[Ed. note: This ranked list is updated as new Pixar movies are released. The latest addition is Elemental, released on June 16.]
Pixar Animation Studios’ drive for innovation has always been one of its biggest motivating forces. Pixar movies profoundly changed American studio animation, ushering in the age of computer-animated features and raising the bar on animated storytelling. They’ve consistently pushed the envelope on taboo subjects for family-friendly films, with the creative teams opening up conversations about everything from the meaning of sadness to menstruation to immigration and assimilation. For cinephiles, knowing the Pixar library is crucial for understanding the field of modern animation.
Twenty-seven films is a lot to navigate, though, even for animation fans. So we’ve laid out which Pixar movies we think new fans (or new parents) should prioritize, or that existing fans might want to revisit or reassess. Our collective staff ranking, averaged from individual ranked lists, addresses which Pixar films we feel are most exciting, most ambitious, and most moving — the ones that most changed our perspectives on what animation and all-ages storytelling can do.
27. The Good Dinosaur (2015)
Well. It’s pretty.
The worst crime of The Good Dinosaur, which went through several incarnations and a lot of behind-the-scenes drama as Pixar tried to figure out what do with its big dino film, isn’t the actual quality of the story or animation. It’s that it rarely lets viewers really care about its characters.
The idea of a world where dinosaurs never went extinct is rich. Certain scenes are breathtaking — Arlo the dinosaur sticking his head up into a sea of clouds! A nightscape set aglow with luminous fireflies! — but the odd Western narrative (it’s basically a cowboy movie about a young rancher and his dog) doesn’t quite work for a land full of dinosaurs, where so much world-setting has to be done in order to build up the emotional core. The Good Dinosaur feels more like a panorama of this cool new world — cattle-rustling velociraptors! a farm run by apatosauruses! murderous pterodactyls! — than a transportive look at an alternate universe. —Petrana Radulovic
26. Monsters University (2013)
If only the frats at my school were like Oozma Kappa.
2013’s Monsters, Inc. prequel Monsters University comes straight out of the unfortunate franchise mentality that says, “A popular film wrapped up its own story neatly and completely, without sequel-bait or spinoff material, so we have nowhere to go with that narrative. But what if we dug deeper into the backstory no one was asking about?” In this case, likely no one who watched Monsters, Inc. was obsessed with wondering what monsters Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) were like in college, or whether either of them had any dreams they had to give up on before they entered the workforce. Monsters University is a fun reunion for Crystal and Goodman, who have a strong dynamic together, and it’s a lively enough return to a compellingly weird world that provides a lot of opportunities for monster-y comedy riffs. But it also feels startlingly inessential for a Pixar movie, an agreeable enough feature without much new or innovative to recommend it. —Tasha Robinson
25. Toy Story 4 (2019)
No one really asked for a Toy Story 4, but it might be the best “fourth movie in a 24-year-old franchise” that we could possibly get.
Separated from the first three movies, Toy Story 4 is a fun and heartwarming adventure, showing us a completely new set of characters (save for Woody and Buzz) and a new side to life as a toy. Villain Gabby Gabby has the same sort of motivation as Stinky Pete and Lotso before her: She wants to be loved by a child. But unlike the other two, her grand plan isn’t a grandiose villain scheme, but a pragmatic means to an end. Instead of declaring that no toy should be loved because she can’t be loved, she wants to fix her defective part.
While Toy Story 4 introduces some standout new characters — such as beloved spork-turned-toy Forky — the staple characters from the first three movies take a back seat. The movie’s emotional end, where Woody decides to part ways with the toys and Bonnie, doesn’t hit quite as hard when we’ve almost forgotten they exist. —PR
24. Cars 2 (2011)
This sums up Cars 2.
