In 1995, Pixar Animation Studios released Toy Story and forever changed the way we looked at animated films. Even though Pixar is the studio that ushered in fully CGI animated films, the real substance in their movies was in imaginative and timeless stories with wonderful characters, plenty of humor, all genuine emotional moments, all of which could appeal to children and adults alike.
I just saw their latest release, Inside Out, and that prompted me to take a look at all 15 of their films to date and rank them from worst to best (save the best for last, right?).
Without further adieu, here is my list:
15) Cars 2
Every series has to have an undisputed worst entry. Star Wars has Phantom Menace. Batman has Batman & Robin. Pixar has Cars 2. I liked the first Cars, but was it really necessary to have a sequel with Larry the Cable Guy’s character as the main focus? If they were going to do a spy movie, I would have rather they’d done it with new characters and in a different setting.
14) Monsters University
Simply put, I never wanted Pixar to do a teen comedy style of film. It is not impossible for that style of comedy to have heart (Superbad comes to mind) but those type of comedies need to be raunchy and have adult situations and Pixar could never accomplish that while also staying true to their family friendly disposition. Also, while I liked the first Monsters Inc, I never wanted a sequel, prequel, or any kind of revisit. Why can’t movies just stand alone anymore? Oh well, that’s another topic for another time.
While Brave is not Pixar’s worst, it is definitely their most disappointing. The early teasers looked like this was going to be a grand slam all the way. Pixar’s first fantasy film should have been an instant classic. Instead, it was a disjointed story that certainly felt like it had been in production hell for years. When I heard that the original director left the film due to “creative differences” that certainly helped shed some light on why the final product was muddled. While the film looks stunning, the execution of the story is lacking.
Many adult fans look down on this one (especially now that it has inexplicably turned into a franchise all its own) but I maintain that the original is good. It was Pixar’s first attempt at a sports movie, which piqued my interest. I also really liked the ending. I will concede that it was Pixar’s weakest effort prior to their post Toy Story 3 slump.
11) A Bug’s Life
This one gets overlooked due to it being sandwiched between the first two Toy Story films. It also gets lumped together with Dreamworks’ Antz since they came out at the same time and feature similar settings and premises. Looking past all of that, Pixar’s second entry is a colorful and fun film with a great setting and plenty of fun characters.
10) Toy Story 2
Many disagree with me, but I feel this is the weakest of the three Toy Story films, which isn’t really an insult. That is sort of like being the weakest episode of Breaking Bad or the worst member of the Beatles. Even if not as good as the rest, it is still pretty awesome. Pixar’s first sequel works quite well with great set pieces, fun new characters (Jessie rules), emotional moments, and bringing up many fears that the toys will ultimately have to face. Unfortunately, it takes the third film to give us a proper payoff to those fears, and the Buzz/Zurg subplot disappointingly goes nowhere beyond a Star War parody.
9) Monsters Inc
I’ve heard people accuse this film of being unoriginal because the idea of giving the monsters in the closet and under the bed their own world had been done before (Ahh Real Monsters, Little Monsters, and even an episode of Tiny Toons). That’s true, but Pixar also weren’t the first ones to do living toys, talking bugs, robots in love, or even people inside our heads controlling our emotions. They just do those stories better than everyone else, and Monsters Inc is no exception. The designs of the monsters themselves are fantastic. I also love the way the doors work, which makes for a fantastic chase sequence at the end. Monsters Inc also has plenty of heart as well, which is where Pixar usually excels.
8) The Incredibles
Is it sad that this movie is a better Fantastic Four movie than the actual Fantastic Four movies? (and no, I don’t expect my opinion on that to change with the release of the FF reboot later this summer). Pixar’s look into superheroes provides an action packed and exciting film that also deconstructs the genre and its characters in ways that can almost be summed up as a family friendly version of Watchmen. Why is it only 8 on my list? The films ahead of it are just that good. When they are on, Pixar is great. What else can I say?
7) Toy Story
Here we have the classic that started it all. I distinctly remember being 10 years old and seeing early teasers for the film and thinking “that looks really stupid”. Once I saw the film, I was blown away by how much heart the film had and how funny it was. I think the humor was a particularly important part of its success because that was what bridged the gap and made the movie accessible to adults. Now here we are, 20 years and 15 Pixar films later, Toy Story still stands as a timeless animated classic.
