Pixar Animation Studios and their rich catalogue of admired films have been delighting audiences for over two decades.
In celebration of the release of their latest feature Coco, the staff at Before The Cyborgs have ranked all 18 previously released films. Let us know your thoughts on social media! What is your favorite Pixar movie?
All of the Pixar films have achieved a deservedly high level of acclaim, so in ranking the films we had to consider a few things. While the rankings are obviously subjective, our choices were based on the pop culture impact of each film, its innovation, story and music. Do you agree with our rankings?
NATE: The only widely agreed upon failure on Pixar’s part, Cars 2 perhaps gets a bad rep simply because it has to measure up with Pixar’s long history of excellence. That being said, Cars 2 really stretches the already thin material outlined in Cars and strays in far too many directions. Lasseter does juggle many of these storylines decently to at least create something coherent which in the hands of a lesser studio might have turned out even worse. To its credit, Cars 2 is solely visually speaking right up there among Pixar’s best. The evolution of technology since Pixar first launched 3D computer animation to mass audiences is clearly evident here. That trend has continued with each subsequent release from Pixar but that being said visual flair alone is not enough to lift Cars 2 above the rest of Pixar’s stellar catalogue.
ETHAN: It is difficult to believe that The Good Dinosaur was produced by Pixar, sticking out like a sore thumb next to others in their filmography. The initial premise is an interesting one: what would the Earth look like if dinosaurs had never been wiped out? But instead of Pixar tackling the Flintstones, this premise is wasted as the film would make just as much sense if set before the dinosaur’s extinction - our meek and frightened protagonist Arlo is accompanied by a feral human child, but this could well have been any small animal to equal effect. The formulaic storyline is essentially Finding Nemo if it were on land and no one was actually trying to find Nemo. Plagued by poor writing, lazy character design, and a production hampered by setbacks, The Good Dinosaur is a swing and a miss for the company.
MICHAEL: A prequel of the hit Monsters Inc. (2001), this film may not have reached the levels of critical or commercial success of other Pixar movies, but it's still a well made and fun movie. And once again it shows us that often times adults can get just as much, if not more, from these films as children do.
The narrative lends itself very easily to adult audiences with its parody of college stereotypes and fraternities/sororities. It is indeed a clever poke at these tropes all while filled with highly imaginative characters and situations. But even for kids of course naturally there's thrills and lessons to be learned about friendship and honesty.
While not as memorable as the 2001 original, Monsters University remains a commendable production from Pixar and a reaffirmation that the studio has mastered the art of computer animation, wonderful storytelling and pure imagination.
NATE: Cars 3 is an improvement over its predecessor because it returns to the basic foundation set forth in Cars. In fact, it is basically just a rehash of Cars with a nicer coat of paint. If the original Cars is the Rocky of the franchise then Cars 3 is Rocky 5 (where Rocky fights the young hot shot) mixed with elements of Creed. Here the franchise wisely returns Mater back to supporting character and focuses again on Lightning McQueen.
Of course the issue with returning to old material (especially material as cliche as this) is that there is no room to surprise the audience unless your audience is really young and unfamiliar with the standard narrative tropes. The argument could be made that this is in fact the goal as Pixar at its core is targeted to children and families but when a studio has demonstrated such an uncanny ability to explore mature themes, it is difficult to give Pixar a pass here.
Cars 3 is a fine film, it’s fun if nothing extravagant but I can’t help wondering how this film would have turned out had it chosen to pursue some of the tones it was hinting at in its first teaser trailer.
KEN: Immediately following events of Finding Nemo, Finding Dory now follows optimistic Blue Tang, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), with her new friends Marlin and Nemo, in tow as she embarks on her journey to locate her long-lost parents.
On paper, this sequel could have easily have been a simple rehash of the previous film, even starting off with an admittedly similar introduction.
