Pixar is a land of dreams and magic, the sort of place that wouldn’t feel out of place in an animated fantasy movie if it didn’t literally exist. With that in mind, we ought to perpetually cherish it. As much as it has been driven by sequels of late, Pixar is still cinema’s last home for big-budget, original ideas.
They understand the power of impactful silences, of naked emotion and heart. No other studio has ever been as human, and in touch with what makes humans tick, even when their words are coming out of the mouths of fish, or elves, or cars. OK, maybe not so successfully with the last one.
Pixar remains the best and the idea of ranking its output is incredibly tricky. We gave it a shot anyway.
In celebration of Soul, the studio’s 23rd film, we’ve ranked every feature film Pixar has ever made, from the mind-boggling highs of the original Toy Story to the relative disappointments of The Good Dinosaur.
23. Cars 2
Unlike pretty much every other Pixar film, Cars 2 is aimed squarely at the kids. There are some thrills to be had – the espionage storyline places Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) amid a nefarious scheme by villain Miles Axlerod (a Range Rover L322 voiced by Eddie Izzard, naturally) – and it’s fun to see a Pixar version of London. But sadly, it lacks the original Cars’ sheen. JS
The message at the heart of Brave – obey your parents’ wishes – doesn’t rank as Pixar’s most progressive, but even if it was a powerful moral, turning the mother character into a bear might not be the best way to convey it. Princess Merida is a solid lead and the visuals are stunning, the waterfall particularly so, but Brave is also let down by a weak set of supporting characters, something the studio usually nails. JS
21. The Good Dinosaur
The Good Dinosaur seems to have become a Pixar afterthought (not for its makers – Lee Unkrich, director of Toy Story 3 and Coco, told The Independent it’s the film that makes him most emotional). The Good Dinosaur has fighting spirit: its story of a wayward young Apatosaurus trying to reunite with his family delivers the goods the more you re-watch it. Still, it’s a far cry from Toy Story. JS
20. Cars 3
The Cars franchise must have amassed more in merchandise sales for Pixar than any of its other releases. It’s cynical to say that Cars was given a second sequel to capitalise on this, but sadly the film struggled to register as anything near the studio’s best. There’s a warmth to Cars 3 that certainly wasn’t present in the previous instalment, but it’s a shame that a film about a character who’s concerned he won’t be remembered is this – well – forgettable. JS
19. Toy Story 4
The runt of the litter when it comes to Pixar’s flagship franchise, Toy Story 4 feels like several different movies haphazardly stitched together – probably because it was. Plagued by production troubles, it’s a film that works best when it plays as an adventure romcom anchored by Woody and Bo Peep. Whenever they’re off screen, and Toy Story 4 is distracted by a sentient fork or a villainous baby doll, it loses all of that traditional Pixar sparkle. AW
18. Incredibles 2
While it never totally justifies its existence, largely replicating what worked so well in the first film, this belated sequel at least makes up for its lack of creative energy with stunning animation. There’s a thrilling chase sequence through the skies between Elastigirl and the villainous Screenslaver here, while even post-Marvel, the comic-book storytelling feels dazzling. AW
17. A Bug’s Life
Sandwiched in between two Toy Stories, one representing Pixar at its dazzling beginning and the other as it became a world-conquering behemoth, A Bug’s Life is easy to overlook. But it remains delightful all the same, its lack of creative inventiveness made up for in its elegant creature designs and gentle humour. It’s also at least aged better than DreamWorks’ Antz, which now bears the indignity of being anchored entirely around Woody Allen. At least Kevin Spacey is merely a supporting player in Pixar’s film. AW
16. Monsters University
When news of a Monsters, Inc follow-up surfaced, fans were in two minds: some questioned why you’d revisit a film as opposed to making something new, while many rejoiced in the fact they would finally get to see Sulley reunited with Boo. Instead, what they got was a prequel showing John Goodman’s big blue creature’s days as a student at college – the place he met his future scaring partner, Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal). The result is fun if unnecessary. JS
There’s no doubt that Cars has a special place in this writer’s heart due to a brother who watched it on repeat as a three-year-old. Commonly disregarded as “Pixar for kids”, the film actually has much to recommend it, from the gratifying journey of its lead character – who starts out arrogant and ends up a changed, erm, automobile – to the moving mid-section in Radiator Springs, the ghost town McQueen finds himself stranded in. JS
14. Finding Dory
A belated sequel that no one expected to be quite as good as it was, Finding Dory positions Ellen DeGeneres’s forgetful fish centre stage, with lush results. There are a raft of memorable supporting characters and an appropriate amount of familial sadness to counteract the cheer. DeGeneres is spectacular, and the whole thing has a relaxed charm that makes it irresistible. AW
Up’s opening sequence, charting a decades-long love story, is the most brilliant thing Pixar has ever done. The rest of Up is completely fine. There’s still a lot to adore here, of course, from the cutesy charm of its unlikely heroes (an old man and a plucky boy scout) to its sort-of talking dog. It doesn’t, however, entirely conceal the fact that Up peaks very early. AW
WALL-E’s early sequences, nearly wordless and anchored entirely by a lonely robot, are as radical and ambitious as Pixar gets. Much like Up, however, the film becomes slightly more conventional as it goes along. It finds itself in a traditional run-and-escape pattern, which is often smart and clever, but lacking in a ton of emotional resonance. AW
