The release of Toy Story, Pixar’s first feature, in 1995 was a milestone not only in animation but in cinema as a whole. Pixar has gone on to change what we think a “kid’s movie” can be and how a movie can be made. To try to decide on the best Pixar movies in the studio’s storied career is a thankless task bound to offend anyone who grew up watching the studio’s films. So let’s get started.

And let’s begin with a video essay on one of the best Pixar movies of all time, WALL-E — And how a simple audio editing choice can change everything.

Watch: WALL-E Video Essay

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Best Pixar Movies Ranked

23. Cars 2 (2011)

An impressive cast does their best with what they’re given

We have to start where any good “Best Pixar Movies Ranked” list should begin: at the bottom, and with Cars 2. The cardinal sin of the weakest of all Pixar movies is that it takes the loveable sidekick from the first film, Mater, and puts him in the forefront. The result is Larry the Cable Guy dialed up to 11 for 106 minutes. No one should be forced to experience that.

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  • Visually Striking
  • Well-defined characters
  • Big swing
  • Hacky comedy
  • Weak emotional core
  • Over-the-top plot

All Pixar Movies

Conclusion

While you do have to give it credit for trying an international spy movie starring cars, Cars 2 gets bogged down with an annoying main character and clunky plot.

Disney Pixar Movies

22. Cars 3 (2017)

Sound design in Cars 3

After the lukewarm reception to Cars 2, the creative team at Pixar tried to course-correct with Cars 3, and to a large part they succeeded. Mater is rightly placed back on the sidelines, and the story is much simpler and more under control than that of Cars 2.

But this is also the downfall of Cars 3 — it’s lacking the ambition that makes the best Pixar movies great. Cars 3 a heart-warming story about the trials of aging, but it’s a familiar vehicle going down a well-worn road.

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  • Strong themes
  • Visually Striking
  • Fun voice acting
  • Uneven pacing
  • Rote plotline
  • Dull score

Best Pixar Movies Ranked

Conclusion

Cars 3 is careful to avoid the mistakes of Cars 2, but in being so cautious it lacks any of the inventiveness of better Pixar films.

List of Pixar Movies

21. Onward (2020)

Onward’s cinematography deconstructed

Onward was a dose of comfort in a year that needed comfort where it could get it. The film takes place in a well-realized semi-fantastical world and follows two brothers who are trying to spend just one more day with their deceased father. It’s a winning mix; the film pays homage to classic fantasy tropes and iconography while also dealing with powerful themes of familial bonds. 

But while Onward is by no means a bad movie, it is lacking in what made Pixar become the legendary studio it is today: a fresh perspective. Both visually and narratively, this is a movie that could have been made by any modern animation studio. Sure, this is a testament to Pixar’s outsized impact on animated movies, but it’s also a sign of fading magic.

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  • Powerful emotional core
  • Fun world-building
  • Strong voice acting
  • Generic story
  • Slow first half
  • Character design

Pixar Kids Movies

Conclusion

Onward is a fun take on fantasy elements and the classic Hero’s Journey, but it lacks any spark that makes other Pixar films stand out.

Best Pixar Movies Ranked

20. The Good Dinosaur (2015)

Behind the strong CGI work of The Good Dinosaur

AKA the Pixar movie you’re most likely to have not heard of. And if you have, you’ve probably also heard of the disastrous conception and rollout of the ill-fated film, which to this day is the lowest-grossing Pixar film of all time. 

But The Good Dinosaur shouldn’t be judged by its tumultuous creation or its mediocre box-office performance. It’s a film that swings for the fences, and, though it comes up slightly short, it’s fun to watch Pixar riff on the Western genre with a silent child and talking dinosaur. It’s also arguably the most visually beautiful movie Pixar has produced.

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  • Gorgeous cinematography
  • Thoughtful pacing
  • Intriguing concept
  • Grating protagonist
  • Familiar plot
  • Voice acting

Every Pixar Movie

Conclusion

Largely either forgotten or dismissed as a production nightmare,
The Good Dinosaur is a hidden gem in Pixar’s filmography that deserves a watch, even if it isn’t the studio’s best. 

List of Pixar Movies

19. Monsters University (2013)

Voice work in Monster’s University

The beginning of the era where Disney forced Pixar to make a sequel or prequel for every two of its original films. The result is a movie that feels like a cash grab (no rarity in the Disney universe). That said, Monsters University is far more fun than one would expect, and the college setting is played with to a satisfying degree — Sully and Mike Wazowski are such strong characters that it’s a joy to watch them in any setting. The prequel isn’t much more than a feel-good romp, but, hey, there are worse things to be.