However, Finding Dory still develops into a very fun and enjoyable film with its own unique story, a cast of great memorable characters and an adventure taking them to whole new and interesting places, both physically and thematically. But where the film truly shines, through respectful humour and poignancy, is in its continuation of the previous film’s theme of portraying characters living with disability. Examining the frustrations, but also the determination of individuals coming to own their own conditions and presented with genuine heart but also while never pandering; leading to some of the most heart-tugging scenes all well-deserving of laughs and tears. As a result, Finding Dory is a very strong sequel in Pixar’s library, a fun family adventure, and a beautiful, progressive and heartwarming addition to its world.
ETHAN: Cars is one of Pixar’s weaker films, but is still a fairly solid kids movie, which has proved hugely successful with a young audience. In a world occupied by living cars, Lightning McQueen is an egotistical race car, set on winning the Piston Cup and thus securing a lucrative sponsorship deal. Despite his success and fame, he has no real friends, and is dissatisfied with his life despite being too busy to realise it. When he gets lost on the highway, he finds himself in Radiator Springs, and slowly realises that this is a place where people like him for who he is, rather than just for his racing and celebrity status. The film stutters with its lack of memorable characters, thin narrative, and there is less appeal for adult audiences than other Pixar films, one of the key factors in the company’s success. Cars is entertaining enough though, and has some intelligent ideas.
ETHAN: One of Pixar’s less memorable offerings, Brave is a Scottish folktale following Merida, a princess who is required to select a husband despite her young age. Her tumultuous relationship with her mother is turned on its head when a mischievous witch grants her an ambiguous wish, and her mother is inadvertently turned into a bear, with the looming threat of permanence if the two do not rekindle their friendship. Pixar provide a different take on the classic Disney princess story, introducing a less lady-like protagonist that is more down-to-earth and believable. While Brave is not as ground-breaking as films like Up and Inside Out, and doesn’t quite have the magic that Toy Story or Monsters. Inc had, it is still a competent and enjoyable outing.
MICHAEL: The second feature film for the Pixar studio after the release of Toy Story, A Bugs Life is likely one of the more overlooked films in the studios cannon since its release. In fact it along with Toy Story set the early blueprint for the future success of later films. With its wonderful animation, witty dialogue, and its tackling of mature themes like oppression, justice, and determination A Bugs Life worked extremely well on its own and as a great preview of what to expect from Pixar moving forward.
Featuring an all star cast including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Dennis Leary, Dave Foley and a young Hayden Panettiere, this tale of a colony of long suffering ants who decide to stand up to their grasshopper overlords is both funny and surprisingly philosophical at times.
PIxar had shown that no matter what the characters, toys or insects (and later fish, monsters and mice) these were actually very human stories. And much like many animated films they can be enjoyed by both children and adults alike; in fact a lot of Pixar and other Disney films are better enjoyed by older adult audiences for the subtle jokes or thematic material that children may not pick up on. The villain Hopper's speech or Flick's quest for 'warrior bugs' as examples. A Bugs Life also featured the short "Geri's Game" (see right) a beloved and classic feature that has been imitated many times and rightful winner of the Oscar for Best Animated Short.
KEN: Toy Story 2 continues the further adventures of Pixar’s debut series in a defining middle chapter, as well as exceeding its predecessor in all the ways a good sequel should. Part of the strengths with Toy Story, aside from showcasing exciting adventures and colourful characters, is how they subtly portray through strong and clever writing allegorical yet accurate portrayals of life, passage of time and all that comes with it. And if Toy Story is symbolic in coming to terms with reality and adapting to changes it brings, Toy Story 2 takes this a step further in a mature, symbolic examination of mortality.
Pondering very real questions and dilemmas in accepting the inevitable while also looking toward the future with this knowledge. What follows is not only a dramatic exercise in further developing this film’s world and characters, but making them all the more identifiable; all while never losing sight of still creating a fun and unique family adventure. And as the third of Pixar’s features, Toy Story 2 also goes down as one of Pixar’s first in instilling the modern standards of grand adventure tied with down-to-earth themes that would later come to be expected in almost all future projects.
Nominated for Best Original Song at the 1999 Academy Awards, Sarah McLachlan's When She Loved Me highlights one of Pixar's many tearjerking scenes.
