Not since Walt Disney has there been a figure in the animation world who has transcended the medium like John Lasseter and the studio he oversees, Pixar.
Yes, Jeffrey Katzenberg and DreamWorks Animation have had their time, but for over 20 years, Lasseter’s Pixar has consistently not just put out box-office hits (the company has earned, to date, close to $10 billion worldwide) but created stories that affect us on an emotional level that we can’t wait to experience again and again.
From the “you got a friend” tale of the “Toy Story” movies to a commentary on how we need to protect our planet in the multilayered “WALL-E,” Pixar movies are much more than kids movies or cartoons. Which is exactly how ol’ Walt went about it.
As we get ready for Pixar’s latest, the sequel “Finding Dory” (out June 17), we’ve take on the gargantuan task of ranking all 16 Pixar releases — scroll down to find out the best.
Taking Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) away from Radiator Springs and going international (plus, making Mater a spy) didn't grab critics. This sequel became the first 'rotten' Pixar movie on Rotten Tomatoes. Deservedly.
In the second movie ever released by Pixar, an ant named Flink (voiced by Dave Foley) sets out to find others to help save his colony against grasshoppers, and ends up recruiting a unique group of allies.
Though the movie was successful at the box office, with the release of DreamWorks' 'Antz' a month earlier, you're more likely to remember the Lasseter-Katzenberg feud than the films.
Perhaps one of the more serious stories in the Pixar canon, this coming-of-age tale about an Apatosaurus and his human friend Spot as they try to return home didn't catch on nearly as much as Pixar's other release in 2015, 'Inside Out.'
Burnout may have been in play here, but mostly Pixar challenged its core audience with a darker story than they are used to.
With perhaps a little too much old-school Disney gloss, the movie did nevertheless feature a princess who's one of the most strong-willed we've seen in an animated feature. But it just didn't work as well as Pixar titles before or since.
The final Pixar movie that the company produced independently before being bought by Disney, this look at a hotshot racing car that finds humility and true friends in a dusty country town was one of those for-the-whole-family, feel-good stories that was light on the cliches.
In the prequel to the popular 'Monsters, Inc.,' Pixar does impressive work to make the backstory for how Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) met as fun and original as the classic first film.
Setting the story in the college life of monsters does open the door to easy traps, but mostly the movie stays clear and has a strong ending.
The second 'Toy Story' puts Woody (Tom Hanks) in the clutches of a toy seller who's ready to ship the antique cowboy off for big bucks. Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the toys have to figure out how to save him. Like the first time, there's some great drama and thrills that proved there could be a lot more told about these plastic toys.
The first directing effort by Pete Doctor ('Up,' 'Inside Out'), the story of how monsters use the screams of children to power their world was a genius idea that was elevated by the performances of Crystal and Goodman as the leads. With laughs and a heart-warming story, the movie showed that Pixar had more up its sleeve than 'Toy Story' movies.
Hailed by critics when it came out, and nominated for a best picture Oscar, the third 'Toy Story' is the franchise's most emotionally charged to date. Woody, Buzz, and the gang find themselves mistakenly delivered to a day care center, where they encounter some interesting new toys.
Playing on the big Hollywood secret agent/superhero movies, Pixar's curveball turned off some who didn't want it meddling in the genre. But the story of a superhero past his prime and realising he's even more powerful when his family is by his side indicated the emotional depths Pixar wanted to explore.
'Up' is a perfect example of the adult topics Pixar began to take on once it was on steady ground in Hollywood. Focusing on love and not being able to let go, the story of an elderly man's journey to a far-off land on his floating house after his wife dies is equally heartbreaking and life-affirming -- a triumph that led to it getting a best picture Oscar nomination.
Pixar's latest Oscar winner for best animated feature touches on all the things that have made its movies so beloved. The original story of a young girl growing up told through personified emotions, and the journey to finding one's true self, could've been corny. But Pixar's execution was flawless.
The movie that started it all. Lasseter directed, and pretty much put all the company's chips into one basket. 'Toy Story' elevated what kind of stories animated movies could tell. And its computer-generated animation was the nail in the coffin for Disney's traditional hand-drawn work.
From the sarcastic comedy of Albert Brooks opposite the sweetly naive tone of Ellen DeGeneres, to the attention to detail in the gorgeous CGI-rendered underwater world, 'Finding Nemo' provided a lot for everyone to love. And the giant box-office numbers speak for themselves.
This touching examination of the sanctity of art and how it can be commercialized into watered-down muck -- cleverly using the setting of a restaurant kitchen -- is one of the most emotionally fulfilling movies ever made, Pixar or otherwise.
Director Andrew Stanton ('Finding Nemo,' 'WALL-E') gives us a remarkable story that celebrates old cinema (the silent movie, the musical) while delivering a message about the need to protect the planet (and our health) as flashy technology takes over.
Pixar is known for making us care about fictional creatures and objects, but with 'WALL-E,' that connection to the characters, the sense that they're living beings, is so intertwined with our experience of watching that you have to remind yourself it's just a story.
And that's the best kind of storytelling.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.