Okay, let’s be real here: Pixar has never made a BAD movie. From the beginning, they’ve put out great films and set a very high standard for themselves. So it made it really hard for me to attempt to rank them. I had to take into account more than just how good the movie was (they’re all good) but also its staying power, its merchandising, the overall message, and the re-watchability (which is probably not a real word or term, but you know what I mean, so just go with me here).
In some instances, a movie fell in the ranks simply because, by comparison to its predecessor (I’m looking at you Cars 2), it just couldn’t compare. Disney and Pixar are one powerhouse duo, and are, honestly, untouchable. People can be very protective over their personal favorites, so don’t hate me because yours is low on the list (apologies to my friend Francesca; Wall-E just wasn’t my number one). Every movie on this list deserves to be watched (perhaps repeatedly) and be part of your movie collection. They’re just that good.
14. Cars 2
Far and away, this is my least favorite Pixar film, and that’s not to say it is horrible. It just doesn’t hold a candle to the original. Had this movie existed on its own, it would likely be higher on the list. My son has watched it several times (though he would never choose it over the first one), and we’ve got quite a few Cars 2 die-casts lying around, so it was still a marginally successful attempt at a sequel. It just lacked the charm the first one has. The humor and jokes became hokey and primarily at Mater’s expense, which is the cheapest form of comedy in my book. The new Japan setting was bright and exciting, the spy aspect was fun and quirky, and the new characters were likeable, but something still managed to fall flat. Skip this one and head over to Netflix for Mater’s Tall Tales, if you’re looking for more Radiator Springs fun.
Honestly, anything with a premise based on a rat in a kitchen is a hard sell. Throw in an awkward and unrelatable human sidekick, and it’s a recipe (see what I did there?) for disaster. Not that the movie was a disaster; it just wasn’t a favorite. It was a nice story with vivid characters, but the French accents were tough on the little ones (hell, even I reached for those subtitles a time or two) and, okay, the French in general weren’t exactly endearing. But Remi the Rat was pretty loveable, despite being vermin, and even my 8-year-old had a soft spot for Linguini—the hapless, hopeless human. The humor was too mature for the younger audience, and the pace was far too slow. It was okay for a one-time viewing but isn’t one we will reach for again and again (if ever again). This was a risky move by Pixar, and they did okay, but they’ve done much, much better.
12. A Bug’s Life
It pains me that this is so low on the list because I genuinely love this movie, but up against the other Pixar productions, it doesn’t quite live up. It’s adorable, with a sweet message and those lively characters Pixar is known for (Kevin Spacey as an evil grasshopper lord? Uh, yes please!), and it is the kind of movie little ones can watch again and again. However, that might be its downfall: once the kids get bigger and want more robust action and meatier humor, it fails to deliver. Still a solid effort and a movie we proudly display on our shelves.
11. Monsters University
Receiving flak from critics that it was “just another college movie”, this isn’t the most beloved of the franchise, but it’s still a great movie. While Boo was sorely missed, it created a whole new dynamic and world for all our favorite monsters. The character depth was more on an adult level, but the humor was great for school-aged kids, making it a great family film. Few prequels can capture the novelty of an original, but Monsters U took the magic of “Monster Jobs” and spun it into “Monster School”, giving itself a brand new charm.
This is a tough one for me because both my son and my nephews absolutely adore this movie, but I’m not entirely sure why. WALL-E is remarkably endearing for a robot with no facial expressions and a single-word vocabulary, but I didn’t find it all that engaging. It had a great “save the environment and get off your butt or the earth is doomed” message delivered in a completely non-political way. Sweet, little WALL-E collecting his trash and trinkets and the exaggerated floating fat people who no longer do a thing for themselves really drove it home, without driving it into the ground. It’s definitely not the most exciting movie on this list, but it’s one worth watching. Not since Johnny 5 have I cared so much about a hunk of metal. You’re a little boring WALL-E, but you earned my heart, nonetheless.
9. The Incredibles
Yet another tough one. The movie is really, for lack of a better word, incredible. The storyline, the characters, and the marketability: everything is really spot on. It’s fast-paced and has humor to appeal to all ages, and it’s just plain fun. But something didn’t quite click with this one. We frequent Disneyland and California Adventure, and there is nary an Incredibles exhibit or character. There really aren’t any memorabilia or souvenirs, either. Despite being a genuinely great movie, it just didn’t latch on universally. Which is a shame, because it’s actually one of the best animated movies around.
8. Toy Story 2
Another stellar film that is both high on the list and also seems way too far down. In the world of sequels, few are successful at capturing the magic of the original while still staying fresh, and none can compare to that of Toy Story 2. This series on the whole (even its spin-off mini movies) is top-notch. And while 2 is movie magic, the other two installments were of such a ridiculously high caliber that this had to be the “worst” of the 3. The addition of Jesse and Stinky Pete, as well as Barbie and Mrs. Potato Head, were genius. Keeping our beloved originals, but giving them a whole new spin and more depth, was even more genius. Taking the toys further from home and into even further peril (although Syd from the original was pretty damn terrifying) brought it to a whole new level. It’s the kind of sequel that reminds you why you fell in love with it in the first place but also makes you fall in love all over again.
