12) Brave (2012)
The studio’s first fairy tale, first female-led film, and first female-directed and written story (well… it’s complicated), Brave represented a lot of firsts for Pixar. In telling the story of Scottish princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) and her drastic attempts to avoid an arranged marriage at all costs, the movie delves into some ceaselessly intriguing mother-daughter relationship squabbles and emotions almost unheard of in animated entertainment.
While Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Merida’s Freaky Friday-esque switching of viewpoints can come off as expected, it’s just rare and believable enough to work. Its middle sections — including a big plot turn halfway through — do result in a bit more slapstick goofiness than the seriously-presented and impactful opening scene originally decrees, but it ultimately succeeds as not only light fantasy fare but as a rare female-driven adventure flick with actual, feminine-empowering messages in mind. Also, Merida’s hair is probably the best thing the studio has ever animated.
11) A Bug’s Life (1998)
Pixar’s sophomore effort is somewhat forgotten amongst the films created by the studio after its release in the winter of 1998. Maybe ironic, given A Bug’s Life and its focus on the trials and tribulations of a group of easily forgotten ants and their uprising against a deliciously evil grasshopper named Hopper (Kevin Spacey). It’s cute and energetic and endlessly quotable (literally anything Hungarian twin pill bugs Tuck and Roll say) and backs one of the best all-time Pixar line-ups with actors like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Hayden Panettiere and Phyllis Diller lending the small-scale bugs some human-level emotion.
Thanks to Dave Foley’s energetic and neurotic Flick, when things take a dark turn in the third act — and boy, do they — the stakes feel even higher as he leads a bold-faced rebellion against the oppressive grasshoppers. Spacey’s Hopper is amongst the studios’ best, brazenly over-the-top villains and the pic is fueled by nerve-wrangling set-pieces that make you care about a gaggle of inconsequential insects, but it’s still a more straight-forward, by-the-books adventure with no real emotionally euphoric moment found in Pixar’s top-tier works.
10) Inside Out (2015)
In a possible pop-culture game-changing story idea, Pixar’s newest feature film, Inside Out personifies the emotions of not only an 11-year-old girl suffering the trauma of moving across the country, but of all of us. Giving voices to Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Fear (Bill Hader), the studio not only figures out a way to build a logical, if narratively loose, world inside the brain of a child, but fill that world with as grand ideas and epic moments as any of its out-in-the-real-world adventures. And here’s a sentence I never thought I’d say: Sadness may be one of Pixar’s most unexpectedly funny and self-effacing creations to date.
Downside: the middle section drags thanks to a repetitive quest structure and some fairly arbitrary plot rules, but Inside Out‘s ultimate goal, and message, is so inspirational and laudatory that only a person run by five tiny fire-for-hair Lewis Blacks could balk at it. Emotions aren’t singular, aren’t easily compartmentalized, beg to be felt, argues Pixar by Inside Out‘s final act that will have you tearing up behind your 3D glasses if caught unawares. Joy can cry and Sadness can be happy and Anger can be calm — life is messy and our attempts at dealing with it can be doubly so. It’s Pixar at its meta best, finally telling us after all these years: yes, it’s okay to cry.