I have already gone on record about how Cars 2 has been unfairly maligned for years. Just because it doesn’t have a big emotional tear jerking moment doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie! Unlike the other two Cars movies, Cars 2 turns the spotlight to comedic relief Mater and thrusts him into a high-stakes spy adventure. Nothing about the Cars universe makes sense if you think about it for more than 10 seconds. In Cars 2, this is a feature, not a bug. It embraces all the weirdness that comes with a world full of cars. Car Pope? Sure! Car secret agents shooting wires from their tires? Hell yeah! Car mafia plotting to take over the Car world by commandeering oil reserves? Yeah, why the hell not? Cars 2 is the perfect movie to put on and just go smooth brain and that is not a bad thing. And yeah, maybe the emotions aren’t as big and sweeping as typical Pixar fare, but seeing Mater finally embrace who he is despite the world telling him not to be himself is actually pretty touching. —PR
23. Cars 3 (2017)
Cars 3: Millennials enter the workforce, Baby Boomers mad.
While Cars 2 was a funny one-off side adventure in the Cars universe — more for fun than any substance — Cars 3 is the natural continuation of Lightning McQueen’s character arc. Unlike some of the other superfluous late-2010 Pixar sequels, it actually makes sense and brings Lightning’s story to a natural conclusion. He can’t be a hotshot race car forever! It’s a surprisingly poignant story about growing older and passing on your legacy to a new generation. Lightning is resistant at first, clinging to his status as a hotshot champion, but he does eventually realize that much like old racer Doc Hudson was a mentor to him, he can now be a mentor to young Cruz. It is a story that couldn’t really be told without the foundation of the first film (the fun romp of the second is basically untouched, but don’t let that deter you from Cars 2) and thus turns into a rare Disney sequel that feels warranted. —PR
22. Onward (2020)
In a way, all Pixar’s movies are fantasies, given their focus on living toys, talking animals, and grumpy monsters. But none of them explore the familiar tropes of epic fantasy like Onward, which takes place in a world full of elves, centaurs, fauns, and manticores, and follows two brothers on a quest to power a magical spell to briefly raise their father from the dead. Like Shrek, Onward takes place in a fantasy-skinned version of a familiar world, in this case one where cars and coffee shops live comfortably alongside illusion spells and pet house dragons. But the setting is almost incidental to the story, which is more about an angsty teen who never met his father and has become obsessed with everything he thinks he’s missing along with that relationship.
There’s certainly some solid grist for emotional connection in that premise, but it doesn’t fully land until the end of the movie, which is more of a straight fetch-quest adventure than any previous Pixar film. There’s plenty of room in the story for car chases, tunnel traps, and magic-assisted problem-solving, to the point where it feels like a pretty decent D&D session, with a powerful emotional punch at the end. It’s also a good-looking movie, packed with rich detail and color. It could just stand to have some of that emotional impact earlier on, to balance out the comedy and the chases. —TR
21. Brave (2012)
Sidebar: The Brave soundtrack is epic.
Somewhere inside Brave is a fantasy film worthy of Frozen, but the finished product has vision issues. Brave’s creator — experienced feature director Brenda Chapman, the first woman to take a director credit at Pixar — was removed midway through production and replaced by Mark Andrews, who at that time had never directed a feature film. The reasons given amounted to disagreements between Chapman and disgraced Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter, which was a bad look then and is an even worse look now.
Brave suffers for Pixar’s lack of faith. The dark tone of Chapman’s story, which is based partly on her relationship with her own daughter, feels muddied and the narrative splintered, in particular with the comedic sequences featuring Scottish princess Merida and her triplet brothers. But the forest sprites, the cursed bear, Merida and her mother’s turmoil, the entire “I’ll be shootin’ fer me OWN hand!” sequence — the promise of Brave is frustratingly present amid its pitfalls.
