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The First 12 Pixar Movies, Ranked

Photo: Pixar

When a studio has been as consistently high-reaching as Pixar, it isn’t easy to rank its films from worst to first: Even the lesser films are decent, and the studio’s greatest movies are all so ambitious and terrific — and there are so many of them — that some classics start showing up in the middle of the pack. Like Ratatouille’s food critic Anton Ego, who tastes the film’s final dish and finds it flavored by his own life experiences, your own rankings may vary based on what you (or your family) bring to these movies, but sorting them out is still a welcome challenge. So, which of Pixar’s first twelve movies do we feel is the absolute tops? Read on to find out, and this weekend decide where number thirteen, Brave, fits in.

Look, Cars 2? It isn’t a transporting Pixar masterpiece by any means, and audiences seemed to agree: Despite years of phenomenal merchandising growth in between the Cars movies, the sequel still underperformed at the box office. What it is, though, is a movie that’s about as good as most of the CG films other studios turn out, a Pixar film that settles at the bottom of the studio’s own output but ranks about as well as a Robots or random Ice Age sequel. Photo: ?Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
More pleasant than its sequel by virtue of its chilled-out pace and voice talents like Paul Newman and Bonnie Hunt. (And also, because unlike Cars 2, Larry the Cable Guy isn’t first-billed.) Photo: chammond/?2006 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
It’s no wonder that Pixar’s toys sell so well … when you get a glimpse at plush and furry Sulley (voice by John Goodman) or the mini-cyclops Mike (Billy Crystal), they look good enough to pet and squeeze. Monsters isn’t quite as memorable as what Pixar’s turned out since, but it’s a cute confection with two well-cast leads and a genius main idea.
As Pixar’s first movie after the pioneering Toy Story, A Bug’s Life had a tough act to follow, and that’s too bad: It’s an underrated ensemble comedy blessed with exquisite voicing (and one of Kevin Spacey’s best villainous turns) that also doubles as a great testament to gone-too-soon Pixar genius Joe Ranft, who helped conceive the story and also voiced German-accented caterpillar Heimlich.
It’s impressive how much Pixar got right in its very first at-bat. Toy Story could have simply rested on its laurels as the first CG-animated feature film ever; instead, the Pixar braintrust packed every frame with creative detail, worked with top screenwriters including Joss Whedon, and employed starry voices like Tom Hanks and Tim Allen (a move that coaxed every other animation studio to put big star names above the title, with varying degrees of success). If it isn’t ranked as highly as its sequels, that’s only because they managed to build so well on what this film had already established. And also, because Woody is a little bit of an asshole in it.
Its first ten minutes are heralded as some of the finest work Pixar’s ever produced, and rightly so; after that, things get agreeably random. Many Pixar films end with a frenetic chase sequence, and Up’s feels a little boilerplate, but at least the characters up until then are as unique and indelible as any the studio has ever invented, and how can you not adore every single scene with Dug? Before the movie became a box-office phenomenon, pundits speculated that little kids wouldn’t be interested in the movie’s elderly lead, but Pixar benefits from never talking down to its audience, since its audience comprises nearly everyone. Photo: ?Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
Most Pixar films start well, but Toy Story 3 doesn’t, recycling so many of its themes and situations from the second movie that even Jessie has to say, “Not again!” But the third act is a wowser, explicitly confronting death in a way Disney hasn’t done since Bambi, and the final scene, in which Andy passes his toys to their next owner, packs an emotional wallop that Pixar has earned in full over the course of the franchise. Photo: ?Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
Constructed almost as a pastiche of Pixar tropes — it’s a buddy movie starring a neurotic character and his dimmer-but-more-enthusiastic friend, there are several chase scenes, and we keep cutting to a B-story involving a main character separated from the pack — it manages to improve on almost all of them. Pixar’s also got an underrated knack for extracting some of the finest performances from comediennes: Has Janeane Garofalo ever had a better big-screen role than her character in Ratatouille, and can the impact of Ellen Degeneres’s Finding Nemo co-lead — a beloved performance that helped revive her then-flagging career — be underestimated?
Now that Disney has acquired Marvel Studios, there’s been some speculation that Pixar might take on a superhero property in the future, but it’s hard to imagine the studio ever surpassing the witty work it did on The Incredibles. A deconstruction and a celebration of the superhero genre, it more than holds its own against a live-action comic-book movie like The Avengers (and it even uses Samuel L. Jackson better). Photo: kranson/?2004 Disney Enterprises, Inc./Pixar Animation Studios, All Rights Reserved.
In its best films and most resonant sequences, Pixar manages to marry nostalgia for the past with the newness of cutting-edge animation work. Ratatouille aims squarely at that intersection between heart and head, and in those strong closing scenes with Anton Ego, in which he tastes the ratatouille and then pivots to offer a generous, full-throated examination of how critics can champion a new take on a familiar format, the film hits Pixar’s bull’s-eye. Photo: tzohr
In only its third film, Pixar perfected something that would soon become its trademark: a virtually wordless montage that delivers an indelible, emotional gut punch. The Sarah McLachlan–sung scene in which Jessie tells Woody about the love she had for a little girl who grew too old to care about her … well, it’s a miniature gem with incredibly major sweep (so effective at pulling your guilty heart-strings, in fact, that McLachlan soon lent those same pipes to sad animals instead of sad toys). But the rest of the film is powerful, too, deepening the themes of the first film in a daring way, and in the process becoming one of those rare sequels to significantly improve on the original.
Its detractors will say the film never lives up to the promise of that staggeringly creative, near-silent opening sequence. They’re wrong. (Maybe they’re confused, and they meant to say that about Up?) Andrew Stanton’s ambitious animated epic is terrific throughout and filled with so many constantly inventive sequences that even the closing credits are bursting with creative brio. And its central conceit — that we must believe this little robot can experience human emotions — is practically a meta commentary on all those other CG creations that Pixar has managed to imbue with such soul. The studio has lavished plenty of love on characters made of ones and zeroes, but of them, only WALL-E is No. 1. Photo: ?Disney/PIXAR. All Rights Reserved.
The First 12 Pixar Movies, Ranked