Not everyone loved this movie, but those notorious first 8 minutes are so undeniably genius that you just gotta give it the credit it’s due. Just the premise alone is noteworthy. A little, fat, Asian Boy Scout befriends a cranky, old widower, and they fly away in a house tied to some balloons. I don’t know what the animators at Pixar were smoking that day, because it sounds completely nuts, but it also completely worked. The dynamic between Russell and Mr. Fredrickson was just magical, and those damn first 8 minutes… that’s the saddest animation has ever made me feel (and this includes Simba begging Mufasa to “wake up.” Disney does tragedy like no other, I tell you). While Up is far from thrilling, it is definitely moving and one of their better efforts across the board.
Not since Mulan did we have a female heroine who was actually a hero. It was so refreshing that our leading lady wasn’t a damsel-in-distress. She was an arrow wielding, bear fighting, sassy-pantsed, Irish spitfire with an unruly curly red-haired mane. And I freakin’ loved her. This movie was smart, funny, warm, action-packed, and sent an awesome message: girls are badass, too, and we do not need a prince to save us; sometimes WE are the ones who save the day. The best part? My son likes it just as much as I do, and that boy won’t be caught dead near anything “princess.”
5. Monsters Inc.
The 4th offering from Pixar, this is the film that gave us a peek into what they really had to offer. It was imaginative, emotional, engaging, funny, and everything you could ever want from an animated movie. Taking the “monster in the closet” and giving them a sense of humanity; taking away the fear and turning them into friends is, simply, genius. Throw in that doe-eyed adorableness that is Boo, and it’s simply magical. While it’s not their most stellar offering, it is one of the absolute best and proved that Pixar was a powerhouse that wasn’t going anywhere but up.
4. Toy Story 3
The ending of this movie (and what was the ending of the series until we heard Toy Story 4 was on the horizon) is pure gold. I have never seen anything wrapped up so brilliantly, and so perfectly, that it left every viewer truly satisfied, until this movie. I shed a tear (come on; you know you did, too) and sighed happily at the same time. They could not have done a better job from start to finish. They somehow manage to reinvent the franchise, every single time, and just make it better and better as they go. Most sequels fail miserably, but when it comes to Toy Story, it’s just another brilliant layer to an already delectable cake, each time. I can’t say it enough: Toy Story 3 is just perfection.
3. Finding Nemo
What can I even say about this movie? It is everything. Bright, colorful, and full of humor and adventure; able to appeal to people of all ages from 6 months to 85 years. It’s the kind of movie you can watch a hundred times and it will charm you and make you laugh. Ellen DeGeneres, as memory-deficient Dory, could’ve stolen the show if it wasn’t packed with so many other standout characters. It’s a movie that will stick with you and will stand the test of time. Dory’s mantra of “just keep swimming”, that infamous address (if I ever get to Sydney, I will find 42 Wallaby Way, and if P. Sherman doesn’t live there, I’m calling shenanigans), and darling brace-faced Darla violently tapping the aquarium walls are so signature and so memorable, that even if Dory can’t recall any of it, none of us will ever forget.
This movie is not merely loved in our house; it’s a downright legend. From the first guitar strums of Sheryl Crow’s “Real Gone” and that shiny, red bumper of Lightning McQueen (who my little one still lovingly calls Ka-Chow), the movie is quite mesmerizing. It’s charming, it’s funny, it’s got a ton of vivid and lovable characters, and it has a heartwarming story. Throw in some pretty slick racing sequences, and you’ve got an all-around winner. From the ridiculous slew of merchandising (you can get anything with the Cars insignia on it at literally any store) to the entire “land” at California Adventure devoted to it, you’ve got the cream of the crop of Pixar productions. While most critics panned the movie, I don’t know a single little boy who wasn’t obsessed with it, and there’s just no arguing the power of the talking car.
1. Toy Story
The one that started it all, and the one that will always hold the top place in my heart. There are so many catchphrases still find their way into my daily dialogues, even when it has no relevance (I’ve been known to exclaim, “There’s a snake in my boots!” when, clearly, there is not one; I just had the urge to say something Disney) and a storyline of amazing characters that resonate with generation after generation. Pixar was smart to continue and evolve the series, and they’ve done a brilliant job, but they did such a stellar job with their first film that it truly deserves the top spot. Tom Hanks, as the beloved “old school” cowboy doll, and Tim Allen, as the delusional “new school” space ranger, make one of cinema’s greatest duos. (“You… are a TOY!” “You’re a sad, strange little man. And I pity you.” Brilliantly written and equally acted.) Let’s not forget the slew of inappropriate “Buzz and Woody” jokes that came from it. It’s just all around perfection that has a staying power many animated films lack. This was the film that set the stage for where Pixar was going: to infinity and beyond.