Pixar has a near-perfect track record with its original films, and yet Onward’s brilliance still came as a surprise. It follows two teenage elf brothers who, against all odds, are faced with the chance to spend one last day with their father, who died when they were too young to remember him. Its twists and turns subvert expectations throughout – and there is slapstick comedy aplenty. You will belly laugh, you will slide towards the edge of your seat and – as is the Pixar norm – you will weep into your jumper. JS
10. The Incredibles
Pixar was always going to tick superheroes off its list, and it did so in 2004 with a film that remains an unmitigated joy. The film has a lot of fun contrasting the Parrs’ banal home life with the breathless action scenes where they unite as crime-fighting superheroes. Plus points, too, for giving us the hilariously OTT fashion doyenne Edna Mode, voiced by the film’s director, Brad Bird. JS
9. Finding Nemoâ
Finding Nemo more or less laid the groundwork for much that would follow, with parental absence and childhood trauma factoring into a number of the Pixar movies to be released in its aftermath. Finding Nemo remains remarkable on its own, though, for both its slapstick comedy and emotional power. AW
8. Inside Out
To its credit, Pixar has always avoided stunt-casting, for the most part preferring character actors over starrier celebrities. Inside Out is one of its best in that regard, with sentient emotions portrayed by their most obvious real-world counterparts – Amy Poehler as a sunny Joy, Lewis Black as a literally hot-headed Anger, the marvellous Office alumna Phyllis Smith as Sadness. Away from its cast, Inside Out is also a glorious gut-punch, its feelings lived-in and authentic, its climactic character death by far and away the most heartbreaking in the Pixar canon. RIP Bing Bong, we hardly knew ye. AW
Pixar further proved its verve with Coco, a film that tapped into a completely different culture while also exploring the fantastical. Mexico’s “Day of the Dead” is the inspiration behind a film that’s tied together by legacy and memory via a love of music. It’s also an existential minefield as viewers are told that to be forgotten by your living relatives is to suffer a “final death” in the afterlife. Coco might be an entry point to the tough topic of death for many youngsters, but it remains a remarkable, often hilarious experience, albeit one filled with tears. JS
6. Toy Story 3
If an entire generation came of age with Pixar, Toy Story 3 marks their final step into adulthood. Ranking the Toy Stories is a matter of consternation for any self-respecting Pixar fan, but it’s not outrageous to claim that the third is the best one. It feels like a goodbye – not only for young Andy, who says farewell to his toys as he prepares to head to college, but also for the most sustained period of greatness in Pixar history. Everything works here, from the Barbie and Ken comedy to the melancholy brilliance of our heroes believing they’re facing imminent death. AW
Pixar’s latest film cuts right to the chase. Why not embrace, head-on, the biggest mystery there is: life itself? What, after all, is the point of all this living? The studio are certainly up for the challenge. That won’t surprise anyone. But not only does Soul live up to Pixar’s own impossibly high standards, but it represents the very best the studio has to offer: beauty, humour, heart, and a gut-punch of an existential crisis. The children will laugh and cheer; the adults will sob until their muscles ache. CL
4. Monsters, Inc
Sulley and Mike – the unlikely pals at the heart of Monsters, Inc – are characters for the ages and precisely why the film lands as well as it does. Which isn’t to say there’s nothing else to marvel at. Its concept (monsters only scare kids because their screams power the city they live in) is ingenious and its supporting players – the villainous Randall, the studious Roz, not to mention the long-suffering George – make it a treat to revisit. Wary of its high placement? Look no further than the chase sequence on a conveyor belt of doors that double as portals to different worlds. It’s masterful. JS
3. Toy Story
Where it all began. After a series of shorts released from 1984, Pixar announced itself as a major player in the film game with 1995’s Toy Story, a benchmark for animation 25 years on. There’s no denying that without Toy Story we wouldn’t have any of the films that follow, but it’s testament to the studio’s genius that it managed to retain the wonder and adventure presented in this world. It’s that rarity that makes the impossible seem real – even more impressive for an animated film. JS
It feels like sacrilege to say that Ratatouille, Pixar’s most traditionally animated film, is its second best. There’s not a ton of spectacle here, no elaborate water effects or invented worlds, but rather a twinkly and dreamy take on Paris. It’s gorgeous, and matched in power by the film’s incredibly weird yet marvellous storytelling. Both a wacky comedy about a rat who cooks, and a rich celebration of nostalgia, childhood joy and imagination, Ratatouille is a daring encapsulation of Pixar’s singular brilliance. AW
1. Toy Story 2
The toy repairman montage; Jessie’s heartbreaking flashback; that traffic cone action sequence – Toy Story 2 is effervescing with pitch-perfect scenes. It takes what made the original film so special and expands on it, while always keeping the spotlight on the central theme: belonging. Toy Story 2 is one of the great adventure films, too, putting the characters on a quest to retrieve Woody after he’s stolen by fiscally minded toy collector Al, voiced indelibly by Wayne Knight. As close to a perfect film as you’ll get. JS
We may earn commission from some of the links in this article, but we never allow this to influence our content.
Pixar movies are expected to be available on Disney+. The new streaming service launches in the UK on the 24 of March 2020.