Top 10 (plus 3) Pixar Films


Editor’s Notes: Monsters University opens wide tomorrow, June 21st.

Over the last 18 years, Pixar Studios has released thirteen films (at the time of this writing.  Monsters University, number 14, arrives on June 21, 2013) and in my opinion eight of them are masterpieces.  It was difficult to do a top 10 out of 13 list, so I’ve ranked them from least good to the best.  I say least good because Pixar has never released a bad film, just a few that aren’t up to the standards they have set for themselves and by proxy, others.  Since 1995, animated films that were not produced by Pixar have struggled to keep up with the studio whose main focus was on story augmented with spectacular visuals.  Disney proper seems to be catching up after a recent acquisition led to the heads of Pixar being placed in the top development chairs at Disney, but it’s Dreamworks that has had the best luck in competing with Pixar by beefing up their stories and making some fantastic films of their own.  So, without further ado here are the ten best Pixar films, plus the other three.

13.  Cars 2

Cars 2 is perhaps the weakest Pixar film, but it’s still a lot of fun especially for kids.  It follows the characters from Cars (minus Doc Hudson because Paul Newman died and they didn’t want to replace him. I wish they would have done the same for Filmore, since he was originally voiced by George Carlin who also died between productions. They felt it was fine to replace him and the character sounded awful in this film).  Cars 2 gives sweeping vistas of Europe and the Far East and a story that tells us the value of friendship and how to treat a friend.  It’s not as deeply metaphoric as most of the other Pixar productions, opting for a surface story and lessons revolving around the lovable characters from the first film. It doesn’t hold any resonance, but it’s still enjoyable.

12.  A Bug’s Life

Arguably the most forgotten of Pixar’s films, A Bug’s Life was their second feature after Toy Story and it just doesn’t work that well.  It’s a comic retelling of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece The Seven Samurai and because of that isn’t as fresh or inspired as any of the other Pixar films (save the afore mentioned Cars 2) .  It’s amusing but ultimately feels like they weren’t really trying with their sophomore effort.

11. Cars

Now, I know it’s fashionable to rag on Cars, but I do like the picture.  It was the first film my son ever saw in the theaters and he was captivated (at 2) and still watches it fairly regularly (at age 9).  Where it struggles is in its telling us to slow down and enjoy the smaller things in life, but it also deals with looking beyond the surface to see a person (or car) for who they really are.  Like its sequel, there’s not much below the surface here, but the characters are lovable and Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) does go through some extensive changes going from a self-absorbed celebrity to someone who cares more about his friends than himself and his image.


10. Brave

It’s possible that Brave ranks so low for me because it is the most recent Pixar release, coming just last year in 2012, but it’s also because this is more of a Disney Princess film than it is a Pixar film.  The writers/directors are not Pixar regulars and brought a somewhat underdeveloped story to the now legendary storytellers.  It’s a good film, and one that provides entertainment for anyone who watches it (I especially like the triplets) and is one of the most beautifully rendered animated pictures ever made.  The visuals make up for any lack of story, but that can only go so far.

9.  Monsters, Inc.

I’ve recently said my piece on Monsters, Inc. in a full review, but it is a really good film.  It’s not a masterpiece (like the following 8 are) but it’s still one of the most enjoyable films I know.  It’s endlessly re-watchable (trust me from experience) and the jokes are as funny the first time as they are the (approximately) 100th time, especially the exchange between Billy Crystals’ Mike and Steve Buscemi’s Randall regarding the scare floor from 12:00-12:30.

8.  Toy Story 3

This is the part of the list that gave me the most trouble.  How does one rank masterpieces against each other?  Well, this is where 2010’s Toy Story 3 ended up for me.  As wonderful and tear-jerking as it is (I cry every time I see it, without fail) Pixar has made better films.  That’s not to diminish this one, however.  Toy Story 3 was one of the best films of 2010 (and honestly, every film from this point forward earned a spot in my yearly top 10 lists) and wraps up the story of the lovable toys we first met in 1995.  It also isn’t final and opened up the door for a Toy Story 4 and beyond (after going to infinity). The film also has one of the best animated villains of all time in Ned Beatty’s Lots ‘O Huggin’ Bear.

7.  The Incredibles

Brad Bird (who also wrote and directed the magnificent The Iron Giant)’s first venture for Pixar was a slam-bang superhero action film that also dealt with superheroes at home and unwanted.  How Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter) Parr deal with life after the government outlaws superheroes and they build a family is marvelous.  The film is full of wit and tenderness, showing how a family can be effected by the disinterest or depression of one parent and how they can be brought together under certain (sometimes extreme…like being shot at) circumstances and become a whole family working together and being supportive of one another.


