16. 'Cars 2' (2011)
The definition of an animated caper that’s working way too hard to entertain you, John Lasseter’s Cars sequel is an awesomely elaborate production that’s all frenetic choreographed high jinks and over-the-top, candy-colored movement. As a technical achievement, the picture is stunning, but as a globe-trotting espionage caper that features cars as spies, it’s a dazzling machine with far too little soul. The movie’s most befuddling aspect is Lasseter’s decision to push the eager hick sidekick Tow Mater, with his Larry the Cable Guy molasses drawl, into the main spotlight. We know why he did it — Mater has always been hugely popular as an action figure for kids — but that hardly means this endearingly idiotic character should be holding down the center of a movie.
15. A Bug's Life (1998)
A world of antic insects throw themselves into big (if microscopic) adventures in Pixar’s zesty (if slightly remote) sophomore project, a gaily family-oriented story of freedom from tyranny, starring ants and grasshoppers.
14. The Good Dinosaur (2015)
While the story attempts the moves that a Pixar film typically makes — nonverbal storytelling, death, a bittersweet ending — most of The Good Dinosaur’s punches land soft, made worse by the disconnect that exists between the overly cartoonish style of the characters and the photorealistic landscapes.
13. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
The Pixar film that feels most like a conventionally rambunctious animated feature from a non-Pixar studio. It’s set in Monstropolis, a city populated by colorful furry freakazoids and powered by the screams of human children. The plot is surreal, charming, and very, very busy, with John Goodman as the power company’s chief fuzzy-wuzzy ”scarer” of kids, who then has to make friends with one.
12. Brave (2012)
Pixar’s independent spirit is somewhat dampened by Disney family-values conventions in this tale of rebellion and self-discovery. But let’s hear it for Pixar’s first female hero — a spunky Scottish princess with wild red hair, and clearly a lass built to entertain the audience for Twilight and The Hunger Games.
11. Monsters University (2013)
If superheroes get to have big-screen origin stories, why can’t our favorite animated characters. In this hilarious, heart-warming prequel to Pixar’s 2001 things-that-go-bump-in-the-night hit, we get to see how Mike (Billy Crystal’s one-eyed cueball) met Sully (John Goodman’s gentle-giant furball) in college. It was hardly love at first sight. But this creature-feature campus comedy, where the jokes come at a rat-a-tat clip, shows that sometimes the most unlikely friendships end up being the ones that end up being the most memorable ones.
10. Ratatouille (2007)
The tale of a rat who yearns to be a chef, then gets his chance in a Paris restaurant kitchen that’s a gleaming culinary dream, is light, simple, charming, and — in its slapstick tomfoolery — a tad wan. It’s really the portrait of an artist, but the movie is stolen by Peter O’Toole as a Karloffian critic moved to rapture by the title dish.
9. Toy Story 2 (1999)
A worthy sequel to the epic original, in which serious issues of love, friendship, and faithfulness play out in a light adventure involving Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the toy-box gang. (Say howdy to Jessie the Cowgirl!)
8. Cars (2006)
The candy-colored autos zip around the racetrack fast enough to make your eyes buzz. But when they stop moving, they’re their own goggle-eyed, marvelous creations. Owen Wilson is terrific as a car who literally gets off the track, stranding himself in a dusty small town that needs his goofy charm to wake it up. And Paul Newman, as a gruff old roadster, lends the movie an emotional depth charge that’s rare even for Pixar.
7. Up (2009)
A crusty old man, an eager young Scout, and a bunch of balloons are the stars of a movie emotionally rich enough to land an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and cool enough to open the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
6. Inside Out (2015)
Inside Out feels like Pixar’s first animated feature primarily for adults. The beautiful and hilarious journey of a young girl managing her emotions is built on such a nostalgia for youth that it’s most tear-inducing moments—and its most hilarious—may connect more with older viewers. But there’s enough charm and ingenuity in Inside Out (thanks to a stellar voice cast, incredible set pieces, and, of course, Bing Bong) to delight audiences of all ages.
5. Finding Nemo (2003)
In their crowd-pleasing way, certain Pixar films (like our top three choices) wear their art on their sleeve. Others, like this supremely touching family fish fable set in a dazzlingly rendered ocean, are a tad more Disneyesque-traditional; Finding Nemo is the greatest of those. It features sublime voice work by Albert Brooks (as a papa clown fish searching for his lost boy) and Ellen DeGeneres (as his valiant comrade), as well as an undersea wonder-world stocked with playful amazements.
4. Wall*E (2008)
Never before have robots, Twinkies, a cockroach, and a lone, tenacious plant seedling intertwined so elegantly to tell a story of endurance, optimism, love at first sight, and postapocalyptic redemption.
3. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Wild, transporting, and deliriously moving, the third Toy Story chapter proves that a sequel can be as endlessly inventive as the movie that spawned it. Dispatched to a day-care center, Woody, Buzz, and the gang confront their impending obsolescence, which is enough to break your heart right there. The movie then becomes a hilariously elaborate and noirish prison-escape thriller, though the toys aren’t just running for their plastic lives. They’re fighting for the right to be playthings again — for the sacred, make-believe pleasures of analog imagination that have been chased out of childhood by technology.
2. The Incredibles (2004)
Embedded in this brainy, funny, loving homage to/spoof of classic superhero comics is Pixar’s edgiest, most daring social commentary about family, individuality, and an American culture where everyone is praised as special.
1. Toy Story (1995)
It’s not nostalgia that leads us to hail the very first Pixar feature as still the studio’s greatest. It’s the movie’s awesome wit, affection, and imaginative freedom, and also its form-follows-function conceptual genius, as the then-novel digital technology lends life, adventure, and exquisite plastic surface to a roomful of talky toys who wage a happy battle against their own obsolescence.