Pixar Animation Studios is that rare jewel of a studio that rarely makes a misstep and even when they do, seem to recover well from it. And with so many box office hits and critical darlings under their sleeves, people love to make their ranking of Pixar from least favorite to most favorite. With the release of this week’s Pixar’s 23rd film Soul, animation fans will more than likely dissect and debate for years to come. Since I already got a sneak peek at Pixar’s latest, there’s no better time than now to share my definitive ranking.
Now, feel free to disagree or agree with my list, and you just might do both! Let us know what your favorite Pixar films are…. or your least favorite!
Here we go…
23. THE GOOD DINOSAUR (2015)
Once again, The Good Dinosaur falls dead last. It’s a film that even upon repeat viewings I struggle to fathom how the team at Pixar settled with this story. In short, if the lone human character, Spot, is the most interesting in a movie about dinosaurs, it might be time to go back to the drawing board.
22. INSIDE OUT (2015)
2015 wasn’t a good year for Pixar in my own opinion, and I know what you’re thinking. “Why is Inside Out so far down?? Why is Cars 2 so high up?” The answer would require twelve pages to explain but I’ll do my best to sum it up in one paragraph. Inside Out is an incredibly clever concept but it didn’t live up to the cranial possibilities that I expected from Pixar. I know this film is beloved by many, especially those who have suffered varying forms of depression, but as a story, it just doesn’t work for me. The brain world Pixar created, with its islands and precarious bridges, imaginary friends, the subconscious filled with scary clowns, boyfriend makers, etc, was essentially a string of zany sketches and gags to kill time before it got to the emotional end that you knew was coming. Pixar wasn’t going to leave this girl completely depressed so never was I concerned for our characters involved.
While I enjoyed the emotion characters in small doses, it was one of the few Pixar films where the casting was a little too on the nose and I just couldn’t ignore the actor behind it, nor could I fully believe these were the emotions inside an 11-year old’s brain. I found Joy rather unlikeable and Sadness equally baffling most of the time. The intent of Inside Out is a good one, but I just didn’t enjoy the ride. For the record, I DID shed a tear, but only because we could all relate to that kind of situation with our parents. Oh and… they really did broccoli dirty for no good reason.
21. BRAVE (2012)
I wanted so badly to love Brave. It seemed to have all the trappings of a great adventure. Even the trailer asked “what if you could control your fate?”, but Brave never quite delivered on that question. Somewhere along the production of it, the story lost its way and it was clear that there were two directors on this, each with their own take on what the film should be. It’s a shame too because the film brings us in in fantastic Pixar fashion and ends just as emotionally, but getting through it was a real chore. It wasn’t easy siding with Merida, who decided ultimately to poison her mom with something from an unexplained witch. The Witch, strangely enough, just so happens to be completely obsessed with bears for no real reason. Want to be stronger than ten men? Poof, you’re a bear! Want your mom to change her mind about something? Turn her into a bear! Brave, is a very pretty movie to watch, but the lopsided story and direction is hard to ignore.
20. CARS 2 (2011)
Cars 2 has got to be the most hated Pixar film by the masses and critics alike for a multitude of reasons, but I find myself defending it more often than not. While it’s absolutely true that Cars 2 didn’t quite deliver as well as the original, seen at face value, it’s simply a spy movie set in the Cars world… and it works! It’s fine! Mater is annoying but he’s supposed to be. The actual take-away from Cars 2 is about friendship, where Lightning McQueen spends the entire picture trying to change Mater, rather than accepting him for who he is – and it’s all buried underneath a spy caper. It’s actually pretty clever and I do give Pixar credit for trying to do something completely out of the box with a sequel. Though it’s basically a full-length Mater’s Tall Tales, it was simply fine. Not worth going out of your way to see but certainly well-thought out enough.
19. MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (2013)
The PREQUEL to Monsters, Inc. set to the monsters during their college years was just okay. It’s not bad. It’s mostly forgettable and unnecessary and filled with characters that don’t really stand out, with the exception of Art. It’s still a mildly fun journey that really, REALLY sticks the landing – letting kids (and adults) know that school isn’t everything and you can still succeed after complete failure. That might be one of the boldest endings ever attempted by Pixar so I give it major props for that.
