When the Pixar team first started working together in the mid-70s, the idea of making the world’s first computer animated film was little more than a pipedream.
However, through perseverance, staggering technical achievement and inspiration, in the decade that followed the studio began producing pioneering short films like Luxo Jr, which still stand the test of time remarkably well.
Since then the studio have released a total of twenty feature-length movies, changing the face of Hollywood forever and heralding a golden age of animation.
The best of these films – while staggering on first viewing – so often come to have greater significance in later life too, with fans introducing their own children to the films they themselves enjoyed so much as kids.
From Toy Story to The Incredibles, these are the studio’s greatest achievements.
10. Inside Out
The excellent Inside Out follows the emotions at play inside an 11-year-old’s head, with Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear and Disgust all interacting together. Despite an ambitious premise and complex narrative the film managed to appeal across generational divides — a factor which has been key to Pixar’s appeal for decades — and bring real joy to life on screen. It was an important film for Pixar too: after a few years in the relative wilderness, releasing the underwhelming Monsters University, Brave and Cars 2, the film announced a real return to form in 2015.
9. A Bug's Life
The animation may not have aged quite as well as some of the other early Pixar movies but there’s still much to enjoy about A Bug’s Life. The film successfully created entire worlds in 1998, taking the viewer from the bustling activity of the ants nests to the razzmatazz of the big bug city. There are plenty of fun set pieces thrown in for good measure too, like the bird attack scene and the fightback against the grasshoppers. It might not be quite as good as you remember from your childhood, but it’s still a charming piece of filmmaking that’ll be entertaining kids for years to come.
Like so many Disney Pixar movies, Ratatouille teaches the importance of following dreams no matter what the limitations. The film follows Remy the rat, who teams up with hapless kitchen assistant Alfredo to act on his passion for cooking. It’s one of the most evocative films Pixar have produced and viewers can almost feel the warmth and smells of the French kitchens on screen. Interestingly, Pixar achieved the realistic look of the food by creating over 270 dishes from scratch and photographing each piece individually. The incredible eye for detail helps make this one of the most engaging Pixar has produced to date, while the heart-warming story also makes it one of the most rewarding.
Pixar enjoyed a run of incredible movies in the late 90s and early 00s after the studio’s creative heads allegedly came up with the ideas for Wall E, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc and Finding Nemo over a single lunch break in 1994. One of the best, WALL-E focuses on a lonely android tasked with cleaning up the mess left on earth following an emergency human evacuation. It’s a stunning piece of work, which is just as grand in scale as it is in emotional depth. It’s also one of the most finely crafted films in the Pixar canon: despite the lack of dialogue in the movie, Pixar went to extreme lengths for the film’s sound design. A library of more than 2,400 sounds were created, including the Nikon camera shutter sound used whenever WALL-E moves his eyebrows. An impressive feat.
6. Monsters, Inc.
Monsters, Inc. marked a real step forward for Pixar in terms of technical achievement. For the first time the studio were able to realistically capture the look of fur and it was used to full effect in the movie. Each frame of Sulley consisted of more than 2.3m individual strands of hair, taking 12 hours to render. The film was far more from a technical exercise though: the central relationships between odd couple Sully and Mike Wazowski with Boo is one of the most compelling in any Pixar movie, bringing real warmth to a monstrous universe.
5. The Incredibles
Not only is one of the best animated films ever made, but one of the best superhero movies too. The Incredible’s ingenious central premise follows a family of superheroes forced to go into hiding and tackle the drudgery of suburbia without the use of their abilities. With great power comes great responsibility, though and Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Violet, Dash and baby Jack-Jack are gradually drawn back into action to thwart the villainous Syndrome. Movie fans were overjoyed when Pixar announced a sequel back in 2014 — let’s just hope it’s more Toy Story 2 than Cars 3.
4. Toy Story
After producing eye-catching shorts like the endearing Tin Toy, Pixar really announced itself on the world stage with its first feature length film Toy Story in 1995. Groundbreaking graphics, incredible scriptwriting and fantastic vocal performances from the likes of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen were just some of the factors that combined to make it one of the most enjoyable films of the decade. Making the movie was a painstaking process, with Pixar only completing around three and a half minutes of film per week. However, it was worth the effort a thousand times over to introduce the world of Woody and Buzz to millions of people and bringing pure, unadulterated fun to generations of fans.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the opening ten minutes of Up are among the most heartbreaking in film history. We see a story of love and loss play out just minutes after the opening titles have rolled and it makes for almost irresponsibly moving viewing. If you can get through it without blubbing your eyes out, the joyous oddball story that follows is one of the most impressive Pixar have ever put to to the big screen and enough to melt even the biggest cynic’s heart. Pixar’s achievement was reinforced when it became only the second animated film ever to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar after Beauty and the Beast.
2. Finding Nemo
Finding Nemo is one of the studio's most universally appealing to date, telling the story of a father doing everything in his power to protect his child. It’s funny, affecting and totally unforgettable, becoming a landmark film for Pixar in 2003. The movie was a hit with critics and it was no surprise that the movie marked one of the studio’s biggest commercial successes too, making $940m off the back of a $94m production budget. Finding Dory proved a worthy follow-up in 2016 and also featured one of the most moving Pixar moments to date -— you know the scene we mean, when Dory is reunited with her parents.
1. Toy Story 2
Pixar’s greatest ever movie came dangerously close to never being released. After months of work, a malfunction deleted nearly all progress on Toy Story 2 just a year before it was set to hit cinemas Thankfully, a member of staff had taken a copy of the film home by chance, saving the project. Crisis was averted and millions of childhoods around the world were made that little more magical as a result — thank goodness.
The sequel introduced a range of compelling new characters and brought us a few glorious sequences, not least the tear-jerking moment Jessie’s backstory is revealed during Sarah McLachlan’s rendition of Randy Newman’s When She Loved Me. Fans will be treated to a fourth Toy Story movie in 2018 and if it’s half as successful as this all-time classic animation, it’ll be another excellent addition to the studio’s incredible back catalogue.