It’s also clear that Pixar was unprepared for the intense expectations placed on Brave as the first film in the studio’s nearly 20-year history to feature a female protagonist. The tomboy-princess marketing of Brave elided the fact that in the actual story, Merida isn’t rebelling against femininity, but rather her adult responsibilities — leading to much disappointment in an ending where she compromises rather than triumphs. —Susana Polo
20. Finding Dory (2016)
Wook at widdy, biddy baby Dowwy
One of Pixar’s many belated sequels, Finding Dory shifts the focus to Finding Nemo’s bumbling sidekick character voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. Dory’s journey to find her parents tugs at the heartstrings, and baby Dory is incredibly, massively, intensely, super-duper adorable. Finding Dory brings back some iconic Finding Nemo characters, but only for brief appearances, choosing instead to focus on a slew of new characters. With the exception of Hank the grumpy septopus, most are forgettable.
The movie focuses on a specific aquarium, which offers an interesting take on the setting — watching Hank and Dory cross dry land is pretty fun — but never gets to show off the vast expanse of the ocean that made the first movie so visually stunning. Finding Dory is cute. It’s fun. It will make you laugh, maybe even tear up a bit. But unlike its predecessor, it doesn’t linger in the memory. —PR
19. Cars (2006)
In Cars, hotshot race car Lightning McQueen takes a hard left off the paved racetrack and into a small town in the middle of nowhere, where he is forced to confront what is important in life and makes friends for the first time ever. It’s easy to be jaded by the Cars movies and the deluge of merchandise they’ve gone on to spawn, but the first movie has a whole lot of heart. The animation is also gorgeous, especially the landscapes — the sweeping blue sky! The orange and pink-swathed desert! The soft glow of Radiator Springs’ neon and street lights when Lightning finally fixes them up! In the end, Lightning learns his lesson and gives up his top prize in order to help an old racing legend. The real Piston Cup are the friends we made along the way, truly. —PR
18. Incredibles 2 (2018)
The super family is back in action.
With Toy Story now four stories deep, we maybe shouldn’t be surprised that Pixar can pull off a sequel. But the stakes were high for The Incredibles 2, a follow-up to an already delightfully whole tale about a family of superheroes. As sequels go, this one is still pretty incandescent. Now Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) gets to be the one bringing home the bacon as a superhero, leading to some indelible action sequences as she hunts down the nefarious “Screenslaver.” Bob “Mr. Incredible” Parr (Craig T. Nelson) is left watching the kids and juggling their regular lives with their powered lives. Ultimately the thrust of the film isn’t quite as indescribably neat as this list’s reigning champ, but we get another day out to Edna Mode’s studio, which is no chump change. It might not quite as incisive as the first, but Incredibles 2 is a great sequel and an indelible extension of the super-family’s story. —Zosha Millman
17. A Bug’s Life (1998)
Bugs! With lives!
Like the movie’s absent-minded hero Flik, A Bug’s Life wobbles while still carrying its weight. Pixar’s loose adaptation of Aesop’s The Ant and the Grasshopper, by way of Seven Samurai and the spaghetti Western, was an ambitious follow-up to the nostalgia-soaked Toy Story. But the animation technology of the time couldn’t quite realize the majesty and chaos of the insect conflict. (The water droplets, though — they were something!)
As in the best of Pixar’s films, it’s the characters of A Bug’s Life who save the day. Dave Foley as Flik is an underrated voice-over triumph, while his recruits, the Circus Bugs, have a rapport that the Toy Story gang never quite mustered. The ant-vs.-grasshopper battle stumbles under the weight of landscape textures and jerky arthropod motion, but the fear and the life-or-death stakes come to life in the performances. —Matt Patches
16. Lightyear (2022)
Lightyear is about the real Buzz Lightyear — no, not an actual human person, but a character in a fictional movie that Toy Story’s Andy loved when he was a kid, the film that inspired the toy character we see in the Toy Story movies. But don’t think too hard about the Toy Story connection, because in reality, Lightyear’s director, Angus MacLane, wanted to make an epic science fiction film that adults could enjoy too. And it’s almost that.