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  • Fun voice acting
  • Entertaining premise
  • Solid plot
  • Light fare
  • Muddled themes
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Pixar Kids Movies

Conclusion

There’s not much under the surface of Monsters University, but it’s an enjoyable watch with some fun gags and riffs on a well-defined universe. 

Disney Pixar Movies

18. Toy Story 4 (2019)

Behind Toy Story 4’s impressive animation

Speaking of unnecessary franchise additions… 

Pixar already had the perfect ending to its most beloved franchise, one that made even the most stoic moviegoers sob like babies (more on that later), so when Toy Story 4 was announced there was understandably a lot of hand-wringing from fans. 

Remarkably, Toy Story 4 managed to assuage most of our fears for the sequel. It’s a compelling story with fun additions to our favorite entourage of toys (looking at you, Forkie). But Toy Story 4 isn’t able to fully overcome the fact that it simply isn’t necessary.

Its main idea, the horror of facing antiquity, is pretty much identical to that of Toy Story 2, and its small-scale plot, while fun, feels anticlimactic to the end of a celebrated decades-spanning franchise. It’s a good movie, but not good enough to justify its creation.

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  • Great acting
  • Strong character development
  • Beautiful animation
  • Reheated themes
  • Unambitious plot
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Best Pixar Movies Ranked

Conclusion

Toy Story 4 is a solid movie that is expertly crafted, but doesn’t say much to add to the Toy Story canon beyond resting on its laurels. 

Best Pixar Movies Ranked

17. Cars (2006)

The creation of Cars

The Cars franchise is maligned by most Pixar fans (see this author’s placement of Cars 2 and Cars 3), but if you forget about its sequels, Cars is a perfectly fun movie that has a deceivingly nuanced and powerful message.

Cars is perhaps Pixar’s most blatant "Kids’ Movie." Kids love cars, kids love funny-talking cars, kids love fast cars. Pixar delivers on these simple joys while also investigating the decline of America’s small towns and middle class, a prescient observation that carries even more weight today. It’s a kids’ movie, yes. But it’s a kids’ movie with a brain.

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  • Strong themes
  • Fun universe
  • Entertaining action scenes
  • Weaker characters
  • Familiar plot
  • Hokey voice acting

Pixars Movies

Conclusion

Cars sets out to have fun and achieves that goal swimmingly, while also hitting on some deeper ideas. There’s a reason why there’s two more of them. 

Disney Pixar Movies

16. A Bug’s Life (1998)

Pixar’s creative team outlines their goals for the film

A Bug’s Life’s legacy suffers for two main reasons: it followed Pixar’s near-perfect triumph Toy Story, and it was released the same year as Antz. The cards were stacked against it. But outside of this context, A Bug’s Life is effective and original. It delivers on the promise of the premise; the world of bugs is intricate and clearly thought through, and its villain, Hopper, is one of the most memorable of Pixar’s roster. A Bug’s Life is no Toy Story, but it shows the promise of a young and ambitious studio finding its footing. 

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  • Fun setting
  • Strong villain
  • Well-paced
  • Forgettable protagonist
  • Underwhelming visuals
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Best Pixar Movies Ranked

Conclusion

While it hasn’t left much of a mark in Pixar’s history, A Bug’s Life is a fun twist on an Aesop fable with intriguing themes in a setting only animation could examine.

List of Pixar Movies

15. Brave (2012)

Breakdown of a scene from Brave

There are a lot of recurring elements that pop up in Pixar movies time and time again. One of them, unfortunately, is a male protagonist. Finally, in 2012, Pixar released its first female-driven film, and to largely great effect. Just by nature of having a female lead, the studio was able to examine fresh themes and perspectives, particularly a mother-daughter relationship.

In Brave, the relationship is beautifully rendered and acts as the beating heart at the center of the film. 

While it does get bogged down is some clunky slapstick humor (Why did the kids become bears again? Just for laughs?), the emotional core of the film is compelling enough to get us fully invested in a Scottish folktale about the nature of destiny and self-sacrifice.

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  • New perspectives
  • Powerful themes
  • Beautiful visuals
  • Weak comedy
  • Uneven pacing
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Top Pixar Movies

Conclusion

It might not look like what we would expect from a traditional Pixar movie, but in Brave’s case, this is largely a good thing. 