18. FINDING DORY (2016)
This sequel to Finding Nemo came 13 years after the original, and I found it enjoyable but not quite as powerful… as anyone could have predicted. So much of it was unfortunately treading the same water, no pun intended, but ultimately redeemed thanks to the new characters introduced. What made the original so great was the developing buddy relationship between two fish, Marlin and Dory, who were complete opposites. Here, we have Dory doing her usual thing and Marlin with Nemo trying to catch up. While it’s probably better than I was expecting, it’s not a film I’m absolutely craving to see again.
17. UP (2009)
I have major issues with Up. We can all agree that we love love love the first 7 minutes. We can also agree that we love Carl, Russell, and Dug. Beyond all that, the film is kind of a mess after the first act, three different movies shoe-horned into one. While I’ve grown to love the film overall over the years, people tend to forget how weird, dull, and random the film got. I can go along with the filmmakers to believe that a house could be uprooted by millions of balloons. I cringed a bit at the talking dogs, but when they started flying planes, I was out. At the same time… I do love that a movie exists where dogs fly planes, but it’s just too out there for me. Up is this far down my list because it fails as a strong cohesive film for me, but the first act, score, and its characters are truly spectacular.
16. CARS (2006)
Now, I love CARS. It wasn’t a favorite upon first viewing, but it’s one of those films that just gets better with every subsequent viewing. The story about a hot shot race car learning to slow down and treat others with respect and humility is a good one, even if it’s familiar. CARS does drag a tiny bit at times, but the characters ultimately win me over. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. And Paul Newman as Doc Hudson is everything.
15. CARS 3 (2017)
This is an odd one because I debated swapping Cars and Cars 3‘s order countless times. Cars 3 is the true sequel to the original Cars and I really did love it. Yes, it’s a tad predictable, but I still applaud it for existing. A film that deals with retirement and getting old, finding new meaning to life, and tackling the issue of gender inequality along the way. It’s quite a progressive film that while it wouldn’t exist without the original Cars, it’s so much more streamlined than the original that makes for a more enjoyable ride. And hearing more from Paul Newman’s original recordings of Doc Hudson was a far more satisfying closer on that character than how he was handled in Cars 2.
14. A BUG’S LIFE (1998)
I personally have a soft spot for A Bug’s Life. Wildly funny for it’s time and despite having an entire land devoted for it in Disney California Adventure (before it closed), it might be one of the most underrated Pixar films around. It has the potential to spawn many more shorts and films, as the Disney Parks 3D film, “It’s Tought To Be A Bug!” proved. A Bug’s Life is also one of the few Pixar films to have a true villain. The classic underdog story about the ants taking control of their freedom from the grasshoppers still holds up in my book.
13. INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)
Jumping from the end of the first film directly into the second, the Parr family hasn’t had much time to breathe. Fortunately for us, the second romp delivers all the fun and action in a comedy that’s bigger in all respects. It’s not as perfect a film as the original was, but the moments of family are the real highlights here. Highly entertaining.
12. TOY STORY 4 (2019)
The adventures continue… and I’m fine with it. While many thought Toy Story 3 was the perfect closer for a trilogy, it really was a natural transition point for more fun with this crew of toys. While there were hilarious hijinks with the new characters, it is rather bittersweet and I’m sure many of us are probably torn on how they would have preferred this movie end. I am constantly impressed though with how Pixar is able to keep these characters going while introducing new favorites along the way.
11. ONWARD (2020)
I was ready to dislike this film based on the initial trailers but surprised at how fun this quest film turned out to be, and also how emotional. It may not be the most complicated Pixar film, but it’s a tight script from beginning to end and will be a new favorite, I predict, for many. If it wasn’t for Soul, this one would be in the top 10.
