Critic's Picks: The Pixar Filmography, Ranked

10:22 AM 4/20/2016

by John DeFore

THR film critic John DeFore ranks the computer animation studio's movies — from the sublime to the cynical.

Courtesy of Pixar
  1. 16

    Cars 2


    If Cars felt calculated, Cars 2 looked cynical — an admission that inspiration-free cashing-in was just fine, and John Lasseter's gang would pretty soon be cranking out straight-to-vid sequels and spinoffs (see Planes) as quickly as their Disney predecessors once did. Say it ain't so, guys — put out five more films as sui generis as Inside Out before you let another franchise-builder on your release calendar!

  2. 15

    Monsters University


    Sure, we wanted to hang out again with Mike and Sulley, and why not do it in a prequel? A world full of college-aged monsters made for fun character design and knowing nods to the history of campus comedies, but University was formulaic where Inc. was like nothing we'd seen. (Though who can complain about Helen Mirren's dragon-winged Dean Hardscrabble?)

  3. 14

    Cars 3


    In the wake of the noisy misfire that was 2011’s Cars 2, the Pixar pit crew ran the diagnostics and were able to pinpoint the winning formula of humor, heart and action (along with an added dose of Route 66-informed nostalgia) that made the 2006 original such a sweet ride. They all make a welcome return in Cars 3, but, while visually dynamic, Lightning McQueen’s newest challenge still feels out of alignment with a languid end result that lacks sufficient forward momentum.

  4. 13



    Several years after joining forces with Disney, Pixar made a movie about a princess. Was it the beginning of the end, signaling a slide into Disney-like, more-misses-than-hits mediocrity? Not necessarily, and there was more to this story than there first seemed. But young Merida's attempt to prove her mettle was still awfully familiar, however pretty to look at.

  5. 12



    Again, there's plenty to enjoy in this zippy little racetrack adventure. But things feel a little calculated here, pandering to a NASCAR-loving demographic outside the Bay Area studio's comfort zone. And even viewers who never saw Aardman Animations' talking-car Chevron advertisements might have found the story less original than they expected from Pixar.

  6. 11

    The Good Dinosaur


    Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

    In the first year that gave us two Pixar movies, one searched for reasons to get excited. Hey, look at that spectacularly detailed scenery! Substituting dinos for humans did only a bit to make this kid's-adventure yarn feel novel. But the warm pic still served as a pick-me-up for dinosaur enthusiasts burned by the surprisingly blah Jurassic World.

  7. 10

    A Bug’s Life


    Woe to the movie that had to be Pixar's sophomore film, following its lightning bolt Toy Story debut. The timing was made worse by the simultaneous arrival of Antz, 1998's other computer-animated movie about the insect world. There was plenty to love about this take on fable The Ant and the Grasshopper, but it fades from memory more than most of the studio's efforts.

  8. 9

    The Incredibles


    It took until 2004 for the studio to make humans — not animals, inanimate objects or creatures — the stars of a movie, and under Brad Bird's direction it worked. While the story of a family of superheroes arrived well before comic book-sourced yarns grew overfamiliar, the film can't help but suffer in comparison to The Iron Giant, Bird's brilliant non-Pixar debut. That film was the Platonic ideal of a certain kind of animated film; this one was merely excellent.

  9. 8

    Finding Dory


    Courtesy of Pixar

    As we wave goodbye to the expectation that a new Pixar release will wow us with imagination, Finding Dory shows that some carbon-copies are more pleasing than others. Pegging its plot essentials (Dory's returning memory, that whale's Superman-like echolocation) to real phenomena but stretching them well past the believability breaking point — can we pretend the truck-driving-octopus thing didn't happen? — it earns enough laughs to keep its mammoth serving of misty-eyed familial sentiment from feeling maudlin. (Read the review here.)

  10. 7



    In Brad Bird's second Pixar feature, Patton Oswalt carried unprecedented weight, winning over the audience in a movie that was driven by a single character's dream instead of a group mission. The tale of a rat who yearns to be a haute cuisine chef is a rare and welcome celebration of high-standards artistry, rather than a mere tale of "making it" in a creative field, and was well timed to the foodie zeitgeist.

  11. 6



    Rightly celebrated for its daring, delightful first act, a nearly dialogue-free exercise in silent comedy and robotic romance, Andrew Stanton's Nemo follow-up was also stunningly designed, and offered a persuasive look at an Earth used up by thoughtless humans. But its vision of humanity's dark future lost subtlety once we met some actual people, infantile and inflated blobs too soulless to believe in.

  12. 5



    Betting on viewers' ability to process serious heartbreak and loneliness while laughing at the absurd, Up is the closest thing Pixar has made to a Studio Ghibli movie, even without the parallels between Howl's Moving Castle and the elderly Carl's balloon-levitated house.

  13. 4

    Monsters, Inc.


    CGI human characters were still an iffy prospect when Monsters, Inc. gave us the adorable Boo, a little girl who finds her way into the scream-generating workplace of one-eyed goblin Mike (Billy Crystal) and his lovable-lug partner Sulley (John Goodman). Still early enough in the CG-animation game to wow us with its detail and textures, the movie's boogeymen-as-hero conceit was the real star.

  14. 3

    Finding Nemo



    With so many cute animals in 'toon history, how did it take this long to fully exploit the undersea world? (Mermaids who long to be human don't count.) Director Andrew Stanton did especially well in the action department, but kids remembered the colorful characterizations of go-with-the-flow sea turtles and sharks who just want to be good.

  15. 2

    Inside Out


    Courtesy of Disney

    Even in a filmography that has envisioned a rat's culinary career and humanity's post-Earth existence, Inside Out represents an astonishing work of imagination. And this one, which takes us inside a girl's emotion-processing center, was unusually well suited to be one of those rare entertainments that actually help children understand something about their lives. In other filmmakers' hands, didactic; from Pete Docter (whose Monsters, Inc. foreshadowed this blend of psychology and adventure), delightful.

  16. 1

    Toy Story (Trilogy)

    (1995, 1999, 2010)

    Who would argue with the assertion that these three movies, which cemented the studio's go-to ensemble dynamics and paired nostalgia with fresh comic attitude, still stand as Pixar's crowning glory? And far from wearing out their welcome, the sequels grew up with their audience, building to a heartfelt conclusion so aching that any viewer who didn't weep would be unwise to admit it.