Best Pixar Movies Ranked

14. Soul (2020)

Pete Docter discusses Soul character design

One of the most daring entries of Pixar’s recent films, Soul aims high, essentially attempting to understand the meaning of life. On paper, it sounds more than a little hubristic, but Soul just about manages to pull it off. Soul carries one of Pixar’s most nuanced messages — what if doing what you love isn’t all there is to life? Thoughtfully written and beautifully animated, the film navigates a complex plotline and massive themes with ease.

That said, while the film does raise interesting ideas, its pontifications sometimes feel a little too similar to those handled in Inside Out. Overall, however, Soul is an achievement, and stands out in Pixar’s later filmography.

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  • Cool, experimental animation
  • Strong themes
  • Well-handled plot
  • The cat thing
  • Pacing
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Disney Pixar Movies

Conclusion

Soul is an audacious film with a lot on its mind, and even though it gets in a little over its head, it’s exciting to see Pixar take big risks.

Best Pixar Movies Ranked

13. Finding Dory (2016)

The creation of Hank

Making Finding Dory would be an unenviable task: trying to improve upon, or at least just not taint, the outstanding achievement that was Finding Nemo is a tall task. Fortunately, co-writer and director Andrew Stanton was up to the challenge. Finding Dory continues to deal with the important themes of the first film while also building upon them.

The film’s handling of living with developmental disorders is delicately and empathetically done, showing that while being neuroatypical can have its challenges, it can also have its own unique rewards. It’s a sequel that effectively pays respect to its predecessor while also enriching and expanding its world.

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  • Well-developed characters
  • Strong themes
  • Great setting
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  • Less ambitious
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Best Pixar Movies Ranked

Conclusion

Finding Dory doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t necessarily need to. Dory is a strong character who is a delight to follow in this heartwarming sequel.

Disney Pixar Movies

12. Coco (2017)

Behind the scenes of Coco

The first thing that stands out about Coco is its colors. Its beautiful cinematography and production design make Coco one of Pixar’s most visually striking movies.

But Coco is more than just a pretty face. It’s also one of Pixar’s best films on the importance of family (this is Pixar we’re talking about, so that’s saying a lot), and it packs an emotional punch that rivals the best Pixar films (also saying a lot). All of these elements together make Coco one of the strongest of Pixar’s latest entries.

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  • Beautiful visuals
  • Character design
  • Strong themes
  • Contrived plot
  • Slow start
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Pixar Kids Movies

Conclusion

Coco brings a fresh perspective and setting to the Pixar canon while also utilizing the familiar tools that makes the studio’s films great.

Best Pixar Movies Ranked

11. Toy Story 3 (2010)

The iconic voices behind Woody and Buzz

With Toy Story 2, Pixar perfected the sequel. With Toy Story 3, it perfected the finale. To a large extent, Toy Story has always been about impermanence, whether it situates that impermanence in consumer culture where a new shinier toy is always around the corner (Toy Story), or whether that impermanence is examined through the lens of fleeting childhood (Toy Story 2). Toy Story 3 forces our favorite characters to confront the uncomfortable impermanence of love — what happens when you keep loving someone who stops loving you back?

The answer, of course, is heartbreaking, but the Pixar creative team also manages to make it hopeful. While love can fade, a new love can always be found around the corner. There’s no wonder there’s not a dry eye to be found by the end of this installment. 

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  • Strong action scenes
  • Effective thrills
  • Big emotional core
  • Weaker new characters
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Top Pixar Movies

Conclusion

Toy Story 3 solidified the Toy Story franchise as one of the greatest in cinema history. Funny, scary, melancholy and hopeful, it leaves a lasting impact.

Disney Pixar Movies

10. Monsters Inc. (2001)

Character CGI in Monsters Inc.

The most important part of a buddy comedy is the chemistry between the leads. In John Goodman and Billy Crystal, Pixar found that chemistry: the relationship between Mike Wazowski and Sully pops from the get-go. Add an adorable kid that they have to take care of into the mix and Monsters Inc. ranks among the best of the buddy comedy genre.

Monsters Inc. is one of the lightest of Pixar’s movies tonally, but don’t let that fool you — that final shot of Sully’s face will remind you it’s got a heart.

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  • Great comedy
  • Fun performances
  • Memorable characters
  • Basic plot
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Every Pixar Movie

Conclusion

Monsters Inc. created an iconic universe while also operating as a break-neck comedy. It also gave us Mike and Sully, two of the most beloved Pixar characters.

