Who's the king of kids movies? Disney, obviously. They've been the reigning champion of family-friendly content for decades, and no one has come close to dethroning them yet.
Pixar was a strong contender between 1995 and 2006, and Disney knew it. That's why Disney went ahead and acquired Pixar Studios altogether, making them into a subsidiary of the global conglomerate.
Under Disney, Pixar continues to put out some of the best animated movies in the entire industry—not just ones that are kid-friendly, but ones that are deep, meaningful, and beloved by adults.
As of this writing, Pixar Studios has 26 feature films under their belt, with at least 3 more on the way. Of those, here are the best Pixar movies that are beautiful, layered, complex, and packed with heart.
15. Cars (2006)
"Faster than fast. Quicker than quick. I am lightning!"Lightning McQueen
Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is the flashy name of the flashy car that joins a band of anthropomorphic cars, competing for the Piston Cup. There's a lesson on friendship weaved in there somewhere.
Cars was originally intended to follow up A Bug's Life, but was postponed in favor of Toy Story, so it didn't release until 2006.
During this time, director John Lasseter revamped the original script for "The Yellow Car" into a racecar sports flick inspired by his own road experiences. We're guessing those experiences didn't include any encounters with talking vehicles, though.
14. Brave (2012)
"Our fate lives within us. You only have to be brave enough to see it."Merida
Going all the way back to the Scottish Middle Ages, Princess Merida takes center stage (or field) as a feisty, arrow-slinging teenage redhead who accidentally turns her mother into a bear.
Brave was a first of many elements for Pixar—not just its Scottish setting, but the first female protagonist, first female director (Brenda Chapman), and first use of a new animation software called Presto.
The result? A simultaneously punchy and tender feminist movie that subtly educates kids on medieval history without them noticing.
13. Moana (2016)
"There comes a day when you're gonna look around and realize happiness is where you are."Chief Tui
Moana takes place across ancient Polynesian islands, such as Hawaii. As Pixar's animation was already so developed and crisp by 2016, the glistening of the sea is crystal clear and calling out to us.
For Moana, however, these lands are no relaxing beach holiday. When her gorgeous and abundant tropical world begins to die out, it's up to her to save things—by returning a divine relic to the goddess Te Fiti.
Moana is one of those rare animations that feel almost sacred, and we love the protagonist's lack of romantic partners or Prince Charmings.
12. Coco (2017)
"We may have our differences, but nothing's more important than family."Miguel
In Coco, we see Pixar take a step away from the standard setting of suburban America. Instead, Coco takes place in vibrant Mexico, where young Miguel dreams of becoming a musician.
The only problem is, his family forbids it. After uncovering a family secret, he decides to enter the Day of the Dead talent show anyway. What ensues is a dynamic, magical trip into the not-so-scary Land of the Dead, giving kids a taste of something more culturally diverse.
11. WALL-E (2008)
"Time for lunch... in a cup!"Advertisement
Prepare for this cute little robot to break your heart, being the only (lonely) one left on planet Earth. WALL-E was made with a very clear message in mind: stop consuming so much unnecessary stuff!
With the globe completely overrun with garbage and Operation Clean Up having completely failed, the human race now lives on a spaceship.
Obese, brainwashed, and mindlessly distracted by technology, mankind is practically at an end—just like the environment. That is, until WALL-E and his robot girlfriend EVE show up and save us all.
10. Turning Red (2022)
"Be careful. Honoring your parents sounds great, but if you take it too far, well, you might forget to honor yourself."Meilin Lee
In Turning Red, we get another Pixar movie where a human is turned into an animal—this time, a giant red panda. It's also the only Pixar movie that's solely directed by a woman (Domee Shi), which is appropriate considering its focus on the adolescent female experience.
Turning Red was the top animation of 2022, but it didn't come without its controversies. Most loved its educational panda metaphor for puberty, whereas other deemed it inappropriate for kids.
Similarly, while many viewers appreciated Turning Red's inclusivity and diversity of characters, a vocal handful of Pixar fans felt left out by its focus on the Asian community.
Controversies aside, Turning Red is an important film in Pixar's filmography as it represents the studio's willingness to step out into wider cultures and offer more representation in its animation.
9. Up (2009)
"Adventure is out there!"Charles F. Muntz
Up is a solid rival to The Notebook and The Impossible when it comes to films that will make you weep. Specifically, the montage scene that depicts the loss of Carl's childhood sweetheart.
To honor his wife's passing, grumpy old man Carl takes a trip to Paradise Falls (where she'd always dreamed of going). He ties 20,622 balloons to his house and flies away to the land of talking dogs and giant exotic birds.