Amid the stellar action sequences and the cool gadgetry, Lightyear is remarkably restrained. There are moments where it feels like the movie could really dig into its emotional beats, but for whatever reason, it holds back, never quite revealing its full hand, even when all the cards are right there. The plot its pretty standard sci-fi fare, but for kids watching, it may be the very first taste they get of the genre. And hey, since this is supposed to be the 1990s movie that became Andy’s first exposure to science fiction, that’s a feature, not a bug. —PR
15. Soul (2020)
Image: Pixar Animation Studios
Pixar’s first movie to center on a Black protagonist lands a little oddly when it turns out the film’s big moral message is “The things you love most in life aren’t necessarily the things that give you purpose.” Directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers blunt what could be a slam-dunk emotional ending by giving it a more adult spin, in a way that may make it hard for children to grasp. (Most 8-year-olds are going to have a hard time empathizing with a character who feels like a failure because he has to hang out in a school and work with kids.)
But Soul’s visual verve and pure emotions are hard to beat. Just as lead character Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) finally gets the jazz-pianist gig that might finally let him drop his time-killing gig as a middle-school music teacher and pursue music full time, he dies in an accident and finds himself in the afterlife, fighting to make his way back to Earth. There are a lot of wacky incidents involving a bratty soul who’s never been incarnated and doesn’t want to be (voiced by Tina Fey), and a therapy cat, and a group of benevolent but neglectful pre-life counselors (voiced by Richard Ayoade and Alice Braga, among others). But Soul’s core is really in the unbeatable moments where Joe expresses himself through music, inspiring other people or pulling himself out of his day-to-day life for a few minutes. Sometimes it’s a goofy and playful movie, but it’s firmly entrenched in the idea that life is a rare and wondrous thing that shouldn’t be taken for granted. —TR
14. Elemental (2023)
Pixar’s second film in two years (after Turning Red) about the tension between a second-generation immigrant girl and a demanding, traditional parent, Elemental looks too familiar at first glance, and the apparent Romeo-and-Juliet romance doesn’t help. But it’s all a lot more nuanced and effective than the surface elements suggest.
In a city where the inhabitants are based in the four elements, privileged water-person Wade (Mamoudou Athie) finds it hard to understand the bigotry and familial pressure that his new fire-person friend Ember (Leah Lewis) experiences every day. But the more time the two of them spend together, the more they come to see each other’s perspectives. Their slow-burn romance is just one thread among many in a story that sometimes seems overstuffed because it’s balancing so many themes and ideas, including thoughts on assimilation and integration, prejudice and stereotypes, the importance of family traditions, the oppression of bureaucracy and systemic failures, and even where anger comes from.
It’s an awful lot for one story, but The Good Dinosaur director Peter Sohn still leaves time throughout for quiet moments of strikingly rich and beautifully composed imagery, and for some full-on goofy gags built around life as an element-person. Not every element of the film fits together or works together, but a tremendously engaging score (from WALL-E and Finding Nemo composer Thomas Newman) and a deep emotional grounding help boost this film and pave over the cracks. —TR
13. Luca (2021)
Before Domee Shi stepped up from directing the Pixar short Bao to the feature Turning Red, Pixar’s Enrico Casarosa went through the same process, starting with the 2011 Pixar short La Luna and graduating up to his own feature, Luca. Like Shi, Casarosa turned his fantasy-adventure into a personal story drawing from his own youth, while also experimenting with a more stylized, more cartoonish visual style than past Pixar projects. All of which makes Luca lighter, fluffier, and lower-stakes than any of the classic tearjerker moments that made Pixar’s name in animation. Luca is another “kid rebels against smothering parents” story, with timid sea-monster kid Luca meeting bolder sea-monster kid Alberto and running off to a life on land among humans. There, he gets involved in some fairly small-stakes adventures. But a lot of the joy of Luca is the way it focuses in on the journey, on why a bike race winds up being so profoundly important to the character, and on the lazy, sunny childhood days that lead up to that race. It isn’t a film with profound, heavy impact, but it’s an unusually bright and pleasant look at childhood joys and obsessions, and how sharing them can instantly cement friendships. —TR
12. Toy Story 3 (2010)
At this point in this list, I’m already crying.