6) Inside Out
After Toy Story 3, the quality of Pixar’s films took a nosedive. The bottom three films on this list are all the Pixar films in between Toy Story 3 and Inside Out. It was like they hit it out of the park with the third Toy Story, and then they stopped trying. Well I am happy to say that they came back just as strong as ever with Inside Out, a wonderful film that is colorful, imaginative, complex, and emotional. I won’t say anything beyond that point. Just do yourselves a favor and go see it when you get the chance.
5) Finding Nemo
I remember when I first saw this movie and saying “They’ll never top this. Pixar will never do better than this. This is their magnum opus”. Well I was wrong as they have by some miracle managed to top Finding Nemo a handful of times, but that doesn’t change my opinion that this film is wonderful. It has all the imagination and wonder of Pixar’s best films, but has that simple but identifiable story thread of a father looking for his son. I also can’t stress enough how much I love Dory. To call her endearing, loveable, & hilarious would only scratch the surface.
Prior to 2009, if I started off describing a movie with “Ed Asner in a flying house”, I wouldn’t be surprised if most people responded with “that sounds stupid”. Well, if Pixar has proven anything, it is that if you are good put the proper care into your story, you can make almost anything work, no matter how ludicrous it sounds. The action, adventure, and humor is all great here, and the talking dogs were just a delight. The real heart here comes from Carl’s back story and how it shapes him for the rest of the film. If the first 10 minutes of Up don’t break your heart, then I don’t know if anything can. The movie balances its emotional gut punches with plenty of laughs and thrills along the way, creating a thoroughly entertaining and creative movie that fully deserved its Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.
3) Toy Story 3
The makers of this movie wisely realized that this movie would be a nostalgic experience for many adults that were kids when the first Toy Story came out. They took full advantage of that by breaking our hearts from start to finish by treating them suffer more than they have ever suffered before. The end result was a dramatic and emotional film with one of the most satisfying endings you’ll ever see. The Toy Story characters are definitely Pixar’s most beloved and this was a great ending for them. It begs the question why even bother making a Toy Story 4, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Wall-E is my favorite Pixar character to date. It was remarkable how the filmmakers were able to convey so much personality and heart entirely though visuals & sound effects that were modified to create the illusion of speech. I just love that little guy! Having a great protagonist is one thing, but working him into an interesting and engaging story was another accomplishment for this film as Wall-E’s actions and heart ultimately show everyone what it means to be alive and what we should be trying to get out of life. It is thematically powerful while also being sweet and adorable too. I’ll also go as far to say this is probably one of the best love stories ever put to film.
What is it about Ratatouille that makes it my favorite? I am not even completely sure how to answer that myself. I don’t see too many other people rank it as their favorite. I think for me, I love minimalist storytelling. Get the most out of the least. With other Pixar films, you see superheroes, robots traveling into space, flying houses, and bugs, monsters, and toys all inhabiting their own worlds. Here, it is about as bare bones as you can imagine. It is a rat in Paris that wants to be a chef in a human kitchen. Honestly, it is so basic, the anthropomorphic rats are the only reason this story necessitates animation. Otherwise it could have just as easily been a live action film.
For Pixar to take a simple premise with a setting and make it so grand, funny, and beautiful is remarkable to me. Paris looks absolutely amazing here and makes for a perfect romantic setting for the tale. The humor is great with so many nutty side characters, the bizarre method of how the rat uses his human pal as an avatar to become a chef, and a great kinetic chase sequence in the middle of the film that seemed to borrow from the best of the golden age of animation. The heart is definitely there with the relationships and motivations of the characters being able to resonate without relying on too much action or killing anyone. Again, the movie works in how much they get out of so little. Ratatouille also has one of my favorite endings to any film ever.
Regardless of which Pixar film is your favorite, I think it is safe to say that they have definitely set a high standard in the world of animation and for film in general. They set the bar so high that they have even struggled to live up to it at points, but when they shine through, there is no better studio out there.