6. Ratatouille

Brad Bird’s second Pixar feature was better than his first.  The story of a rat named Remy (voiced by the brilliant comedian Patton Oswalt) who loved to cook was an allegory for looking beyond what someone looked like to appreciate who they were (like Cars) and also about following your own dreams even if it was not what is wanted for you by others.  The film is hilarious and touching and also boasts the only Pixar film with a running narration.   The animation is spectacular and exciting.  Ratatouille is a marvel from beginning to end.

5.  Toy Story 2

Originally intended as a direct-to-video sequel to Toy Story, someone at Pixar said they should release it theatrically and the idea stuck.  The story is much more expansive than the original and covers a broader area with much different themes, including felling included in a group and the isolation of abandonment.  It also has one of the saddest songs ever written sung over an incredibly depressing silent sequence.  With these themes in place, Woody (Tom Hanks) Buzz (Tim Allen) et al have an amazing adventure that ends up on a tarmac chasing after a departing airplane.  It’s exciting, funny, touching and a little sad.

4. Up

In what may be the boldest move any animation company ever, Pixar chose to tell an octogenarian adventure story.  The story is that of Mr. Frederickson (perfectly voiced by Ed Asner, the ultimate curmudgeonly old man) and his lifelong dream to go to Paradise Falls with his wife Ellie.  In the most brilliant 9 minute sequence ever filmed (live action or animated), we see he and Ellie from children to old age, and eventually Ellie’s death.  We see their ups (their wedding) and downs (when they discover they cannot have children) all in a short amount of time with no dialogue.  It’s also impressive how the balloons up his fireplace carry him off to his ultimate destination.  The bond he forms with Russell, Dug and Kevin are touching and show that no matter how old we get, we can still make room to care for more people.

3.  Toy Story

The first one is still the best one, introducing us to all of the toys we’ve come to know and love.  It’s also impressive that this film is as great now as it was in 1995, not only in story but in look.  There is nothing dated in the animation of this 18 year old masterpiece while some film that are only a few years old look antiquated by today’s standards.  Toy Story stands the test of time and surely is one of the best animated features ever made.

Finding-Nemo2. Finding Nemo

The only thing separating this and my #1 choice is…well I had to make a decision.  I was going to cheat and make a tie for #1, but decided to play fair.  Finding Nemo greatly impacted me when I saw it in 2003 and has only grown in esteem for me, especially after the birth of my son in 2004.  Its perfect cast led by Albert Brooks in one of his finest performances never falters, not even for a moment.  This film is also when Pixar started opening up the possibilities of what they could do, instead of mimicking how a live action film would be framed and shot.  They utilized all their tools and created a masterpiece about a father trying to find his son and overcome his own fears so he can raise his son well, without sheltering him from life.  Perfect.

1. Wall*E

Has there been a better animated in the last 20 years than Wall*E?  Yes, for those asking, I am including The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.  This film is daring for so many reasons.  First, the opening half hour contains no dialogue at all.  It’s essentially a silent/sound effects piece establishing Wall*E (“voiced” by sound effects wizard Ben Burtt)’s loneliness.  Second, it’s a story about robots in love.  Enough said on that.  Third, it shows people as wasteful gluttons who cannot control themselves to the point of covering the entire Earth with trash making it unsafe for anyone but Oscar the Grouch to live on and pampering themselves for 700 years, never considering that they should want to go back to Earth…most probably don’t even remember that they humans didn’t originate on a space ship.  It’s bold, brash, touching, sad and stunningly funny, not to mention gorgeous to look at.  The space ballet is a thing of pure beauty.   The character of Wall*E is one of the most endearing ever created in film, equally capable of making you laugh as he is at breaking your heart.  Wall*E is Pixar’s greatest accomplishment, and likely will be for a long time.

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Doug Heller

Sr. Staff Film Critic
I believe film occupies a rare place as art, entertainment, historical records and pure joy. I love all films, good and bad, from every time period with an affinity to Classical Hollywood in general, but samurai, sci-fi and noir specifically. My BA is in Film Studies from Pitt and my MA is in Education. My goal is to be able to ignite a love of film in others that is similar to my own.

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  • acharlie

    This is a great piece! Thank you for sharing. I cannot imagine trying to rank such great films, well done!

  • Doug Heller

    Thanks! I had actually thought it would be easy until I started working on it.