Disney Pixar Movies

9. Inside Out (2015)

Voice acting in Inside Out

Another prime example of Pixar’s knack for casting. Amy Poehler as Joy? Bill Hader as Fear? Phyllis Smith as Sadness? The performances for each personified emotion in one of Pixar’s highest-concept films are pitch-perfect. It’s one of the reasons the film works so well; we immediately understand how each character operates, and are fully on board for a film which attempts to explain why we feel what we feel.

Inside Out is arguably Pixar’s last great original: it strives to investigate some of life’s loftiest questions while staying grounded in memorable characters and an expertly-crafted plot. 

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OVERALL SCORE
  • Powerful message
  • Great performances
  • Tear-jerker
  • Clumsy gender dynamics
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Pixar Kids Movies

Conclusion

Inside Out does everything Pixar does best: it shines fundamental truths through a wholly original lens, and makes us laugh and cry along the way.

Disney Pixar Movies

8. Incredibles 2 (2018)

Brad Bird directs the voice talent

The Incredibles is about the pains of modernity in the workplace: Mr. Incredible is plucked from his physical conquests and literally squeezed into a grey cubicle. Incredibles 2 examines modernity’s effect on the family. The sequel smartly shifts the spotlight from Bob to Helen, as she takes strides in her own career, forcing Bob to stay at home. The result is not only a loaded examination of the impossible choices modern families have to make (follow your career goals or be there for your kids? And who does which?), but also a stunningly executed action movie mixed with fish-out-of-water comedy.

In the fourteen years between The Incredibles and its sequel, director Brad Bird had honed his action chops directing the impeccable Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and he brought the lessons he learned there back to the beloved Incredibles family, all without losing the emotional core that made the first film so great.

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  • Action set pieces
  • Hilarious comedy
  • High concept
  • Weaker villain
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Best Pixar Movies Ranked

Conclusion

Incredibles 2 continues to dissect modernism while upping the stakes and utilizing some of the finest action sequences ever created in an animated film.

Every Pixar Movie

7. Up (2015)

Up’s opening scene, from script to screen

When you think about Up, you think about the opening montage. Sure, the talking dogs are fun, Kevin is hilarious, the floating house is beautifully surreal, but it all comes down to that opening. It’s a sequence that encapsulates everything that makes Pixar great — making the universal personal. How do you get kids to care about a bitter old man who’s stuck in the past? How do you get them to sit through a silent opener? And then how do you get them to sob within the first 10 minutes of said opener? It’s a pathos masterclass.

Sure, the rest of the film doesn’t reach quite the highs that the opening delivers, but it’s still great, filled with comedy, action, and those talking dogs.

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  • Emotional wallop
  • Score
  • Beautiful visuals
  • Weaker back half
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All Pixar Movies

Conclusion

Just its first ten minutes make Up worth a watch. Luckily, the rest of the film is pretty great too.

Every Pixar Movie

6. Ratatouille (2007)

The story of Ratatouille’s creation

What’s remarkable about Ratatouille is just how quaint it is. In an era where studios seem to believe that kids’ movies need to be bigger, faster, and more bombastic, Ratatouille is a breath of fresh air. Think about the big final act: a chef has to impress a finicky food critic. That’s it. But the expert craft behind the film makes the stakes real and consequential. This chef has to impress this food critic.

Perhaps this is because of the crucial theme running through Ratatouille: the idea that anyone can make great art, and that’s what makes art great. The quaintness of Ratatouille is its biggest strength; it’s a movie told through the details, just as the best food is made through the tiniest variations. And who better to notice the details than a rat?

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  • Detailed setting
  • Strong theme
  • Great villain
  • Weak female character
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Every Pixar Movie

Conclusion

Ratatouille doesn’t try to be huge, and the result is Pixar’s quietest and perhaps most introspective movie.

Best Pixar Movies Ranked

5. Toy Story 2 (1999)

Pixar’s creative team talks Toy Story 2

Toy Story 2 is arguably the most important movie in Pixar’s history. After the slight stumble of A Bug’s Life, it was unclear whether Toy Story was going to be an anomaly or if the studio knew what it was doing. Toy Story 2 proved the latter. The film picks up the best aspects of its predecessor and gives them significantly more depth.

There’s a darkness to Woodie’s storyline, both thematically and aesthetically, that juxtaposes perfectly with the joyous romp that is Buzz Lightyear and the gang’s adventure. Toy Story 2 is Pixar hitting its stride: inventive and daring filmmaking matched with a smart script and iconic characters. The result is a film where no moment goes to waste, every second packed with big ideas and an even bigger heart.

