OK so this post. Hold on. This post.
I have been thinking about writing this post probably since I started writing this blog back in 2015. Yeah, three years. But this is like THE post you guys. I mean, ranking the Pixar movies is not an easy task. With a super small number of exceptions, literally everything Pixar does is awesome. So I mean, how do I rank such a treasure trove of treasures?
I suppose the only thing harder would be ranking all the Disney movies or maybe picking my favorite child. Eh, actually….I do kind of like…
No never mind. I love both of them equally.
Also, ranking Disney movies? Mental note – do blog post literally everyone else has done. Done. Noted.
But for serious, the struggle is real.
I thought, though, with Pixar having released their 20th feature, it was high time to do it.
So let’s get on with it, eh?
THE ABSOLUTE BOTTOM 3
#20 – Cars 2
I mean, you knew this was coming. This movie is much maligned. I myself have maligned it. Much.
I find it so interesting that Cars is only one of two movies in the Pixar-verse to have been turned into a trilogy. The other being Toy Story only makes that even crazier. I mean, why are they so latched onto this one? I definitely don’t hate on the other two installments nearly as much but like….give me more WALL-E, Pixar. And please stop giving Larry The Cable Guy work.
So yeah, this is definitely the weakest for me. The story is super convoluted and I never once felt at all invested in this one. I am pretty sure this (and the next film on the list) are the only Pixar movies we do not own. And that’s saying a lot. Because I am a completist. But yeah, Cars 2 is a blemish.
#19 – The Good Dinosaur
Yeah, I reallllllly wanted to love this one. Because dinosaurs. I don’t think you know how much I forgive in the Jurassic movies because dinosaurs. It’s a lot. Plus though – the idea of humans and dinosaurs potentially living together has all kinds of Yabba-Dabba-Doo all over it.
Hm, that last sentence sounded WAY dirtier than it was supposed to.
And I mean, this movie is for definitely a really pretty movie. Like, super pretty to look at.
But gah, I could NOT get into anything there. I mean, why are they farmers? Why does it feel like a Western? What is up with those T-Rexes?
Also, WHY ARE THEY FARMERS?
#18 – Monsters University
I have such a love-hate relationship with Monsters, Inc. I know, blasphemy right? And I won’t get too into it here, but let’s just say (spoiler alert) it doesn’t crack my top 10.
However, I do connect with elements in the original Monsters, Inc. There are definitely some trademark Pixar emotional moments and all that. Here, aside from a pretty adorable little Mike Wazowski…
I had none of that going on. To me, it just felt like a throwaway movie. A silly prequel building on nostalgia for the original film. Meh, pass.
The Middle 6
#17 – A Bug’s Life
OK, now that we are past entries 20, 19, and 18 we are actually already into the legitimately good movies. That’s how great Pixar really is. Out of 20 movies they have put out, 17 of them are ones I would consider legit good. 17 out of 20.
That’s like….um….erm….a percent of some sort.
I do like A Bug’s Life. At times, quite a bit. I think the character of Flik is a solid protagonist. He’s hella-likable and the consummate underdog. And Hopper is legit villain. Wait, can I still say that? I mean, Kevin Spacey and all?
The circus bugs to me….well. They definitely have their moments – Francis and Heimlich are fer sure funny. But they have a sort of one-dimensional feel to me. Francis is a ladybug, but he’s A GUY. Heimlich eats. Tuck and Roll don’t speak English. That sort of thing. Likable enough, but not all that deep.
And the story doesn’t “grab” me so much in this one. I feel like Pixar was sort of still getting their legs under them after the success of Toy Story and hadn’t quite mastered what would become the high standard of Pixar storytelling. I always think of A Bug’s Life as “cute” and really nothing beyond that. I enjoy it, but it would never crack my top 10.
Eh, I mean…it’s still better than Antz.
#16 – Cars 3
So like I said, the Cars movies as a whole don’t really rank among my favorites. But Cars 3 was a surprise in that I went in not expecting much. And I really liked the movie. Now, full disclosure, we did see Cars 3 on our cross-country road trip at a drive-in in Michigan with friends of ours. So this movie has A LOT of external awesomeness already going for it.
But I did really like the whole idea of an aging Lightning faced with his own mortality worried about his legacy. Yeah, this one had some depth, folks. I also really enjoyed the character of Cruz as someone who is only held back from greatness due to her own insecurities. She rang true and her and Lightning’s relationship was the strongest part of the film.
