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Top 10 Pixar Films

June 11, 2024
Tyler Banark
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When Pixar released its first feature-length film, Toy Story, in 1995, it immediately stated that it would be just as big (maybe bigger) than its parent company, Disney. They turned out to be more right than they thought, as this was just the beginning of a journey that would see Pixar evolve and grow in terms of its storytelling and animation techniques. Over the years they developed an unparalleled knack for crafting films for all ages with heavy themes, essential messages, and stunning animation, with the majority of their catalog ready to stand the test of time. With Inside Out 2 taking audiences back to the world of the little voices in our heads on June 14th, here’s a look at ten of the most exemplary movies Pixar has made in its three decades of existence.

10. Finding Nemo (2003)

While I used to consider Finding Nemo the most overrated Pixar film, that all changed with Toy Story 4 and Soul (I guess good things do come from middling movies). Nemo is gorgeously animated and has resonant themes about parenthood, ableism, and the lengths we go to for the ones we love, all while balancing that great heart with some lighthearted humor. It’s also a two-way street for kids and adults, with parents learning just as much from their kids. Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres give iconic voice performances, with the latter bringing life to one of Pixar’s greatest side characters and further capitalizing on it in the 2016 sequel. Above all, Nemo reminds us that no matter how hard life gets us…just keep swimming.

9. Toy Story (1995)

As the film that launched a revolution, Toy Story often leaves me in awe of the boundary-pushing animation it was able to accomplish in 1995, a feeling that only recently relived with the Spider-Verse movies. From a narrative perspective, it’s a poignant reminder that we should strive to understand those different from us rather than alienating them, and how we can make the best out of any situation life places us in.

As seen in Woody and Buzz, the former has to cope with how he’s no longer the top toy in Andy’s eyes and learns to appreciate Buzz, who must accept that he’s not who he thought he was (that staircase scene hits harder as an adult) and is taught by Woody that being a toy is more than infinity and beyond. Thanks to their excellent chemistry, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen made these arcs impeccable and made the movie more than what was generated by the computers.

8. Coco (2017)

Delving into the world of the Land of the Dead and tiptoeing around being a full-on musical, Coco narratively flourishes thanks to the wonderful music by Michael Giacchino and Robert & Kristen Anderson-Lopez and an exemplary script about family, following your dreams, and meeting your heroes. The Oscar-winning anthem “Remember Me” has multiple moments to shine, most importantly during the tearjerking scene when Miguel serenades Grandma Coco. By the end, the film has shot for the moon and hit all the right notes along the way.

7. Toy Story 2 (1999)

A movie that not only one-ups the original but also sets the stage phenomenally for a third outing, Toy Story 2 is easily the best sequel of any Pixar film. It continues the world-building and character dynamics of Woody and Buzz, all while bringing a new character into the fold in Jessie. Her initial annoying energy is immediately replaced with a wave of sympathy once her pivotal backstory is illustrated and serenaded by Sarah McLachlan’s “When She Loved Me.” Numerous movies have tried to make a heel turn like this, but none have been as effective, which is why Toy Story 2 stands alone.

6. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Monsters, Inc. is an effortless blend of humor, heart, and creativity masterfully done by Pixar’s greatest maestro, Pete Docter. With its imaginative world-building, clever plot twists, and unforgettable characters, it’s the earliest Pixar work I’d go as far as to describe as feel-good. The vibrant and detailed animation spectacularly brings the colorful world of monsters to life, with the voice performances from John Goodman and Billy Crystal being pitch-perfect. But what truly separates this from the pack (and its eventual sequel) is its heart, as Sully and Boo’s relationship touches your heartstrings at every turn. Their reunion in the final minute is a bittersweet cliffhanger, acting as the cherry on top of this irresistibly charming comedy.

5. Toy Story 3 (2010)

Toy Story 3 is a triumphant return to the beloved world of Woody, Buzz, and the gang, delivering an emotional and thrilling adventure that surpassed expectations. The toys now face an uncertain future after they’ve been mistakenly donated to daycare, all of them now having to grapple with franchise-favorite themes of identity and purpose. The film balances that emotional weight with some good lighthearted humor and exhilarating action sequences, with the incinerator scene tying it all together. It was a poignant and satisfying conclusion to Pixar's most beloved trilogy… that just had to be ruined in 2019.

4. WALL-E (2008)

WALL-E saw Pixar interweaving many risk-taking ideas - a robot falling in love and finding meaning, minimal dialogue, and political commentary on environmentalism - all of which paid off phenomenally. As one of the best at the company, director Andrew Stanton took a “show, don’t tell” attitude toward the material, with Thomas Newman’s score and the wonderful animation, which contrasts the vastness of space and the deserted wasteland that was Earth, doing all the heavy lifting. It is, without a doubt, one of Pixar’s boldest works and anything but robotic.

3. Inside Out (2015)

Over the years, Pete Docter has developed a reputation for delivering some of the most philosophical blockbuster animated movies ever (Monsters, Inc. Up, Soul), often posing fascinating messages to deep questions. Inside Out is a creative approach to exploring the human psyche, delving into the notion that each individual emotion we experience contributes to our overall growth. The voice cast, particularly Amy Poehler as Joy and Phyllis Smith as Sadness, and Michael Giacchino’s score add emotion to a film about emotions. They all reach a crescendo during several pivotal moments, such as Bing Bong’s death and Sadness being allowed to take over headquarters.

2. Ratatouille (2007)

Not only is Ratatouille up there as one of the studio’s best, but it’s also one of Pixar’s most definitive feel-good movies alongside Monsters, Inc. Backed by an incredible voice cast, Ratatouille conveys an essential message to any lost soul to utilize their gifts and that the greatest minds can come from the unlikeliest of places. Not only is Remy an example of this, but so is Anton Ego with his pinnacle review towards the end of the film. It’s a wholesome meal of cinema and would definitely be at the top of my Pixar ranking if it wasn’t for another Brad Bird-directed flick…

1. The Incredibles (2004)

The Incredibles is the best Pixar movie not just because of its stellar animation, impeccable voice acting, timely score, and shocking screenplay. The real magic lies in the fact that it was (and still is) Pixar’s riskiest film to date, with writer/director Brad Bird possessing a lot of guts to trust his audience with a film that flirts with subgenres not seen in blockbuster animated films before. Intense fight sequences and deaths, insurance company flaws, and a marriage hanging by a thread often push the PG rating to its maximum allowance. There’s also the presence of a rare item in a villain with justifiable motives. Syndrome’s back story is self-explanatory, which makes him more compelling as an antagonist. All of this entails why The Incredibles did so much for Pixar and animation as a whole, while also proving that superhero movies are more than what’s on the surface.

You can follow Tyler and hear more of his thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd.

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