The 10 greatest Pixar voice performances
10. Ben Burtt as WALL-E
You may not immediately recognize his name, but you’d definitely perk up if you heard the breezy whir-and-whistle that this Oscar-winning sound designer bestowed upon optimistic little robot WALL-E. As a veteran of Star Wars, Burtt was already primed to be the perfect person to figure out how to imbue a voice-less droid with a clear personality, creating a marvel of mechanical, musical sounds and tones that blurred the line between human and appliance. What Burtt ultimately delivered in Wall-E was a curious, worried, instantly lovable being who, despite all reasonable indications otherwise, was bursting with life.
9. Patton Oswalt as Remy
On the whole, Ratatouille tends to get overlooked in general discussion of Pixar fare, which is a raw (undercooked?) deal for its quietly beautiful central performance. As Remy the rat, Oswalt doesn’t drift into the improvised tangents that some stand-up comedians with recording-booth freedom can be tempted to go down. Still, he zips along with an eagerness and a confidence, conveying Remy as someone of deep humor and surprising thoughtfulness. As a disarmingly relatable rat, Oswalt gives us the everyman, vocalized.
8. Amy Poehler as Joy
Aided by standout turns from Phyllis Smith as Sadness and Richard Kind as Bing Bong, it was Poehler who grounded Inside Out at its key extremes. The film nails its lauded emotional arc chiefly because of Poehler’s ability to take Joy from an infectious, almost naive jubilance to a devastating rock-bottom when she realizes the importance of melancholy. The comedian has always been underrated for her animated work (see — or, rather, hear — her 2010 performance in the American dub of The Secret World of Arrietty); Inside Out thankfully marked Poehler as a bigger voiceover force to the outside world.
7. Wallace Shawn as Rex
In an alternate reality, a big plastic T-Rex with crippling anxiety could have easily veered into irritating territory — but that reality never happened because character actor Shawn’s masterful navigation with Rex wouldn't allow it. Over the course of Pixar’s signature Toy Story franchise, Rex became a standout supporting player in Andy’s collection because of Shawn’s brand of endearing shrill, employed more effectively here than anywhere in his decades of similar credits. If Shawn’s voice is his signature cinematic offering, everyone’s favorite manic-depressive dinosaur is where the best of that sound can be found.
6. Holly Hunter as Elastigirl
There’s a certain ferocity in Hunter’s interpretation of mom-first, superpowers-second Helen Parr, and it doesn’t just emerge when she’s dutifully fighting crime; it’s a ferocity of passion, and it can be both exhilarating and heartbreaking thanks to Hunter’s nuances. The emotional ferocity is there when Hunter softens but can’t fully blunt her edges during confrontations with her defiant husband; it’s there when she loses him, and there when she rescues him. Most strikingly, it’s there when she impels her children to stay alive, in any one of several blistering scenes in which Hunter strikes chilling maternal chords during moments of fear and panic. The Incredibles thrived because of its powerful family resonance, and you can chalk a good chunk of that up to Mrs. Incredible.
5. Joan Cusack as Jessie
If Toy Story changed the game for Pixar, Jessie changed the game for Toy Story after her introduction in the series' second film. Cusack takes the enthusiastic cowgirl to instantly effervescent heights of effectiveness, wahooing with a fizz-pop-crackle twang that elevates every scene she’s in. On the flip side, Cusack deftly unearths some lump-in-your-throat vulnerability during those discomforting sequences about Jessie’s abandonment and claustrophobia. The result, from both the happy and the sad, is one of the most fully realized and precisely layered characters on Pixar’s roster.
4. Brad Bird as Edna Mode
In an all-too-short but memorably delicious appearance, The Incredibles writer/director Brad Bird left an indelible mark on his own universe when he voiced the squat superhero fashion designer Edna Mode. She’s razor-tongued, indistinguishably accented, and overwhelmingly funny thanks to Bird’s unrestrained efforts on even the simplest lines. And really, what else is there to say about Edna Mode that Kendall Jenner hasn’t already?
3. Tom Hanks as Woody
No disrespect to Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear, but there was and only will ever be one sheriff in Toy Story town. Hanks obviously had a ball developing the iconic Pixar protagonist way back in 1995, but in the two decades since, the actor has nestled nicely into the pocket of Woody, finding the perfect space to place the character somewhere between paragon of endless positivity and overly neurotic herald of reality. Every Woody appearance, from feature film to holiday short, offers a full roller-coaster of passionate levels that Hanks never once phones in — cementing his performance to be as timeless as the plaything he voices.
2. Ellen DeGeneres as Dory
An errant episode of the sitcom Ellen was playing in the background of his office when Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton had an epiphany that was nothing short of divine deep-sea intervention. Ellen DeGeneres meshed with the fast-talking, forgetful fish Dory in a way that most viewers probably don’t even fully appreciate; the comedian’s tendency to pivot at lightspeed lent itself miraculously to a role that required a talented voice actor to make Dory’s short-term memory not an aggravating trait, but a lovable one. Now, Dory’s bubbly chatter is a Pixar highlight, and downright unforgettable.
1. Billy Crystal as Mike Wazowski
Certain performances are enhanced when a voice actor falls deeply into the folds of a character, but it’s the gift of comedians like Crystal and DeGeneres to be at their best when simply being themselves. In the case of Crystal, his inimitable Mike Wazowski is merely a heightened exemplar of his best storytelling traits as a stand-up — a neon-green vessel for Crystal's endearing ranting, New Yorker paranoia, and intrinsically animated way of speech. With gravitas to boot, Crystal arguably delivers a performance just a half-step down from what Robin Williams achieved with Aladdin’s Genie, with a tempered mania, a kid-accessible whimsicality, and a perfect-adjacent characterization to which Monsters, Inc. owes its greatest successes.