From Toy Story to Cars 3, the history of Pixar Animation Studios has left its impression on generations of viewers. Pixar films sport some of the most recognizable characters and hottest merchandise in America and around the world.
Until the upcoming Coco hits theaters, Pixar’s film count stands at 18, most of which have become staples of children’s entertainment. However, some of them have certainly been more well-received than others. Such a strong list of cinema success begs the question: which Pixar films are truly the greatest?
As with our recent Disney Princess film rankings, we will break down each Pixar film and rank them according to their merit as expressions of entertainment and storytelling. Unlike the princess rankings, sequels will be included, but no movie will receive any bonus points for attachment to other films in its series. This time, we’ll start at the bottom and work our way to the best.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.
18. Cars 2
Actually, don’t start your engines, because this sequel isn’t even worth the drive. Cars 2 ignores the good elements of the original and plays up the cringe-worthy bits as much as possible. It is one of only two Pixar movies I would label as genuinely bad.
For me, the original Cars was at its best when it served as a glimpse into the nature of competitive sports, with some worthwhile life lessons attached. The wacky side characters were bearable in their foil roles, but their antics were never the main selling point.
In Cars 2, the sports angle takes a backseat to some weird automobile superspy plotline starring Tow Mater, a character that should never step into the main spotlight. In both Cars before it and Cars 3 later, Mater supplies a decent supporting role, but Cars 2 decided to destroy his usefulness by making him the focal point. This film is a textbook example of a studio misinterpreting the reception to the first film in a series.
In my opinion, Brave is the last “bad” movie on this list. I already ripped it apart in the final portion of the Disney Princess rankings, and most of its problems seem just as bad when compared to the Pixar roster.
Merida, Brave‘s protagonist, is a young brat who expresses her understandable feelings in all the wrong ways. Despite involving clan disputes, accursed bears, and ancient magic, the plot boils down to a reconciliation session between Merida and her mother for no real reason. Yet, for whatever reason, the writers chose to render the mother incapable of speech for most of the movie.
Brave is visually appealing and very occasionally funny, but all in all, it’s a very skippable experience.
16. The Good Dinosaur
The most recent original Pixar film, this 2015 effort is disappointingly empty. As usual for Pixar, The Good Dinosaur presents an interesting premise: a world in which dinosaurs are civilized and humans are savage. However, the movie did not take the premise anywhere interesting. The main dino and caveboy simply go on a trip, meet some other dinosaurs, get in a little danger, and go their separate ways.
Aside from the emptiness of the plot, The Good Dinosaur fails to present an iconic character for audiences to latch onto. Arlo the green dinosaur simply lacks that iconic, merchandise-producing quality present in the likes of Dory, Buzz Lightyear, and the emotions from Inside Out. For these reasons and more, I understand why The Good Dinosaur is Pixar’s lowest-grossing film to date.
15. Monsters University
This prequel to the incredible Monsters Inc. is enjoyable and decently funny, but it lacks much of what made the original so special. Monsters University feels more like an extra-safe spinoff than a groundbreaking prequel. The original offered high stakes, intriguing world-building, and a tangible connection to the human world. University, on the other hand, simply dumps the main characters in college, a fun experience that lacks in depth or gravity until the final minutes.
Out of all the things that could have been done with the Monsters Inc. world, depicting Mike and Sulley in college is one of the safest decisions to make. The jokes parodying human college are no-brainers, the stakes are low, and you don’t really have to expand the universe much. I would much rather have seen a sequel portraying Mike and Sulley after the switch from scare power to laughter power. Monsters University isn’t bad, but compared to its predecessor it’s a little disappointing.
14. A Bug’s Life
Pixar’s second offering, while nowhere near the genius of Toy Story, is still pretty fun. Even while releasing just after Dreamworks’s Antz, A Bug’s Life finds a way to make the lives of insects intriguing. The animation is engaging, the depiction of insect society is interesting, and the side characters serve their purposes well.
What do I have against this movie that merits its inclusion in the bottom five? I don’t really know, to be honest. As Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly put it, “A Bug’s Life may be the single most amazing film I’ve ever seen that I couldn’t fall in love with.” Toy Story provided numerous iconic characters that stay in one’s mind long after the film ends, while A Bug’s Life is just… forgettable. Its place at #14 is more of a testament to the amazing Pixar roster than a condemnation of the movie itself.
13. Cars 3
Remember when I said Cars 2 forgot what made the original good? Well, the studio learned its lesson. Cars 3 did its best to pretend its predecessor never happened and went straight back to basics. It’s even more of a sports story than Cars was, which is a good move. It’s hard to make automobiles engaging and relatable characters in their own right, but one can relate to the ideas they represent.
Lightning McQueen is a veteran nearing the end of his career. He finds himself competing in the shadow of the new blood, just as he once grabbed the spotlight from the racers before him. Cars 3 is a story of a sports figure grappling with the reality of being past his prime. Humor characters like Mater are thankfully returned to the sideline, and for once the story is actually driven (I’m not sorry) by the main character’s choices.
Still, there are some weird and unnecessary segments to this movie, and a second sequel about anthropomorphic cars can only rise so far. How high the original can climb in the rankings still remains to be seen.
That’s it for the first segment of our Pixar film rankings. Ranks 7-12 will be out soon. What did you think of the selections? Any films you didn’t expect to see? Let us know on social media.
Some of Caleb’s earliest memories involve watching his father battle Ganon in A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo. Since then, his love of gaming has steadily grown, along with a passion for the written word. When not playing games or writing, Caleb can be found watching Doctor Who reruns, finding Star Wars plot elements in everything, or loudly explaining the history of the Elves. They never let him finish…