Choosing your favorite Pixar movie is like choosing your favorite child. Well, maybe more like your favorite step-child. You really wish you could love them all equally, but you can’t deny some of them just aren’t as cute.
Toy Story: Hit
Over two decades after this groundbreaking work of art, it is still the gold standard of Pixar movies, and of animation in general. Many of its successors have gone to infinity and beyond in animation, story, heart, and comedy, but Toy Story will always be the guideline for what defines a good Pixar movie.
A Bug’s Life: Near Miss
This movie isn’t bad, even by Pixar standards, it’s just remarkably unremarkable. Even as I was making this list, my husband saw the title on my screen and said, “Oh yeah, A Bug’s Life. I always forget that exists.” I think the fatal flaw of A Bug’s Life is that being only their second film, Pixar hadn’t quite settled into their characteristic fun-for-kids-but-poignant-for-adults niche yet, so while it is a fantastic kids movie, it’s still just a kids movie.
Toy Story 2: Hit
Sequels are always risky, especially when at this point all Pixar had going for them was one great movie and one okay movie. It easily could have been a money grabbing direct-to-dvd revisit of their big success, and as a matter of fact, that is all that Disney asked for, but Pixar was not about to give anything less than 110%. This movie has everything that made Toy Story great, but on an even grander scale. Besides that, “When Somebody Loved Me” set the stage for all of the tear-jerking moments that Pixar would become famous for.
Monster’s Inc: Hit
As fantastic as their first few movies were, Monster’s Inc is the one that really cemented Pixar’s reputation as the best of the best. Its riotous laughs, riveting action, stunning visuals, and heartwarming relationships just compounded everything we had come to know and love. At a time when their relationship with Disney was on the rocks, they proved they could stand on their own (and perhaps even surpass their benefactor) if need be.
Finding Nemo: Hit
The underwater world of Finding Nemo is absolutely breathtaking and it has a story to match. It incorporates all of the same joy and adventure of Pixar’s previous films without becoming trite and repetitive.
The Incredibles: Hit
In a world full of superhero movies, The Incredibles still manages to stand out from the crowd. It has plenty of action, but it is the almost sitcom style family dynamic that sets it apart. It is somehow the least “Pixarian” movie, yet it still includes all of the most important qualities for a stand-out Pixar film.
Take any Hallmark Channel movie, replace everyone with Chevron advertisements, and you’ve got Cars. It has every trope and stereotype right down to the grumpy-yet-wise old “Doc” working in every authority position in town who *plot twist* used to be big and famous and prideful too. It really isn’t a bad movie, and if any other studio had made it, it would probably even be considered pretty good, it just falls short of everything else we have seen from Pixar. And whose opinion of it hasn’t dropped even further by association with the ill-conceived Cars 2?
Even after proving time and time again that they could make a wonderful story about anything, Pixar pushed the boundaries even further in Ratatouille. Cute cartoon mice are one thing, but a lifelike dirty sewer rat in a real world Paris restaurant is something else entirely. The two-fold message of this movie is one of my favorites: anybody has the chance to become anything that they want to be with hard work and determination, but that doesn’t mean everybody deserves to succeed. As Anton Ego explains, “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”
Some criticized WALL-E for being too harsh on society’s materialism, but in my opinion the true message was hope that mankind can rebuild and come back from any problem, either natural or of our own doing. WALL-E himself is not reluctantly thrown into his quest nor is he intentionally seeking greatness, he becomes a hero simply because of his genuine kindness.
One of my favorite things about Pixar is their ability to take even the wildest notions like talking dogs and flying houses and make them feel possible. From the heart-wrenching opening to the lighthearted adventure that follows, this movie is one of Pixar’s finest.
Toy Story 3: Hit
In all of cinema history, what “threequel” is as good as or better than the original? Toy Story 3 is just that. Everything about this movie adds to its predecessors without being tired or hackneyed.
Cars 2: Miss
Cars was easy enough to overlook when without it Pixar had seen a perfect 10 for 10 to this point. But Cars 2 finally broke their practically perfect record. I’ll be honest, this is the one Pixar movie I can’t even bring myself to watch, so there’s not much more I can say on the matter.
Brave had so much potential that its creators just got overly ambitious and ended up falling flat. The story has a lot going for it, especially in the strained yet loving mother-daughter relationship that is directly at odds with the evil stepmothers we usually see. However, as the movie progresses, more and more elements are added, so by the end it can’t all be neatly wrapped up like we would hope. It is a decent movie in its own right, but Pixar might just need to leave the princesses to Disney proper from now on.
Monsters University: Miss
After the incredible success of Toy Story 3 and the epic failure of Cars 2, fans were on the edge of their seats to see where this sequel would land. As it turns out, it is solidly in the middle. Like A Bug’s Life from years past, it is a fun but entirely forgettable kids movie.
Inside Out: Hit
Three misses in a row left even the most diehard enthusiasts thinking that perhaps Pixar had run its course. But Inside Out definitely proved any doubters wrong. This movie has some of the most mature themes of any Pixar movie — the value of all emotions, the misconception of thinking a good life means being happy all the time, the danger of suppressing sadness, and the unintended consequence of not being able to enjoy the highs if you mange to remove the lows — and still managed to tell a beautiful story that doesn’t feel like the plot was lost in the moral.
The Good Dinosaur: Miss
Okay, be honest with me, was A Good Dinosaur just an extremely elaborate prank? Or maybe it was just an attempt to distract us from the disaster of Cars 2 by making something even worse. I could swear everyone was sitting in a meeting one day and said “You know what would be funny, let’s take Ice Age, one of the worst animated movie franchises of all time, and just make a bad ripoff of it.” Nothing about this movie feels like Pixar. They clearly promoted someone from directing shorts to creating a full length feature before they were ready for that much responsibility.
Finding Dory: Hit
With Pixar’s rocky recent history, I didn’t have much hope for Finding Dory, but I was pleasantly surprised. Where Finding Nemo masterfully broached the subject of handicaps, Finding Dory has managed to beautifully portray the sometimes even more difficult topic of mental and emotional disorders. This sequel and prequel all wrapped in one may not be up to Pixar’s old bar, but it was much better than a lot of the movies we’ve seen from them recently, and it leaves viewers with hope for the future.
So what’s next for Pixar? They will be making Cars 3 (heaven help us), Coco (inspired by Dia de los Muetros), Toy Story 4 (this could easily make or break the series), and Incredibles 2 (I can’t wait to see more from some of my all time favorite Pixar characters). Part of their contract with Disney is to make one sequel or prequel for every two original movies, and we certainly see that with their upcoming films. Three of the four announced movies are sequels, but hopefully that will open the doors for some fantastic new stories. And who knows, maybe Cars 3 will surprise us.