Twenty years ago, Pixar Animation Studios released Toy Story, the world’s first full-length computer animated film. Though computer animated movies are a very common occurrence these days, Pixar remains at the peak of the medium due to the studio’s nearly unrivaled knack for creating original stories, memorable characters, and emotional depth.
To celebrate twenty years of Pixar films, and the release of their newest feature, The Good Dinosaur, I decided to compile a list of Pixar’s feature-length library. This was certainly not an easy list to make, seeing as the majority of Pixar’s films range from great to masterpiece. But I decided to have a go at it anyway.
The following list contains all fifteen of Pixar’s currently released features (I decided to make this list before The Good Dinosaur’s release, because who knows how long it might take for me to determine where it would rank among the others). The films are mostly ranked from least to greatest, but understand the quality of most of these films is so great that many of them are interchangeable. So when the day comes that I inevitably revise this list, please don’t think less of me if many of the films end up switching places.
I hope to one day get around to giving each of these films a proper review. But for now, enjoy them in list form.
So without further ado, let me give this my best shot. The fifteen feature films of Pixar, from least to greatest (more or less).
*Some spoilers follow!*
15: Cars 2
Directed by: John Lasseter
Though Pixar is hailed for the consistency in quality they bring to their films, they’ve made one dud of a movie in Cars 2. One out of fifteen is easy to ignore though, and I suppose a disappointing Pixar movie was bound to happen eventually (every animation studio has one. Even Studio Ghibli made Tales from Earthsea).
To its credit, at least Cars 2 is fascinatingly bad. It’s almost like Pixar went out of their way to make a bad movie. They took what was, at the time, their least beloved movie in Cars, gave it a sequel, made the sidekick character Mater the lead, and threw him in an adventure that has none of the first film’s heart. You can almost sense that Pixar purposefully made a bad movie just to see if they could do it.
You’ll find plenty of worse animated movies than Cars 2, but it’s still disappointing that such a movie could come out of Pixar at all. Cars 2 is a cheap sequel that lacks the all ages appeal of every other Pixar feature, with its writing and humor appealing only to the youngest tikes. Yet this is also the Pixar movie with the most convoluted plot, and the only one in which a character gets tortured to death. Suffice to say it feels misdirected.
Still, Cars 2 did manage to bring Michael Caine and Bruce Campbell into the Pixar family. So there’s that.
Directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Brave isn’t a bad movie. It’s just nothing special. Coming from Pixar, that’s pretty much a sin. It also doesn’t help that this was the Pixar film that immediately followed Cars 2. Pixar needed to deliver a winner. Instead they gave us something adequate.
Now, Brave is an honest effort, and you always have to respect that. Pixar tried to reinvent the “princess” subgenre and deliver the studio’s first true female lead in Merida (Jessie and Mrs. Incredible shared the spotlight with male counterparts). But despite good intentions, Merida ended up feeling a bit forced, and frankly, the film as a whole just feels like another entry in the princess genre, instead of its re-imagining (which became all the more noticeable a year later when Disney released Frozen, which succeeded where Brave stumbled).
Any of Brave’s missteps can probably be attributed to the film’s troubled production, with a switch in directors and major changes to the plot midway through its development, leading to a clash of visions. Though there may be reasons for the inconsistencies, the fact remains that they’re there.
The main plot takes too long to get going, the film’s villain feels tacked on and unnecessary, there are too many comic relief characters, and the humor misses the mark (the Witch and her answering machine-like magic cauldron seems like something you’d see from a lesser Dreamworks movie). Not to mention some plot elements feel like they get resolved far too rapidly.
Still, there is some fun to be had with Brave. The animation is gorgeous, the good intentions do shine through in the film’s stronger moments, and it has a fittingly sweet ending. It plays things safe, and is a bit cliched, but Brave should still delight younger audiences. Plus it gives young girls a decent heroine to look up to.
13: A Bug’s Life
Directed by: John Lasseter
Most people seem to think Pixar was completely unstoppable until Cars 2 showed up. But honestly, they showed a bit of vulnerability early on, as their second feature film, A Bug’s Life, though good, really doesn’t stand out.
A Bug’s Life is a fun, colorful movie, but it also feels incredibly simple by Pixar’s standards. Though such a statement holds more weight today than it would have when A Bug’s Life was released, the fact is A Bug’s Life fell drastically short of the precedent Toy Story laid down. So even before Pixar had set a defining standard for itself, A Bug’s Life was relatively underwhelming.
It has a good plot, playing things like Seven Samurai remade as a children’s film. A gang (grasshoppers) bullies a small village (an anthill) for all its food, and one of the citizens (ants) decides to find warriors to fend of the villains. This being an animated film, things fall awry and the ant inadvertently brings back a circus troupe instead of the desired fighters.
So yeah, the story is fun. But it also lacks the emotional punch and sophistication that Pixar delivered with Toy Story (and continued to deliver numerous times later). And as interesting as insects are, it seems like a pretty conservative subject for the imaginations at Pixar. It’s a concept that any animation studio could tackle (and many have, including Dreamworks with their rushed ripoff Antz). It just doesn’t have the same sense of uniqueness as most Pixar features.
There’s fun to be had with A Bug’s Life. Just don’t expect the depth and emotion found elsewhere in the Pixar canon.
Directed by: John Lasseter
There are some people out there who just don’t like Cars. But it really doesn’t deserve as much flak as it gets. If anything, it just suffers the same fate as A Bug’s Life. It’s a good movie made by a studio that usually makes outstanding ones.
The plot is simple and straightforward. A hotshot racecar ends up in a small town, and learns valuable life lessons from its townspeople. It’s kind of like Doc Hollywood, but with Cars.
Just as was the case with Brave and A Bug’s Life, Cars is a decent movie. You just know that Pixar can do better. With that said, Cars actually has some heart to it (unlike the sequel) due in large part to the character of Doc Hudson, memorably voiced by the late Paul Newman.
I suppose the problem is that there’s really only so much you can do with cars as characters. By default cars have less to work with in terms of character and relatability than every other subject Pixar has tackled. The movie probably only existed because of John Lasseter’s love of automobiles.
Still, Pixar made the best with what they had. Despite the predictable plot and limiting premise, the characters are cute and enjoyable, there’s some humor to be had, and it has a good message for kids. A solid if uneventful entry in the Pixar library.
11: Monsters University
Directed by: Dan Scanlon
Speaking of Pixar movies that get more flak than they deserve, it’s Monsters University!
Obviously, its placement outside of the top 10 (where the quality greatly picks up) means that Monsters University isn’t one of the better Pixar movies, but it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable film. Like Cars 2 (and the upcoming Finding Dory), Monsters University took the sidekick character and made them the star. But unlike Cars 2, Pixar actually had a nice story to go along with the marketable lead.
Mike Wazowski takes center stage in this prequel to Monster, Inc., which tells how he and Sully became best friends during their time in college, despite starting out as bitter rivals.
Mike and Sully both want to become a top scarer at the university, but end up getting canned from the scaring program. They then enter the “Scare Games,” a competition between fraternities and sororities to determine the best scarers, as a means to get back in the program. There’s just one problem. Mike, despite being the hardest working student in the school, isn’t scary.
It may not sound like much of a plot, but MU finds clever ways to delve deeper into Mike and Sully’s personalities, and somehow finds ways to make the twists in the story interesting, despite the audience already knowing where the characters end up.
The animation is great, the character designs are fun, and the movie even has an important message on the importance of failure. Not bad for a prequel.