There's just one thing he didn't plan for: young Wilderness Explorer Russell tagging along!
8. Ratatouille (2007)
"A chef makes. A thief takes."Gusteau
Pixar has a beautiful way of visually capturing passion.
In Ratatouille, flavors present themselves as dancing lights every time Remy (a rat who longs to be a chef) tries a new food combination, like fireworks exploding in the darkness. Having left the herd, Remy lives his dream of cooking in a fancy Parisian restaurant.
The only catch? He has to hide under the hat of kitchen porter Alfredo Linguini. But that's OK, because Remy discovers that he can control Alfredo's limbs from within his hat and begins to cook food by living—quite literally—through him.
7. A Bug's Life (1998)
"Hey, Waiter. I'm in my soup!"Fly
An early classic, A Bug's Life follows the life of a small ant facing off against the big bad world of "bug city."
When Flik accidentally destroys the colony's food stores, he's made to restore it—with interest—or face the axe. He decides to raise an army of insects to fight against the grasshoppers instead.
Here, children are taught the values of teamwork as well as individuality. Adults just get a good laugh.
6. Soul (2020)
"I'm going to live every minute."Joe Gardner
This Oscar-winning animated movie, which happens to be the most recent Pixar production as of this writing, follows broke jazz musician Joe Gardner, whose near-death experience triggers a spiritual awakening in the Great Before.
Get ready for an existential crisis. Are we sure this is even a kids film? Soul is more like an introspective adult cartoon—the colorful flowing lights serve to distract kids while parents question the meaning of life.
5. Inside Out (2015)
"Remember the funny movie where the dog died?"Sadness
Inside Out primarily takes place in the mind of 11-year-old Riley. Her five core emotions—Fear, Anger, Joy, Disgust, and Sadness—are personified into colorful characters who work together to control her neuropsychology and keep her in balance.
But when Joy and Sadness are accidentally lost, the Headquarters of Riley's Brain turns to chaos as they try to figure out how to restore order and prevent Riley from destroying her relationships.
Much like Soul, Inside Out treats all ages of the family as equals, engaging the minds of 7-year-olds and 70-year-olds alike as it essentially teaches us how to deal with our emotions.
4. Finding Nemo (2003)
"Fish are friends. Not food."The Shark Pledge
After his son gets abducted by divers, agoraphobic clownfish Marlin leaves his safe coral home and dives into the abyss to find his son and bring him back home.
On the way, he befriends ditzy blue-tang fish Dory (who suffers from comical short-term memory loss), stoner turtles, and sharks who aren't as scary as they look—a lesson Marvin continually learns.
Even though Finding Dory had its moments, it's nothing compared to the original. Finding Nemo was an instant classic at release, navigating viewers through ocean depths and dangers of the land.
3. The Incredibles (2004)
"Where's my super suit?!"Frozone
Beginning in the 1950s, the world has turned against superheroes because of all the damage and disruption they cause, which puts Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl out of their jobs.
Mr. Incredible finds himself particularly downtrodden by the monotony of suburban life, and embarks on secret missions to defeat his ex-sidekick, Syndrome. It doesn't stay secret for long, though, and soon the whole family's involved.
An animated match for the MCU, The Incredibles is an animated superhero movie like no other. The sheer creativity and wit make it a hit with older viewers, earning third spot on our list.
2. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
"I was on TV!"Mike Wazowski
Monsters Inc. opens with a truly terrifying scene for any sensitive child—glowing eyes rising under the bed—but once the light is switched on, the comedy kicks in.
The film takes place in Monstropolis, where funny creatures put on a scary face to extract fuel from kids' screams. It's clever, it's witty, and the final scene just might break your heart...
Monster's Inc. finds inventive and entertaining ways to teach kids that there's no need to fear the monsters lurking in the closet. The lovably fluffy Sully (or "Kitty" as the toddler Boo calls him) and his sarcastic one-eyed buddy Mike are the least scary things in the world.
1. Toy Story (1995)
"There's a snake in my boot!"Woody
Of all the brilliant Pixar movies out there, Toy Story is the most famous. And it's no wonder why! Touching and original, it was the first of the Pixar films and launched the modern era of animated CGI movies.
Toy Story gives us a glimpse into the world of toys, who only come to life when nobody is looking. Woody and his gang of toys welcome newbie space-ranger Buzz Lightyear, who fast becomes Andy's new favorite toy. Overcome with jealousy, Woody plans to eliminate his competition—and quickly receives his karma.
Toy Story was followed by a number of successful sequels, concluding with the fourth entry in 2019. Toy Story 2 was particularly loved by fans, but the one that started it all must take the throne as king.