Young girls who watched their Toy Story 2 VHS tapes over and over (who may or not be me) were just about to go off to college when Toy Story 3 came out. Toy Story 2 set up an ominous future — what would happen to the toys when their owner Andy grew up? At the end of Toy Story 2, the toys agreed that a short life of love was better than eternity in a museum. But Toy Story 3 brings us to the end of their time with Andy, who has long left his toys in their chest, and is moving on to higher education.
Woody and the gang are now desperate in a way only hinted at in Toy Story 2. They need love from Andy. Though the cowboy is the clear favorite to go along with the boy to college, he has to reassure the others that going into storage won’t be so bad. At the end, though, Toy Story 3 doesn’t take that easy path, and instead closes a chapter of the toys’ lives — and of Andy’s life as well.
One of the final moments, where Bonnie raises Woody’s hand to wave goodbye at Andy, and Andy’s expression catches for a moment, never fails to make me cry. —PR
11. Up (2009)
All Very Good Boys + One Very Good Girl
The opening of Pete Doctor’s high-flying odyssey goes so hard people barely remember what makes it a great film. The preface of Up, set to Michael Giacchino’s memorable “Married Life” cue, chronicles Carl and Ellie Fredricksen’s courtship, marriage, buying of a home, dreams of a family, miscarriage, grief, hope, love, settling down, and Ellie’s death all in the span of five minutes. But the weight of Carl’s modestly lived life is no match for his dream of making it to the mythic Paradise Falls (or hundreds of helium-filled balloons, for that matter). Before nursing home goon squad can lock him up, he and stowaway scout Russell take to the skies, and embark on a journey that feels bespoke for animation.
Paradise Falls’ lush jungle setting combined with the corrupt explorer Charles Muntz’s airship and fleet to pilot dogs reimagines the covers of pulp novels in the vivid Pixar style. The aerial photography and action establishes a fantastical set of physics that even Christopher Nolan would struggle to match. The most daring choice might be focusing an entire movie on a crank like Carl. There is no room in the live-action blockbuster machine for an octogenarian with a walker, but in the magical realms of Pixar, our hero can grapple with villains and his late-life purpose. Up’s episodic nature keeps it from floating to the top tier of Pixar, but the ambition of the filmmaking is befitting of the dreamer at the heart of the action. —MP
10. Toy Story 2 (1999)
The scene that turned a generation of children into toy hoarders.
The original Toy Story wondered, “What if toys were alive?” The second introduced the concept of their longevity, the fact that one day their kids would outgrow them. Toy Story 2 is both a heartfelt examination of past, present, and future, and a sturdy step toward the more emotional territory of future sequels, introducing the juxtaposition of fleeting childhood and the permanence of toys.
Nothing sums up the emotional core of Toy Story 2 more than the “When She Loved Me” montage: Sarah McLachlan croons a bittersweet song over scenes of cowgirl doll Jessie and her owner Emily playing together, growing apart, and eventually completely parting ways. The sequence, swathed in a medley of autumn colors, is pure Pixar. —PR
9. Toy Story (1995)
The first Toy Story was something of a miracle: a technological revolution that still managed to tell a story. While the sequels really gnawed away at the existential questions dredged up by the first, the original movie just focuses on the toys and their love for their owner, Andy. The buddy-cop dynamic of Woody and Buzz shines as the two navigate a contentious relationship and an identity crisis. The entire concept could’ve been played straight for laughs, but instead turns into a heartwarming tale of friendship, conflict, and the halcyon days of childhood.
