luca, a sea monster who grew legs on land, ventured up to the surface. His sea monster family disapproved of his desire to be part of the world above, and cautioned him about the dangers of humans. Luca befriended another sea monster, Alberto, and a human girl named Giulia. The film had the coziness of a folktale with the zest of a Pixar production. Filmmakers integrated themes of diversity and inclusion seamlessly into the script. While the pacing of the film felt like a fast ride on a Vespa, the plot slowed down enough to give the relationships the attention they deserved. The film captured the exuberance of youth and friendship, especially the playful gelato scenes. Luca’s awe throughout the film encapsulated the curiosity and wonder of growing up.
11. Turning Red
Turning Red was a delightful coming-of-age story. When Mei turned 13, she activated an ancient family curse. She turned into a panda every time she experienced heightened emotions. The emphasis on family and Chinese-American culture gave the film depth. Growing up means finding yourself within your family, cultural, and societal spaces. Turning Red used Mei’s curse as an allegory for puberty. While a bit on the nose, this device gave viewers a unique way of seeing the physical and emotional changes that accompany growing up. Mei’s friendships and boy band obsession added a comical playfulness and sense of community to the narrative.
Ratatouille was more than a witty play on words. This Pixar film imagined a world where a rat named Remy snuck into a kitchen in Paris to fulfill his dream of becoming a chef. The film is probably the closest fans will ever get to seeing the artistic aspirations behind making a Pixar movie. Remy’s character added a splash of flair and a dash of style to the narrative, owing largely to Patton Oswalt’s voiceover talents. This was one of Pixar’s simpler tales, and it left a satisfying aftertaste. Remy was a character to root for, and his charming charisma and perseverance made this Pixar film a palette cleanser worth rewatching.
Coco was a clever film that had all the elements of a Pixar classic. Set in Mexico, 12-year-old Miguel aspired to be a musician. Miguel’s family prohibited music because his great-great-grandfather left the family to become a musician. Miguel traveled to the Land of the Dead to meet his great-great-grandfather, Ernesto, and learn more about the music that drove his family apart. The Land of the Dead sequences had the vivid imagery Pixar is known for. This film was a feat of originality for Pixar, as it reverently explored Mexican culture. The richly layered soundtrack strung guitar solos and soulful tunes. The voice-acting talents of Benjamin Bratt, Gael Garcia Bernal, melded harmonically. Coco’s script was brilliant in dialogue, narrative, and execution. Nuances of multigenerational family conflict and trauma were brought to the story’s forefront. The film explored the inevitability of death in contrast to the beauty of life. Coco’s moral is that life should be lived doing what you love with the people you love.
8. Toy Story 3
John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich wrote a thought-provoking script that expanded on the two previous Toy Story tales. While many movies lose the special feel of the original, Toy Story 3 maintained its narrative poignancy while progressing the animation technology. Bringing the story back to Woody’s relationship with Andy as Andy prepares for college was a nostalgic callback to grown fans who remained loyal to the series. When Andy headed to college, his beloved toys found themselves mistakenly donated to a day care center. Pixar’s remarkable world-building extended to this installment of the toy classic. The daycare center was a multisensory jamboree, filled with toys that fans from diverse age groups would fondly recognize. The toys’ existential crisis of becoming obsolete had new urgency, which added to the resonance of the tale. Toy Story 3 reminded the audience of the cyclical nature of growing up and how change is inherent. The toys’ inability to outwardly change is marked by their internal character development. The film leveled up the pop culture references and adult humor. It’s a treat for animation fans and storytellers alike.
7. Toy Story 2
When Woody is doll-snatched by a toy collector, the Toy Story gang goes to infinity and beyond to save him. While Woody was initially desperate to get back to Andy, he learned he was a highly sought after collectible. He formed a bond with the other toys from “Woody’s Roundup,” including firecracker cowgirl Jessie. Voiced by Joan Cusack, Jessie was a worthy addition to the cast. Her quick quips and stinging one liners were some of the film’s best highlights. Crafting a character that can go head to head with an icon like Woody is challenging, but Cusack and Toy Story 2’s filmmakers made Jessie fit right in. The plot of the sequel followed from the original. It builds off of Woody’s insecurity and his desire for validation. The sequel maintained the humor of the original. New characters added opportunities to explore storylines. This was no tall feat, as Pixar had to reach for the sky to maintain the tone, originality, and captivation of the original. Toy Story 2 emphasized Pixar’s ability to level up the same franchise.