#15 – Cars
As with Cars 3, Cars has a lot going for it outside of the actual film for me. It was actually the first actual movie (like, in a theater) I took both of my kids to. The movie was out when Myles was a wee lad and then it was playing at a morning showing over the summer when Owen was the same age. So, despite how I feel about this movie as a film, it will always hold a special place in my heart.
And as a movie, it for sure has some stuff going for it. I think the whole “figuring out what’s really important” story is always a good one. And the evolving relationship between both Lightning and Doc and Lightning and Mater (despite all the Larry-the-Cable-Guy-ness) are both strong points.
And the background of the movie as a sort of ode to Route 66 is something I can get behind. I actually almost like all the behind-the-scenes stuff as much as I like the movie.
But in the end, I have trouble fully immersing myself in the movie. I 100% appreciate what they were going for with this one but it is still hard for me to get beyond the fact that they are still cars. And my brain can’t wrap itself around the lack of humanity in this one. Not just that there aren’t any humans in it. But it exists in some sort of dimension where humans aren’t a thing. Like, ever. Even though seemingly this takes place on Earth. I don’t know. Again, I appreciate the intent but it holds me back from fully getting into it.
Unless, this is like a post-Rise of the Machines type thing. In which case, fully immersed. And a little scared.
#14 – Brave
Brave is one of those movies that has gotten better with each viewing. So who knows, maybe this one will move up the list.
I really really enjoy the whole female empowerment vibe of Brave. Merida is a really great character. She is strong, smart, and…well….brave enough to fight against long-held societal norms. Seriously, she is one of the great characters in the Pixar universe.
However, beyond Merida, there isn’t a ton here that I LOVE. I don’t hate any of it really…but the rest of the movie kind of pales in comparison to Merida. And ultimately, I think that’s what pushes it down below the Top 11.
Oh wait, I also like the music. So the music and Merida.
I also like candy.
#13 – Monsters, Inc.
I know, right? I know you are all like, “#13!” and “what?” and “you are such an idiot.”
Well, first of all, that last one was a little harsh.
But as I already mentioned in my review of Monsters University, I have such a love-hate thing with this one. I think both John Goodman and Billy Crystal are great. Let me just put that out there. I really like both Sully and Mike. And Steve Buscemi as Randall? He may very well be my favorite part of this whole movie. Though Boo. I mean, Boo. Boo is awesome.
And let me just make this clear once again. Placing this movie at #13 doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. Being #13 in a list of Pixar movies is like being #13 in a list of cute puppies. You’re all cute, puppies. Why must I choose?
I think what keeps this movie down here on the list is it’s almost too cute for its own good. Like the whole bizarro-world-ness of all the “here’s a monsters version of your world” stuff sort of wears on my by the end. Compared to some of my top Pixars, it seems to lack gravitas. It has heart, for sure. But I never felt wowed by it.
#12 – Finding Dory
This movie works in the opposite way of what I was saying earlier about Brave. While I still love it, my obsession with it has faded over time. The crazy thing is – I don’t really know why. I just feel a little, I don’t know, bored with it?
I still love so much about it. I love all the original Nemo characters of course, including the titular forgetful fish. And the additions of characters like Hank, Dory’s parents, the sea lions, and of course Becky are totally welcome. I also love how Dory’s forgetfulness is turned into a positive for Marlin and Nemo and forces them to live in the present.
And I mean, Baby Dory. UGH.
The Top 11
#11 – Toy Story 2
We are now getting into my absolute favorite Pixar movies. The last 6 movies are all legit great movies. But these next 11. These next 11 are some of my favorite movies of all-time. Not just favorite Pixar movies. Favorite. EVAR.
Toy Story 2 really did a great job of building on what was so great about the first Toy Story film and brought some fresh characters and story to add depth underneath and around them. Toy Story made the introductions but this was where we really got to know everyone.
Woody’s backstory. Buzz and the gang’s determination to save their friend. Jessie’s introduction and emotional journey. And of course, Bullseye. Who is probably the cutest Toy Story character of all time.
I honestly think Toy Story 2 suffers simply from being sandwiched in between two slightly superior movies. But being my third favorite Toy Story movie doesn’t mean anything. You are still awesome, Toy Story 2. It’s like with Myles and Owen. Just because [redacted] is my favorite doesn’t mean [redacted] should feel bad about that. They’re both great. In their own way.
#10 – Finding Nemo
I have said this before but Finding Nemo has struck me so differently at different points in my life. When I first saw it, it was a comfort to me after my father passed away. It struck me hard as a story about the love of a father and son.
And now, as a parent, that continues but it rings even truer as I have had to struggle with the question of when to hold on tight and when to let go. It’s a beautiful movie in terms of aesthetics, story, and sentiment.