Pixar’s first film was born out of conflict — Disney hands tried to make the plot more adult — but it’s a true testament to how animation can meld with human emotion. Equal parts humor and heart, terror and triumph, Toy Story still holds up after all these years. —PR
8. Finding Nemo (2003)
The movie that launched a thousand ill-fated pet clownfish sends Marlin (Albert Brooks) across the ocean with a forgetful blue tang (Ellen DeGeneres) from an idyllic coral reef to an eerie sunken battleship, from the depths of the abyssal zone to the roaring East Australian Current. The movie switches between Marlin’s quest to find his son and Nemo’s new life in a fish tank. Neither storyline is dull, with Nemo’s basically turning into an escape plan helmed by Willem Dafoe’s Gill. The movie also boasts a colorful cast of side characters — from the struggling vegetarian sharks and Nemo’s precocious classmates to the quirky tank gang and Crush the surfer-dad turtle — who help the movie “just keep swimming.”
At its heart, though, Finding Nemo is a story about being a parent, about doing whatever it takes to protect your child — and about learning when it’s time to let them go. —PR
7. Coco (2017)
Pixar has struggled to present perspectives outside of the experiences of Lasseter and the company’s elder creatives. You can see it in the long wait between The Incredibles and Incredibles 2. You can see it in Brave’s production woes.
But you don’t see it in Coco. The musical adventure, from Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich, mixes the best of the Pixar formula with the Disney formula, combining music, character, and a story-first approach to tell a tale of a boy who follows his dreams so hard that he fixes his whole dang family, living and dead.
As I said in my review, plenty of college kids on semesters abroad have discovered the aesthetics of the Mexican celebration of Día de Muertos, but Pixar’s vision of the Land of the Dead is rich, coherent, and a joy to inhabit. Coco charms; it has a surprisingly evil villain; it gets those Pixar Tears from your eyeballs. You’re probably still humming “Remember Me.” —SP
6. Turning Red (2022)
There are two kinds of people in this world: People who don’t like Domee Shi’s feature directorial debut Turning Red because it’s too specific about a whole lot of aspects of the teen-girl experience not normally seen in movies, and people who love it for exactly that reason. There’s a standard “kid rebels against overbearing family member” story buried in here, but Shi makes it anything but standard, by letting her 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian protagonist Mei contend with everything from menstruation talk to a sudden obsession with drawing horny fan-art to getting absolutely messy over her boy-band fandoms. And that’s all aside from her turning into a giant red panda when she’s emotional. Turning Red is weirdly frenetic and cartoony for a Pixar feature, with a hyper protagonist who introduces herself by shouting the details of her life directly into the camera for the audience. And that’s all highly deliberate, as Shi and co-writer Julia Cho navigate the big emotions and big problems of early adolescence, both on a symbolic level, with Mei’s sudden uncontrollable body changes, and on a very literal level, with her friendships and fandoms and school problems. It’s a joyous movie about identity and self-acceptance, but for those of us who like our movies distinctive, idiosyncratic, and voice-y, it’s also joyously weird and wild. —TR
5. WALL-E (2008)
The true Love, Death, and Robots.
Andrew Stanton’s science-fiction odyssey, set in 2185, is a triptych of disparate stories glued together with feels. There’s the dystopian tale of a worker bot tidying up a busted, deserted world that could easily stand alone as a short; there’s the love story of two robots, a pure blend of Asimov and Disney; and there’s the rescue mission, a galactic journey that whisks WALL-E to the Axiom mothership for an encounter with a HAL 9000-like A.I. Our li’l robot friend, brought to life through the beeps and boops of Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt, beholds every narrative jump with binocular-eyed wonder. So do we.
Elegiac and eerie, WALL-E is a love letter to everything Stanton would miss about Earth (Hello, Dolly! chief among them) and an impassioned plea for us slovenly earthlings to do what we can to save it before it’s too late. We’ll see if humanity can get its act together, but even if we’re destined to decimate the planet and float around in hover chairs on a rocket-powered shopping mall for the rest of our days, we’ll always have WALL-E and EVE dancing among the stars, an ode to the beauty that once was. As is the ongoing mission of Pixar, WALL-E conjures romantic truth. —MP
4. Ratatouille (2007)
I love Ratatouille because the basic premise of this family-friendly film could also be read as horror. Think about it: If someone told you a rat sat on their head and then proceeded to control their body by pulling their hair, would you be rooting for the rat? Probably not. But in Ratatouille you will absolutely be rooting for Remy to succeed in his dream to become a French chef.
