Pixar is one of my favorite studios because of their dedication to storytelling. There are books and documentaries on how Pixar looks at storytelling. We have talked about it before. All but one of these movies I would happily rewatch anytime, so while it some of these might be lower on the list than you might agree with, they are (almost) all fantastic movies.
I love this movie on a technical level, as well as just as a movie, and I believe that it’s accomplishments in silent storytelling and lack of traditional facial expressions with the primary character or love interest shows their ability to convey emotion unlike any other animation studio.
Best: The Space Dance
Worst: The only Pixar movie that is straight up insulting to it’s audience. It’s saying that, given the opportunity, humans would never have goals, motivation, or intention.
Maybe this is just because I love superheroes, but this movie is just such an amazing rollercoaster (not to mention the Incredicoaster at Pixar Pier), that I’m never not in the mood to watch it.
Best: Their team up is the best.
Worst: You should never feel good lying to your spouse.
How can a movie make you relate both to a 9 year old kid and a 78 year old man at the same time? From great back-and-forth dialogue, amazing animal sidekicks, and a villain that adds just the right amount of pressure, this movie is just great.
Best: The Carl/Ellie love story, from beginning to end.
Worst: There’s a lot of suspension of disbelief I’m willing to give a movie, but dogs flying planes might be too much.
The movie that started it all. Toy Story created a precedent of Pixar that they have maintained since. Their movies are based on story and emotion, and they don’t pull punches just because it’s a “kid’s movie.” Toy Story is, in my opinion, the epitome of what Pixar is and can achieve, but they were very much still learning what they could get away with.
Best: “Buzz will you give me a hand?”
Worst: The human animation is still kinda scary. Which is why the protagonists of the first movie were plastic in the first place.
When this movie was being made, Pixar thought it would be their last to have an affiliation with Disney, so they started seeing what they would create on their own. It’s unfortunate that they never had the chance to go down that road, because this movie is fantastic, and has slightly more mature elements, such as alcohol, murder, and fraud (oh my!). A great movie that is more artistic than many of their others.
Best: Colette not taking anyone’s crap.
Worst: I know it’s how the movie moves on, but how messed up is Linguini’s nervous system?
Don’t let your frustration with the overdone merchandising cloud your judgement (like it might with Frozen). This movie has the Hero’s Journey from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces on excellent display, not unlike the original Star Wars film. Classic storytelling for kids.
Best: A truly amazing story of friendship.
Worst: Lightning McQueen is still not a relatable hero. I don’t really care whether or not he wins his race.
Toy Story 2
Backstory! As a big Dungeons & Dragons guy, I love me some backstory, and this movie delivers. True worldbuilding based on a simple concept that was established in the first movie, with characters and motivations that make sense, without ignoring anything previously established. Also, not all movies are able to tell two separate stories at the same time and keep them both clear (The Last Jedi), and with this being Pixar’s first attempt, they knocked it out of the park.
Best: Woody learning his own backstory.
Worst: I still hate the toy collector guy, he’s just the worst.
When the Pixar animation team showed some test footage of the water they made, the executives were confused, because they thought they were just being shown filmed footage of the actual ocean. They actually had to make the ocean more cartoonish, so they could believe the animators made it from scratch.
Best: As a kid with bad ADHD and memory problems, this scene gets me every time.
Worst: Dory and Nemo can read and understand English respectively.
So much of Pixar is “What if ___ had feelings,” and in this movie they went full circle to “What if FEELINGS had feelings” which causes some deeper questions, like does Joy have an emotion team in her head? Either way, this movie has since been used by child therapists and psychiatrists as ways for kids to explain their own thoughts and emotions, by using the characters, so kids don’t have to feel bad about being sad.
Best: Sadness helping Bing Bong in a way Joy never could.
Worst: BROCCOLI ON PIZZA
How do you process death, as a kid? How do you make the lives and memories of someone you have never met seem real and tangible. This movie does it. Also, Día de Muertos is a very specific cultural holiday, and is not “White Washed” in any way. Yet, they still make it clear and relatable to people not of that culture, like myself.
Best: They handle death in a really powerful way, and this is a kids movie!?!
Worst: The timeline in the Land of the Dead is kinda…weird. If Miguel needs to hurry, why does he play polo?
This movie has probably the most worldbuilding of any Pixar film, with the creation of entire industries as storytelling tools. With believable and realistic motivations for the villains, and a way to explain myth in our own world, so much thought was put into things we don’t see, just as much as things we do. Also, it’s hard to argue that Boo isn’t the cutest character out of all Pixar movies.
Best: A healthy story about best friends who can get mad at each other, but they still forgive and grow together.
Worst: How long was Boo gone? Also, when she tries to tell her parents what happened, years after the fact, they are going to write her off as insane, and her life is potentially ruined.
Onward was a blast, with tons of D&D references, a fun sibling/buddy adventure movie, great step-parent exposure, and constantly subverted the expectations of the audience. The mixing of the ancient magical world with the modern, similar-to-real-life world was done fantastically, and felt like a window into what this world could be.