I really felt while the first 2 Toy Story movies did show some inkling of the emotions Pixar could inject into its films, Nemo was the first real example of that.
#9 – Up
Remember when you first saw commercials for Up? Remember finding out it was about an old man and a little boy in a flying house and talking dogs? I do. I remember thinking it wasn’t going to be good. Can you believe that shizz?
But I did. And obviously I was wrong. This movie has literally EVERYTHING. Adventure, humor, love, friendship, DEATH. Oh wait, sorry spoiler alert. But yeah, I mean the first ten minutes of this movie are quite possibly the roughest opening ten minutes of any movie since From Justin to Kelly.
It’s super sad. And I think people have often criticized it for being too sad. Except it’s not about death. It’s about loss for sure, but to me it’s more about love and life. About moving on and living when we’ve lost loved ones. And it’s about how love never leaves. When we lose those we love, they live on in our memories and their impact can be felt in the actions we take. So yeah, to me Up is about love, both present and enduring.
But I mean, it’s not my favorite Pixar love story. Oooh, setting that one up y’all.
#8 – The Incredibles
Seriously, how can one not love about The Incredibles? I already did a whole ranking of Marvel movies here and here so you know I have an affinity for superhero movies.
Or should I say Infinity. Get it? Because Infinity War?
But seriously. I’ll be here all week.
Superheroes are awesome. So I mean, box checked. This movie, though, has so much more beyond that. The plot and pacing are both solid. And the visuals are pretty perfect, from the animation to the design. And of course it’s funny. Doy.
But beyond that, the story always stuck with me for two reasons. I love the idea that these supers can’t really be happy unless they are being themselves – being true to themselves – is a subtle but important part of this whole thing.
And the family dynamic plays well here as…well. I love how they all look out for each other and interact with one another. The scene when Violet cries slightly to her mother as she doubts herself is a real moment of tenderness and rang insanely true coming from a teenager. They did a really good job of balancing family with superhero. The superhero action is great, but it’s the family dynamic that holds the whole thing together. It’s the Sopranos of the Pixar-verse. Think about it.
#7 – The Incredibles 2
This is probably a rather controversial placement for some. But really – I do think I enjoyed this better than the first. Both are great, of course. What this sequel does though is take what I love about the original and build on it perfectly. Hence, it’s placement right above the original. Keep up.
This has everything I mentioned loving about the first but it goes a little further in terms of shaping the characters. I feel like I really got to know them better in this one. All of them – Bob, Helen, Violet, Dash, even Edna. They all felt much more fleshed out here than in the first.
And I mean, Jack-Jack was a scene stealer. His place in this movie alone would have probably catapulted it past the first. Dude beats up a raccoon. And I mean, I hate raccoons. Nature’s bandits they are.
#6 – Toy Story
It’s pretty amazing that the first feature-length Pixar movie nearly cracks the top 5. I mean, they were still working out the kinks, no?
And to be fair, the fact that it was the first probably scores it a couple points. Not only being the first Pixar movie, but also the first Toy Story movie, really makes this an important part of the Pixar library. And further, being the first fully computer-animated feature-length film makes this an important part of cinema history. Think about animation today. It pretty much owes everything to this film.
So yes, it’s the first. But it’s also one of the best. The animation showed us what this studio could do but the story showed us what these writers could do. Telling the story of what our toys do when we leave the room could have definitely gone the way of silly and childish. Instead, this movie draws the audience in with superb storytelling and fully realized characters.
Seriously, it’s amazing this is Pixar’s first movie. Respect.
#5 – Coco
When I asked my family to try and guess my Top 5, this was everyone’s first guess. I think it’s probably because I talk about this movie…A LOT.
This is probably due in large part to it being released only last year but it is also due in even larger part to it being an incredibly beautiful movie. Visually, of course but beautiful on its inside too.
I really like how this movie puts the responsibility of remembrance on the living. Whether or not you celebrate the Day of the Dead, we are all tasked with keeping alive the memory of those who have passed. I have talked a lot about the loved ones I have lost here, and my family and I have numerous traditions in our lives that maintain the legacy of love, family, and friendship our loved ones have left us. So this one really hits home for us.
I think Pixar’s movies often deal with pretty heavy themes – death, loss, heartbreak – especially for what are supposed to be kids’ movies. And in that, I think they have done a great service to children. Because they don’t shy away from any of this. They have a unique way of not dumbing anything down and yet making things, sometimes weighty things, totally accessible for children.
#4 – Ratatouille
I have talked about this movie a couple times already here and here so obvs squad I love this movie. Like, a lot.