That dream starts small. At first, Remy just wants to get to cook, since rats mostly forage for garbage. Many of us have felt that hopeless desire to make art even if we seemed ill-suited or if our friends and families doubt us. When Remy meets Linguini, the hapless human who can be operated like a hair-inette (an, erm, hair marinette), they create a mutually beneficial arrangement. Linguini, a garbage boy at a Parisian restaurant, will be the perfect vehicle for Remy to develop his cooking skills, allowing them to advance in the kitchen.
Ratatouille’s physical comedy is wonderful — the puppeteering technique takes time to perfect, as does learning the art of French cooking — and the food looks so tasty and aromatic. The film’s core takeaway “not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere,” turns a funny premise into a kind of parable about access and platform, and what might happen if we give more people opportunities to develop their craft. —Nicole Clark
3. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
When Monsters, Inc. was released, it was early enough in Pixar’s run that critics were still pointing out how the studio’s movies could delight parents and kids alike. You hear those remarks less and less as Pixar has proved time and again that those sensibilities don’t have to be at odds. But Monsters, Inc. is as good an encapsulation as any at what makes Pixar’s work stand the test of time: A creative and colorful new world, a concept that appeals to kids but has resonance beyond childhood, and alternatingly heartfelt and funny construction made Monsters, Inc. feel like an instant classic. There’s good action and good conflict, and with relatively few chinks in the armor. In the end, the world we came to know so well has shifted, and kids everywhere can rest easy with their closet door so nearby. That Pixar sweet spot that sits somewhere between “Mike Wazowski!” and “Kitty!” And our hearts are all the better for it. —ZM
2. Inside Out (2015)
What if feelings … had feelings?
Inside Out takes place largely inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley, which allows the artists at Pixar to stretch their world-building and design imaginations. The aspects of the human psyche become bubbly personifications — Amy Poehler is terrifically cast as the embodiment of Joy, along with Mindy Kaling voicing the snooty Disgust — but the movie amounts to more than a wacky adventure into consciousness. Inside Out handles the delicate and complicated feelings of growing up. Joining Sadness and Joy on their quest through Riley’s mind is kooky imaginary friend Bing Bong, who gets a surprisingly poignant arc.
Pixar films never shy away from the big emotional beats, but by virtue of Inside Out being a film about emotion, its climax — the epiphany that Sadness (Phyllis Smith) is a necessary part of processing emotions — hits particularly hard. —PR
1. The Incredibles (2004)
Back when superheroes were still a goofy thing for kids, or at most a guilty treat for adults, Brad Bird’s The Incredibles bounded onto the big screen, combining the Fantastic Four, the nuclear family sitcom, the entire mid-century-modern aesthetic, and basically the same story setup as Watchmen into what might be the crispest, most tightly orchestrated action movie ever made.
The Incredibles is superbly plotted and paced, and skips along to a Giacchino soundtrack that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Bond film. There isn’t a single throwaway scene or line — nor are there throwaway characters. The Parr family makes up the heart of the film, of course, while the entitled Syndrome and his ambitions form the spine of the plot. But when you widen the net? No duds, people.
Frozone: Instantly beloved. Bob’s weaselly insurance boss, the weaseliest boss to ever exist. Superhero Relocation Agent Rick Dicker, shaped and voiced as if you had distilled every Tommy Lee Jones role down to its most concentrated essence. The Parrs’ hapless babysitter. Supervillain second-in-command Mirage. Even freakin’ gag villain Bomb Voyage — I bet you can picture every one of them. And is there a secondary character more instantly iconic than Edna Mode?
And to boot: this collection of memorable character designs, all in the first Pixar film in which the company attempted to present human figures as the leads. It’s nothing short of — well, you can guess. —SP