10. TOY STORY 3 (2010)
We thought this would be the end of it all, but it simply was a new beginning. Toy Story 3 had the rough job of taking our favorite characters into new territory and handing the toys off to a new owner. It did so, I thought, rather beautifully. Tonally, it was much like a prison breakout film with toys, but also had plenty of laughs and emotional beats that make this another great in the Pixar slate.
9. MONSTERS, INC. (2001)
Pete Docter’s entry into the Pixar filmmaking ranks was one of his best. You take the imaginary belief that there are monsters hiding in their closets and turn it into a fantastic journey into a monster world where they’re just making a living. It’s the perfect entry point into a world that Pixar can literally do whatever they want, as it’s a world that does not exist but they made it believable. A perfect children’s book in every way and wildly entertaining with the two leads voiced by John Goodman and Billy Crystal.
8. SOUL (2020)
Soul is Pixar’s 23rd feature film and Pete Docter’s 4th with the studio. While I wasn’t on board with Inside Out and a lot of Up, Soul finds the sweet spot of telling a familiar story in a new way. While it’s not entirely what you would expect or wanted, it is well thought out and executed, and most importantly.. enjoyable.
7. RATATOUILLE (2007)
What I find so appealing about this film is that it’s a subject matter that is absolutely unappealing. Rats cooking in our kitchens? Not very appetizing. But one can’t help but fall in love with the passion of cooking presented in the film. Add in the romance of Paris and you have a very unique story with a perfect payoff involving the food critic Anton Ego. Rarely does a moment in film satisfy in such a way. Michael Giacchino’s score also really shines. I absolutely adore this film.
6/5. TOY STORY (1995) & TOY STORY 2 (1999)
The original Toy Story and the sequel that followed were such incredible films that I had a hard time separating them. In reality, Toy Story 2 is a superior film but it relies so much on the original that they just… belong together. It’s hard to imagine a world without the impact of Toy Story, or how successful Pixar would be without it for that matter. These two films are so important in not only paving the way for computer animation but also changing the perception of how a sequel can be received. And even though I have these as 6 and 5 on the list, everything from this point on could very well be number 1 in my book.
4. FINDING NEMO (2003)
Finding a single fish in an entire ocean is a daunting feat, but the Pixar team lead by Andrew Stanton managed a heartwarming father & son tale with memorable characters. If nearly every Pixar film is a buddy movie, they’ve managed to find some great team-ups, this time with Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres. Nothing gets to me more though than when Nemo hears about the adventures his dad has looking for him. This was another game changing film for the studio and one that stays with you for awhile.
3. WALL-E (2008)
I find an occasional person who loathes WALL-E, but maybe it’s just that it’s so unique and different that I found myself completely drawn to it. A film that is mostly silent could really benefit many other films, but it’s an interesting device here. It really is an example of a cinematic masterpiece that defies categories. Is it sci-fi? Is it romance? It’s all of it and it’s beautiful.
1. COCO (2017) – tie
Upon seeing it the first time, I believed it was the best film Pixar has delivered since 2010’s Toy Story 3, which coincidentally is also directed by Lee Unkrich. Upon seeing it again, and again, and again… not only is it the best since 2010, it might possibly be the best they’ve ever produced. It’s just a wonderful tale of family and belonging told in such a beautiful way, it transcends cultural boundaries. It is as inventive as Pixar used to be and then thensome and of course, waterworks are guaranteed. Coco is wonderful and I can’t think of anywhere else on the list to place it than right here.
1. THE INCREDIBLES (2004) – tie
It’s new school but feels like old school. The super hero team of The Incredibles has garnered my top spot since its release for a couple of reasons. The characters, storytelling, music and editing… it has the perfect balance of it all, which is really difficult to juggle but Brad Bird and Pixar really pulled it off. While most superhero movies are out to save the world, The Incredibles are just trying to save the family and that at its core is why The Incredibles works so well. This was also long before anything resembling the Marvel Cinematic Universe came into existence too. Another huge break that spawned from The Incredibles is composer Michael Giacchino being brought into the Pixar family for the first time and he’s been a huge part of it ever since. The Incredibles proves you can have an animated film for grown ups that kids can also enjoy.