Twenty years ago Pixar Animation Studios released their first feature-length film: Toy Story. It was the first completely computer generated film out there and changed everything. Every other studio making animated films has been trying to catch up to them, not only in terms of technological achievements but in crafting stories that make everyone old and young laugh, cry, and thrilled.
Not every single film they’ve made has been a home run, but their track record thus far has been pretty impressive. This year’s release Inside Out is no exception, arriving as the fifteenth feature in the animation house’s stable. Given the occasion, I’ve taken it upon myself to rank Pixar’s first fifteen features to settle once and for all what is the best and worst from the studio.
I contemplated bringing in the short films that precede each of their features, as many are just exquisite if not better than the films they accompany, but the forms are so different it did not feel right to bring them into this. So, this is just going to be dealing with their feature films. And remember: This is a definitive ranking. You may think they belong in a different order, and you would be incorrect.
In all seriousness, we’re open-minded around these parts and eagerly await to see your lists and thoughts in the comments, but before then let’s get this ranking started!
Dir. John Lasseter & Brad Lewis
Everyone has to have one clunker, right? Cars 2 is already a sequel to one of Pixar’s more unremarkable films, but this feels like a total jumping of the shark here. It gives the already annoying sidekick character Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) a lead role in this cockamamy spy plot that feels more like an excuse for flashy visuals than a story. This suffers the problems every other bad sequel does, where everything needs to be bigger and more. The closest parallel I can think of is Disney’s own Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. It never feels for a second like anyone involved had their heart in this, and Pixar’s heart is what sets them apart from every other studio. This would be the one Pixar film I would gladly never watch again, making the re-watch for this post a struggle.
Dir. John Lasseter
Whereas its sequel is outright bad, the issue with Cars is it’s completely unremarkable. Every plot point feels like it came out of a how-to screenwriting book. None of the characters feel real and are just archetypes: the hotshot who is humbled, the jaded former star who regains his drive (pardon the pun), the wacky sidekick, the love interest, etc. We praise Pixar for their imagination, and here it feels like they just thought having anthropomorphic cars was enough. It’s not an actively bad movie, aside from Mater of course, but there is nothing here that stands out. Not even the racing scenes are particularly exciting, which with an animated medium they definitely should be.
Dir. Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman
Like Cars, there is not much new here in terms of character dynamics and story arcs, but what sets Brave apart is just how visually stunning the film is. Every detail of the animation is painstakingly crafted, most notably Merida’s hair that Pixar had to develop new software in order to accomplish. Had this film been on mute, it would be much higher on this list. Unfortunately, it is not, and we have to sit through narrative clichÃ© after clichÃ©, even if they seemed packaged in a different way. It’s terrific execution, but what they had to execute was not their best material.