Best: With the reemergence of D&D in pop culture, it’s being used here as a reigniting of kids imaginations, in a way that fantasy, and especially high fantasy, can do like no other.
Worst: I’m not sure if it’s for runtime, but the pacing of the movie was incredibly fast, that upon first viewing, I felt like I was always trying to catch up. Maybe it’s on purpose, and I’m just slow.
Toy Story 3
The perfect ending to the Toy Story trilogy, this movie explores the idea of passing memories and fun from one generation to another. Sure the villain was a little weird, what with it being not anyone’s fault per se, but the fear of moving on is captured wonderfully.
Best: Is that My Neighbor Totoro?
Worst: The entire plot, villainous or otherwise, is by toys blaming the wrong humans, and thinking they were abandoned.
This movie is everything Cars 2 was supposed to be. Seriously, nothing from the second film is used, and instead they just go straight for a good story.
Best: How do you age gracefully? What does it mean to have a legacy? Again, intense topics for a kids movie.
Worst: The fact that everyone ignored it because of how bad Cars 2 was.
This is by far the most mature story that Pixar has every attempted. Questioning what it means to be alive, and bringing into focus appreciating the life you have over the one you dream of, are all very intense topics. It is upsetting how low on this list the movie is, because as the credits were rolling, I realized that they just barely missed the mark for me. The movie shows Joe Gardner realizing that his purpose in life isn’t about performing Jazz. However, they didn’t make it clear what he should have learned instead. Either his purpose was about teaching Jazz, specifically shown with his student Connie, who wants to quit band, but he inspires her to follow this natural talent she has, as well as his ability to show 22 what life had to offer. Or the point of the movie is that you don’t have a purpose, except to enjoy life as it is, and live in each moment, and appreciate all that life has to offer you today. Without something solid to replace “Purpose: Perform Jazz” I just felt a little lost. All it would have taken is 10 more minutes, focused on one of those two ideas, to jump this movie so much higher on this list than it is.
Best: The visualization of losing yourself in the moment, “The Zone”
Worst: Was Terry the bad guy? Did this movie need a bad guy? Or was he just a personification of the ticking clock? What’s going on with Terry?
A great adventure movie, and the only original Pixar story where a girl is the lead. Merida is a great character, and while this movie doesn’t have the most imaginative of A-Plot (girls should choose who they marry), the B-Plot (you turned your mother into a bear, and now have to learn WHY she does what she does) is solid.
Best: Playing up the Scottish-ness of the movie, without making fun of it.
Worst: WHAT ARE THE WILL O’ THE WISPS??
The Good Dinosaur
I know that most people haven’t actually seen this movie, because it came out the same year as Inside Out, but this movie is a solid western, boy-and-his-dog story that you should make a point to go watch if you haven’t yet.
Best: Non-Verbal communication.
Worst: Find your enemies….AND MURDER THEM.
Pixar’s only attempt at a prequel, and it went pretty well. To be fair, they knew the age of the target demographic of the first movie, waited 12 years for them to be going to college, and released a college movie. For the most part, this story explains a few crucial details, but does get a little Star Wars-y, explaining things that no one wondered.
Best: Is this a metaphor for kids who get left behind in the modern education system?
Worst: They kind of address privilege, but not really.
Toy Story 4
This unnecessary sequel was alright, but maybe they’ll make two more, and it’ll be separate trilogies like in Star Wars. Also, along with Monsters Inc, Pixar knew that their main audience for the first Toy Story movie were probably about 5 when it came out, so now 23 years later that audience probably has kids of their own, and they are learning how to be a parent. Pixar knows how to adjust to their audience.
Best: All the new toys.
Worst: That’s not Andy. I don’t know why they changed his face for some flashbacks, but that’s not Andy.
The first movie is about how Mr. Incredible lies to his wife, and goes on an adventure/mid-life crisis. So now he gets to be the stay-at-home dad, while his wife gets to have an adventure on her own!
Best: Switching modern gender stereotypes!
Worst: The villain wanted to make heroes MORE necessary, to actually destroy them once and for all?
A Bug’s Life
The second movie from Pixar, doesn’t quite come out of the gate with the same level of power as their first. Possibly because Ants comes out in the same year, and many parents didn’t really know the difference. Also, this movie is full of jokes kids don’t get, and doesn’t really try to hit the childhood wonder as hard as they could.
Best: It’s okay to be weird!
Worst: A weird commentary about power dynamics that doesn’t really get addressed.
Yes, this movie is largely just a remake of the first movie, but you know what? They managed to get an entirely new set of lessons to be learned, new characters to love, and new fun animal-based gags. Not as good as the first movie, but a good sequel.
Best: Cuddling otters.
Worst: Marlin is super lazy and mean in this movie, for no reason.
The worst Pixar movie. Unfortunately, so much merchandise was made from the first Cars movie, that the studio financial heads pushed for them to make another movie with new characters for toys. (Box Office: $462million, Merchandise: $10billion)
Best: Just go watch Mater’s Tall Tales, which are 3-minute versions of this, and therefore better.
Worst: Literally just an excuse to make more merchandise for kids.