NATE: Pushing the boundaries of imagination and innovation have long been the modus operandi of Pixar / Disney. What if your toys came to life when you weren’t around? What if a rat doubled as a masterclass chef? What if the monsters that we think are in the closet actually come out to scare us because they need our screams for power? As strange as it may sound Pixar has turned these concepts into masterpieces and from a pure narrative perspective Monsters Inc may have the most interesting concept.
Following the exploits of a monster duo looking to help a young girl home, Monsters Inc often gets forgotten when discussing Pixar’s best films because it was released right in the midst of Pixar’s peak where they could seemingly do no wrong. Now that Pixar has stumbled just slightly in recent years, it is increasingly apparent how unappreciated Monsters Inc is. Clearly Pixar notices this as well with its recent release of Monsters University hoping to appease the fanbase but I’m sure I speak for all fans of the Monsters Inc when I say we are dying to find out what happens after that cliffhanger ending.
MICHAEL: Toy Story 3 is not only a wonderfully emotional conclusion to this beloved series, but a very rewarding one for audience members of a certain age. For those who grew up with the series and were roughly the same age as the character Andy, then this third installment hit really close to home. By the time of its release these viewers (including myself) were now once again in the shoes of Andy; young adults ready to begin their new life while looking back nostalgically at the pleasures of childhood and the toys they grew up with.
Through this lens Toy Story 3 is indeed a very special movie that expertly tackles the theme of emerging adulthood and the special bond between friends. But even for those not directly comparing themselves to Andy, this is still a very genuinely fun and emotional outing. With the great success of the first two films, this third film (released 11 years after Toy Story 2) would naturally have critics questioning its quality. They were proved wrong and number 3 showed it still had a surprisingly deep amount of creative and emotional gas left in the tank.
It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film and Best Original Song for Randy Newman's "We Belong Together", incredibly his first win for the series! But furthermore the film became only the third in history at the time to be nominated for Best Picture after Beauty and the Beast and Up. As a concluding chapter (though a fourth film is apparently in production) Toy Story 3 is utterly perfect in every way.
NATE: Pixar's ability to handle mature subject matter that transcends its target audience is why they remain a cut above most other animation houses. This is particularly true of Inside Out in its approach to something as complex as our emotions. Following a young girl and the emotional turbulence that comes with growing up, Inside Out’s colourful palate presents a digestible construct for kids (and perhaps some adults) to learn some valuable life lessons - chiefly that all the emotions are necessary in crafting who we are.
Some of the greatest minds in history have studied our emotions at length attempting to get to the how and why of our feelings. Inside Out doesn’t bother to offer up any grand explanation that will further that cause rather it is far more interested in embracing these emotions for what they are and the role that they play. The result is a film that once again showcases Pixar’s adept ability to speak to all demographics while maintaining a fun for all ages tone.
KEN: The second of Brad Bird’s films for Pixar, Ratatouille follows the journey of a rat named Remy, who thanks natural heightened senses, may have the makings of being the world’s next greatest chef.
While one of Pixar’s more outlandish ideas (and this is certainly saying something in comparison), Ratatouille stands as one of Pixar’s most creative projects developed from literal simplicity. The animation is excellent, with simple yet meticulously designed characters, excellent performances, capturing a nearly perfect rendition of France in all its architecture, all the while filling the screen with colours straight out of a beautiful painting and serenaded with Michael Giacchino’s simple yet superb score. Bird’s script is very smartly written, balancing a healthy blend of humour and drama, all climaxing in an ending I wouldn’t dare give away, but reaches a satisfying conclusion both thought-provoking and moving. All delivered with possibly one of the best speeches in any of Pixar’s films, or even film in general, performed placidly and impassionately by the late great Peter O’Toole. With a charming and clever story, Ratatouille is a savory delight, all playing to the theme of how amazing works of art can come from the most unlikely sources.
MICHAEL: There is perhaps no Pixar film as singularly colourful as Finding Nemo, but beyond its visual beauty this 2003 gem from the studio is exceptional for many reasons. It's a story of family, friendship, love and being able to let go (even when it's difficult for us); though set in the ocean with a brilliant assembly of marine characters this is a story of great human emotion and laughs.