And what is really so awesometown about this movie? It gets better and better with each viewing. Which is saying something since I kind of fell in love with this whole movie the first time I saw it. I mean, it’s about food, so that’s a big positive. Because of fat.
And there are so many layers to this thing. If anyone read this blog, it would def seem like I am repeating myself but thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that.
So yeah, I love the whole “greatness coming from anywhere” theme and Remy’s journey towards self-acceptance. And I still regard Ego’s review of Gusteau’s as my single favorite scene as it all at once roasts critics and talks about the good they can do by embracing the new.
And Patton Oswalt was a pretty perfect choice to voice Remy. Ugh, I love Remy.
#3 – WALL-E
To be honest, if this movie were just a gif that played over and over of WALL-E waving for 2 hours, it would still probably rank pretty high on my list. On account of WALL-E might be the cutest thing ever.
So really, the whole idea of story, plot, and other characters is really just icing on the cake. But it’s like really delicious icing. And the ingredient list on the side of the icing container would read: love, robots, social commentary, Eve, beautiful visuals, Peter Gabriel song.
I don’t know, man. I started with the whole icing metaphor and I couldn’t turn back. Yeah, it wasn’t fun for either of us.
This movie is fantastic and, as with so much Pixar has done over the years, it feels so….different. I mean, there is literally over 20 minutes of zero dialogue going on here. In a movie aimed at least partly at children. And the only character really taking up that over-20 minutes is a robot. Walking around a planet of garbage.
And it’s one of my favorite sequences in all of the Pixar-verse. But again, I could literally just watch WALL-E gifs and be happy.
And of course, beyond that dialogue-free sequence, there is so much going on in this movie. I love every bit of it. It’s near perfect.
And THIS is my favorite Pixar love story of all-time. Truth.
#2 – Toy Story 3
For the longest time, this was my #1. And it’s super interesting having this sandwiched in between my #3 and #1 choices. While uniqueness plays a big part in why I love both my #3 and #1 choices, this movie actually derives a lot of its strength from a sense of familiarity.
I went into Toy Story 3 with an existing love for all of these characters. The entire Toy Story franchise built towards this film. It is heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time, offering us a proper (and insanely tearful) goodbye to old friends coupled with optimism borne from the bond we know these characters have to one another. And that bond feels even stronger because we as an audience have developed a similar bond to them. It’s a pretty special thing.
And it leaves me conflicted about the next installment. This really felt like a perfect close to a story near and dear to my heart. But I of course would love more time with all of these guys…so I remain cautiously optimistic.
#1 – Inside Out
So yeah, like I said, Inside Out once again has that whole “wow, I have never seen this before” vibe to it you get with so much Pixar. I wrote a full full review of Inside Out when it came out here and all of what I said remains true to this day.
I love everything about this movie – I love the visuals, I love the story, I love the characters. All of that is still, ahem, amazepantz. Pfft, do people still say amazepantz? Wait, did they ever?
The movie really scores high on all those points. I mean, the characters are super strong – Amy Poehler’s Joy and Phyllis Smith’s Sadness are of course standouts. And the story? The story is amazepa…um…ncreas. Amazepancreas.
Hrm, covered that one up pretty nicely.
But yeah, the story is pretty great. How this movie all at once takes place within the confines of a little girl’s head and yet feels like one of the most emotionally broad movies ever put out by Pixar is really a testament to superb storytelling. Using actual characters to portray the tumult of emotions within the mind of an 11 year-old makes a pretty hefty subject much more manageable for an audience (especially one made up largely of children.)
But what makes this movie (and much of what makes my top Pixar films) so great is how I connect with this movie on a personal level. Watching Riley have to leave behind the unfettered innocence of childhood as she comes to terms with the sometimes-harshness of reality is heavy-duty. As a parent, this hits home for sure. I really still believe what I wrote in my original review of the film:
So yeah, this movie is there. For all those still in the wondrous throes of of childhood. All those trying to make sense of the murky waters of adolescence. And all those that can still look over their shoulders once in a while and recall those unencumbered moments. It really is a beautiful thing to behold. Thank you Pete Docter and thank you Pixar. I absolutely adore what you have created.
And that really holds true for this entire catalog of films. Well, almost the entire catalog. Pixar has given the world a great gift. These films aren’t just great animated films. These films are great in their own right. They are achievements. Cinematically. Technically. Culturally. Emotionally. With very few exceptions in the Pixar universe….these films are truly pieces of art and I feel lucky to have been able to experience them.
Once again, thank you Pixar.