6. The Incredibles
The Incredibles universe was another solid example of Pixar’s uncanny world-building. Superhero franchises are remade so many times that they can become diluted. Pixar took elements of superhero classics and revamped the genre. The Incredibles was new enough to please fans, but had features of the comics that inspired the superhero genre. A family of superheroes confronted supervillains and hid their secret identities. The reimagined 1960s setting was a nice callback to the classic age of superhero comics. The film’s conflict covered the range of hero versus villain, self, and society thoughtfully. Animation effects were superb, especially Elastigirl’s sequences.
5. Inside Out
Inside Out was a clever, enjoyable Pixar jaunt that explored the spectrum of emotions. Animators personified each emotion, giving children opportunities to connect abstract concepts with body language and facial expressions. A young girl named Riley is ruled by the emotions that live in her mind’s headquarters. The five primary emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger supported Riley as she reacted to the world around her. The film encouraged acceptance of all feelings. It also crafted some of the best examples of empathetic listening seen on film. Amy Poehler gave a standout performance as Joy, the emotion with boundless energy who tries to protect Riley from the more negatively perceived emotions. Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling also gave riveting performances as the voices for Fear and Disgust.
Up was a crowning achievement for the Pixar team. This cinematic masterpiece has the Pixar trifecta: a creative script, an immersive setting, and realistic characters that elicit empathy. The filmmakers crafted the first 10 minutes of Up with no dialogue, allowing music and the character’s body language and facial expressions to tell the story. Even without dialogue, these first 10 minutes are so moving, it brought fans to tears. The opening depicted the early life of Carl and his wife, Ellie. Seeing the depth of their relationship from beginning to end added a layer of empathy to Carl’s story. Carl’s desire to pursue his dream of creating a balloon-operated house to travel to South America is relatable. His humorous and touching relationship with Russell was a brilliant way to show character development across generations. The movie touched on grief, dreams, regret, and relationships in powerful, yet accessible ways. Carl’s story had resonance across the emotional spectrum. This movie reminded the audience that there are no adventures like the ones we share with others.
3. Finding Nemo
Finding Nemo was a classic story that had an ocean’s worth of life lessons. When young clownfish Nemo ignored his father’s warnings about swimming too close to the surface, he was captured and dumped in a fish tank. Nemo’s father Marlin teamed up with a forgetful blue reef fish named Dory to rescue Nemo. Marlin’s unconditional love for Nemo and desire to protect him resonated with parents, while children understood Nemo’s desire for freedom. The visual effects were stunning. The vivid animations gave the audience a multisensory experience of aquatic life. Ellen DeGeneres’ Dory was a standout character who offered wisdom and humor in equal measure. Dory’s iconic line, “Just keep swimming” is a mantra that has gotten many fans through challenging moments. Finding Nemo reminded the audience that they’re stronger and braver than they think.
WALL-E was one of Pixar’s milestone achievements. The cinematography was breathtaking, and the storytelling was poignant. WALL-E imagined Earth as a deserted wasteland. The titular character was the last robot, left behind to clean up the mess of humanity. Over hundreds of years, WALL-E became a sentient being and fell in love with a robot named EVE. WALL-E was an innovative, imaginative, thought-provoking tale of love and human responsibility to the environment. It had minimal dialogue, showing that communication extends beyond words. WALL-E’s robotic sound effects and visual sequences expressed volumes. This was one of Pixar’s finest.
1. Toy Story
The Pixar film that started it all. As the first film in the franchise, Toy Story knocked it out of the park. Using special effects that were revolutionary for 1995, the film told a moving story about growing up. Toy Story struck lightning with its ability to give inanimate objects individual personalities and souls. Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Mr. Potato Head, Rex, and the rest of the gang were memorable characters that added depth to the plot. Scenes in Sid’s room were appropriately terrifying and raised the stakes for the characters. The plot itself was a powerful message about how relationships change as we age. The script communicated empathy in a way that didn’t talk down to kids. Fans could see the story from the toys’ perspective. It doesn’t get any better than Toy Story.