pixar sequels ranked

(Welcome to Let’s Get Animated!, a column that spotlights the best of film animation. In this edition: In honor of the release of Incredibles 2, all the Pixar sequels ranked from worst to best.)

While Pixar‘s name has become synonymous with masterful and profound original animated films, it’s no stranger to sequels. Incredibles 2 hit theaters this weekend, making it the seventh sequel that the animation giant has put out.

But — despite the poor reputation that many sequels have in Hollywood — these Pixar sequels are some of the best works that the studio has produced. Thankfully, Incredibles 2 is no exception — but where does the second The Incredibles film fall in the list of every Pixar sequel ever? Here are all the Pixar sequels, ranked.

7. Cars 2

Cars 2 feels all the world like a direct-to-video sequel that deserves a place either in Netflix’s infinite catalogue of mindless animated spin-offs, or forgotten in the dusty shelves of your parents’ VHS collection. That’s likely because it’s the sequel to Pixar’s worst-reviewed (but still fresh) original film, CarsCars 2 makes an ill-advised move to center the film around Larry the Cable Guy‘s fan-favorite character Mater, an earthy and grounded tow-truck who had befriended the hotshot racecar Lightning McQueen and taught him the meaning of life. And that’s where the movie went wrong — by willingly giving the movie’s spotlight to Larry the Cable Guy. What was quirky in the first movie became grating in Cars 2, and whatever charm Cars had was lost amidst a ludicrous secret agent plot and borderline offensive stereotypes. Cars 2 is what happens when Pixar makes a movie with an explicit intention to cater to kids, but thankfully it would be the last time.

6. Monsters University

Monsters University is an often enjoyable, mostly forgetful sequel to Monsters Inc. that capitalizes on the first film’s brilliantly self-aware moments. But again, the emotional core of the film is gone with the absence of Boo, the young girl who softened the heart of the terrifying A-list scarer Sully, and helped drive Monster Inc.‘s taut and tender story. While the bromance between Sully and Mike Wazowski offers up a lot of laughs, and even a few heart-tugging moments, Monsters University can’t help feeling like Pixar just slapped the Monsters Inc. characters onto a generic college comedy narrative. Think Animal House, but with G-rated monsters.

5. Finding Dory

Listen, Finding Dory is cute. Real cute. In fact, it’s the cutest Pixar movie that has ever been made. But cute isn’t enough to carry a movie. Ellen DeGeneres’ scene-stealing supporting character Dory is the flip side to Larry the Cable Guy’s Mater — she’s lovable, funny, and charismatic enough to lead a film. Dory’s trademark quirks and memory loss never grates, and in fact, only serve to make her even more sympathetic since she’s not the butt of the joke. Finding Dory‘s heartwarming story of homecoming and family is endearing and true to the spirit of Finding Nemo. The new supporting characters were a riot, and the film never had a dull moment. And oh, baby Dory, how could you not tear up and try to hug the screen when she showed up? And while the film sometimes leaned too heavily into its cutesy tone, the stunning animation and powerful performance from DeGeneres makes Finding Dory a worthy sequel

4. Cars 3

Cars 3 over Finding Dory? Am I insane?! No, hear me out. Cars 3 had everything going against it — it was the last entry in the black sheep of Pixar films, it had to follow the bombastic mess that was Cars 2, and no one wanted it. But Cars 3 defied expectations. Following Lightning McQueen as he’s threatened by a new generation of faster, sleeker, and better race cars, Cars 3 is a story about aging and legacy. Heady subjects, I know — especially for the middling Cars franchise. But the film deftly balanced these deeper subjects with an inspirational melodrama lifted right out of the Rocky movies. Like the last two films, Cars 3 can be a little loud, a little tedious, and a little irritating, but it’s such an vast improvement over its predecessor that it deserves a place near the top of Pixar’s list.

3. Incredibles 2

It was a long 14 years between The Incredibles and Incredibles 2 — but boy, was it worth the wait. Making the unusual choice of picking up right where The Incredibles left off, Incredibles 2 never loses the spark that made the first film so magical. But the film boldly puts the family through more growing pains, as Elastigirl has to leave her family to fight crime and regain superhero legalization, while Mr. Incredible becomes Mr. Mom. And though the film borrows from plenty of familiar tropes and genres, Incredibles 2 never feels more fresh. The movie is more cinematic and stunning than ever, and characters are even more richly realized, dealing with issues that are more intimate and dramatic. While The Incredibles poses the existential question of “What would happen if superheroes became normal?” Incredibles 2 dials back those big questions to focus on the personal, small moments.

2. Toy Story 2

You know what movies these top two spots belong two. For a long time, Toy Story 2 was the gold standard for Pixar sequels, expanding and improving on the animation studio’s first major hit tenfold. Following Andy’s toys as they pursue the kidnapped Woody, Toy Story 2 is vibrant, suspenseful, and funny — and it set the standard for the genre-bending homages that the Toy Story franchise would play with. But it wouldn’t be a Toy Story movie without a big, beating heart at the middle of it. Interestingly, that heart doesn’t belong to Woody or Buzz but to Joan Cusack’s Jessie, the abandoned cowgirl toy resigned to becoming a collector’s item. That Sarah Mclachlan sequence is one of the best pieces of emotionally resonant animation that Pixar has ever produced, and elevates the already-great film to the No. 2 spot on this list.

1. Toy Story 3

While Toy Story 2 sometimes felt more like a one-off adventure than a fully realized chapter in the Toy Story series, Toy Story 3 is the perfect bookend (don’t ask me how I feel about the upcoming Toy Story 4). Taking place a decade after the events of Toy Story 2, Pixar made the then-bold choice to age the characters up accordingly. And in doing so, they gave us a profound and achingly real coming-of-age story about letting go of your childhood. Like Toy Story 2, the third Toy Story film is a fun mishmash of genre homages (the daycare heist!) and tense action set-pieces. But Toy Story 3 delivered a poignant narrative about accepting  growth and change — a radical lesson in the animated family film genre, which focuses on maintaining the status quo as long as possible. Toy Story 3 signaled a new era in Pixar’s sequels — one that the studio admittedly didn’t always live up to. But it pushed for a bold type of storytelling that flies in the face of the nature of sequels: change is good.

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