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Pixar Movies Ranked: From ‘Lightyear’ to ‘Turning Red’

Since the release of Toy Story way back in 1995, Pixar has developed movies that tap into the human experience in the most unexpected and beautiful ways. Through colorful characters and anthropomorphized toys, cars, animals and robots, Pixar filmmakers have explored our struggles with tragedy, loss and grief (including even the meaning of life), as well as the importance of love, family and friendship.

Each of Pixar’s 26 feature films taps into themes of love and loss in different ways, which makes ranking them no easy task. It’s inevitable this list will ruffle some feathers, which is a testament to how much these movies mean to audiences. But in determining rankings, five key attributes of each film were examined: plot line, characters, depth, cultural impact and rewatchability. This helped with the incredibly difficult task of figuring out which flicks should top the list.

So, without further ado, here’s our ranking of the best Pixar films from the last 27 years.

Screenshot by Abrar Al-Heeti/CNET

One Cars movie really would have been enough, but this was when Pixar was (unfortunately) deep in its sequels phase. It’s no secret that this film wasn’t a hit with audiences or critics, as it’s the only Pixar movie so far to get a “rotten” score on Rotten Tomatoes. Cars 2 is one of those sequels that lacks a strong standalone script and instead relies heavily on the success of its predecessor. It also tends to focus more on action scenes than heartfelt moments, leaving viewers without the wonder and depth that have defined Pixar’s other films.

Disney/Pixar

Lightyear is hands-down the most visually stunning Pixar film to date. Epic animations of the vastness and beauty of space make for an alluring sci-fi movie that takes Pixar in a direction it’s never been before. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of spin-offs, and it’s hard to feel like this wasn’t just an opportunity for Disney/Pixar to milk the hype around the Toy Story franchise. But it was nonetheless enjoyable to see the studio venture into new territory and push the limits of animation. Also, embarking in a new thematic direction means we get fewer of the tender moments that characterize other Pixar films like Inside Out, Up or even Toy Story. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you prefer a more action-focused storyline.

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Disney/Pixar

I can’t remember laughing as much during a Pixar movie as I did watching Turning Red. The film follows the story of Meilin Lee, a 13-year-old girl who suddenly starts turning into a giant red panda when she’s stressed or excited (a metaphor for strange bodily changes during puberty). Because this movie is set in 2002, it taps into nostalgia via details like Meilin’s Tamagotchi and 4*Town, the hottest boy band. It’s also incredibly wholesome, highlighting the importance of culture, family and strong female role models. The story was gripping, the jokes were funny and the takeaways were moving. What more could you ask for? 

Turning Red debuts March 11 on Disney Plus.

With a cast of memorable characters, a touching storyline, strong punchlines and animation that’s aged remarkably well, Toy Story is as timeless as it gets. The film, about toys that come to life when humans aren’t looking, compellingly taps into childhood wonder and imagination. As Pixar’s first full-length feature and the first fully computer-animated movie, Toy Story has also had an undeniable impact on the film industry, setting the stage for the countless computer-animated films that came after it. It stands out as a movie that never gets old no matter how many times you watch it, or how old you are.

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