Featuring the great voice talents of Albert Brooks, Brad Garrett, Geoffrey Rush, Willem Dafoe and of course the wonderful Ellen DeGeneres in a scene stealing role as Dory, Finding Nemo is without a doubt one of Pixar's finest creative outputs.
From its breathtaking animation of the ocean and its inhabitants, to its clever and uplifting story, there can be little wonder as to why it has won a special place in the hearts of so many. It was the winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Film (the first Pixar film to win!) and was further nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Through its positive message for both children and adults alike and its visually spectacular look, this is truly a film that will live on for many years to come.
NATE: In Up’s first 10 minutes, a better love story is told than most romantic comedies. The much talked about scene (which you can see an abbreviated version of to your right) is as good as any scene Pixar has ever done and certainly has become one of their most iconic.
Beyond it’s opening scene, the rest of Up is concerned with the concept of moving forward and not stagnating in one place because of one event. It’s a stark shift in tone from where the film begins and some would argue that the rest of the film never quite matches the same peak it hits early on but ultimately the sum of its package is undeniably strong. One of the few animated features to be nominated for Best Picture (Pixar or otherwise), it is clear that this sentiment is shared by many as well.
Owning a permanent spot on my post breakup movie playlist (along with High Fidelity, Eternal Sunshine etc.), Up reminds you that if an old man who lost his one true love can move forward and find new adventures so can you.
ETHAN: The prospect of an Incredibles sequel coming next summer is a tantalizing one; the original captured the essence of family life, coming-of-age, and marriage so neatly, all wrapped up in a satirical superhero blockbuster. Undoubtedly even more relevant now in the age of Marvel and DC’s Hollywood dominance, The Incredibles can stand tall amongst the very best the genre has to offer. The film features a plethora of loveable characters, from the Incredibles themselves, their teenage-angsty rival Syndrome, Samuel L. Jackson-voiced best friend Frozone, and their hilariously eccentric fashion designer Edna Mode. With one of Pixar’s best screenplays and their most ambitious ideas and designs, The Incredibles is epic, heart-warming and ingenious cinema, accessible to viewers of any age.
KEN: Set in the far-off future, WALL·E follows the story of a sentient and precocious trash-compactor robot, and his adventures to the stars from a long since evacuated Earth in which he may be humanity’s only hope for the future.
What makes WALL·E an ambitious undertaking among Pixar’s body of work is, that for most of the film, it allows only the visuals to take centre stage with little to no spoken dialogue; creating opportunity for a lot of quiet moments and atmosphere not often seen before in past work. What results is a smart, mature work of art for all audiences, animated in the combined style of classic silent-film and science-fiction, delivering a narrative of relevant social commentary and worthwhile message. In addition, it also surprisingly portrays one of the more genuinely sweet cinematic love-stories in years shared between two machines, with all the laughs and drama that comes with it. Much like it’s protagonist, WALL·E shows just how Pixar steps up to the challenges of what the medium is capable of, in all the ways advancing beyond the sum of its parts, while also staying true to the studio’s ongoing methods of only letting imagination set the limit.
NATE: Was there really any doubt? In addition to being excellent in its own right, Toy Story was a groundbreaking innovation in animation introducing the world to the possibilities of computer based animation. Setting the standard for what we would come to expect from Pixar, Toy Story pioneered many of the themes that the company has since been known for. Surprisingly poignant insights on human nature, discrete adult humour and devastatingly emotional arcs are all present here each working subtly beneath what is marketed as a children’s film. Though clearly this label is a misnomer as Toy Story (like much of Pixar’s work that followed) challenges even the most cynical of adults to use the full extent of their imagination.
Though the visual aesthetic has not aged nearly as well in the face of rapid technological advances; Toy Story’s legacy endures behind an iconic Randy Newman score, a great voice cast (featuring Tim Allen at his best and Tom Hanks in the middle of the greatest run of his career) and the combined efforts of many of the influential figures in Pixar's history including John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter.
Culturally unparalleled, The blueprint that Toy Story established has allowed Pixar to thrive for over twenty years. Showing no signs of slowing down any time soon, the studio has been a model of consistency churning out hit after hit. All this would not be possible however, without a cowboy and a space ranger.