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  • Great in-jokes
  • Fun new characters
  • Genre bending
  • Bloated third act
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Pixar Kids Movies

Conclusion

Toy Story 2 solidified Pixar as a force to be reckoned with. Its comedy, action, and drama are firing on all cylinders.

Best Pixar Movies Ranked

4. Toy Story (1995)

The story of Toy Story

It’s hard to get off to a better start than Toy Story. While the rest of the American animation industry was churning out massive princess movies, Pixar released a film that rethought what animation could do, technically and narratively. Pixar replaced the musical numbers, the melodrama, and the pulpy romances with a grounded story that managed to spark the imaginations of kids in ways fairytale movies never could.

Perhaps no other movie captures the world through the eyes of a kid better than Toy Story. The world is so deeply thought through that every creative decision feels obvious (of course this is how that toy behaves!). In Toy Story, the magic is right under your nose.

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  • Memorable characters
  • Groundbreaking
  • Great worldbuilding
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All Pixar Movies

Conclusion

Toy Story reshaped the American film industry. Oh, and it’s a great movie, too.

List of Pixar Movies

3. The Incredibles (2004)

The Incredibles’ iconic score

Among many things, The Incredibles is a masterclass in atmosphere. From the get-go, it’s a film that knows what it is: the sleek modernist production design, the jazz-y retro score, the striking character design. All its elements work in unison, building a hyper-specific world so effectively the audience doesn’t even realize it’s been built. This is what superhero movies always have been, right? We wish.

The Incredibles is a superhero action movie, and a great one at that, but it’s also a moving domestic drama: the relationships between each family member are both specific and immediately recognizable. It’s a nuanced philosophical debate (Syndrome has a point), an homage to the Hollywood noir, and a slapstick comedy. There’s nothing The Incredibles can’t do.

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  • Complex villain
  • Compelling themes
  • Great action
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List of Pixar Movies

Conclusion

Decisive, clever, and above all entertaining, The Incredibles is one of the smartest action movies of the 21st century.

List of All Pixar Movies

2. WALL-E (2008)

The Incredibles’ iconic score

Just looking at WALL-E can break your heart. His character design tells us so much — his purpose, his sense of wonder, his long neglect. In the first thirty minutes of WALL-E, an arguably perfect piece of filmmaking, we watch our protagonist clean up after ourselves. Humans left the planet to rot, and we left WALL-E to rot with it.

But in spite of the odds, WALL-E survives, even thrives, and when he meets EVE, he falls in love. It’s one of Pixar’s most human stories told through galaxy-trekking robots. 

WALL-E shoots for the stars and reaches them. It’s Pixar’s most overtly political film, an ecological call to arms, but where some ideologically-motivated movies can feel cold, WALL-E brims with emotion. By the end of the film, there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for this rusty robot.

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  • Powerful message
  • Ambitious
  • Character design
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Best Pixar Movies Ranked

Conclusion

WALL-E ranks among the best: a weighty indictment of corporate greed and environmental destruction that’s also one of the most memorable love stories of all time.

List of All Pixar Movies

1. Finding Nemo (2003)

The Pixar team on 60 Minutes in 2003, at the height of Pixar’s powers

If you asked a group of ten people their favorite character from Finding Nemo, you’d get ten different answers. You can’t say this about a lot of TV series, let alone an hour and forty minute feature. Finding Nemo is to the ocean what Toy Story is to the toy box. When we go to a fish store, it’s Nemo, not a Clown Fish. It’s Dory, not a Blue Tang. Writer/director Andrew Stanton’s attention to aquatic detail pays off in spades — every fish’s characterization just feels right.

Stanton’s story, too, is Pixar’s finest. It’s a moving examination of the overprotective parent trope — Marlin isn’t just a neurotic stereotype; he’s a single dad trying to do right by his son. Each subplot feels like it could be its own movie (The coral school! The fish tank cult! The surfer turtles!), and every character could be a protagonist

Finding Nemo is the result of a creative team approaching a project with deep empathy for each of their characters, uncompromising ambition to reach new technological heights, and unending curiosity in the setting they’re depicting. It’s the crowning achievement of everything that sets Pixar apart.

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  • Stunning visuals
  • Iconic comedy
  • Nail-biting suspense
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List of Pixar Movies

Conclusion

Finding Nemo’s father-son journey is thoughtful, funny, and awe-inspiring. It’s Pixar’s greatest film to date.

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Best Animated Movies of All Time

Hungry for more great animated titles beyond just Pixar? While Pixar certainly dominates in mainstream animation, they certainly aren't the only game in town. Check out our list of the greatest animated films ever and see what we’ve got in our top spots.

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