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Pixar: Every Movie Sequel, Ranked

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Woody and Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 3

Pixar is one of the leading animation studios in the world. Audiences all over the world know the Disney subsidiary’s name and Pixar’s films, as they are often the source of great critical acclaim and financial success. Beginning with Toy Story, the studio set a high standard and followed it up with original films like Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up. Pixar has been nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the Academy Awards 16 times and won 11 of them.

However, despite being known for their original films, they have also increasingly expanded into the world of sequels. Originally, the Toy Story franchise was the only one that garnered sequels, but in recent years they’ve extended their sequel output. So much so that in the 2010s, six of their 11 films released in the decade were sequels to their original films. Many of the sequels have been some of their most financially successful entries, although they have received criticism for leaning too heavily on sequels in recent years, which stand in sharp contrast to the studio’s early days. Of those eleven Best Animated film wins, only two of them were for their sequel movies, so the change in their output wasn’t universally beloved.

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Starting in 2020, the studio started to scale back on sequels and get back to its roots with original films like Onward, Soul, Luca, and Turning Red. Pixar always held onto the mantra that they would only make a sequel if they felt like they had a story to tell, and in the eight sequels they have made over the past 27 years they have looked to expand the worlds of their characters, play within different genres, and used those original films as a launching pad to tackle more complex themes. With the release of Lightyear, a spin-off of Toy Story and a re-imagining of the character Buzz Lightyear, take a look at all of Pixar’s sequels and see how they rank amongst each other.

Often regarded as the worst project from Pixar, Cars 2 is nonetheless an interesting film. It was Pixar’s first attempt at a sequel outside the Toy Story films and chooses to shift gears to a new genre in the form of a spy film homage to classic James Bond movies, while also making Mater the Tow Truck the protagonist with Lightning McQueen a smaller supporting player. This shift from protagonist to the side character is something that later Pixar follow-ups Incredibles 2, Finding Dory, and Monsters University would better implement.

Related: Pixar: How the Animation Studio Has Changed Over Time

Despite the poor reputation of Cars 2, the film still has a lot working for it. The shift in genre allows for some creative action sequences and set pieces and shows how much Pixar enjoys riffing on film genres. The global scale of the film provides the animators with a chance to imagine iconic locations in the Cars universe and create a colorful new cast of characters. The film even tries to make the audience’s perception of Mater part of the story, with the character coming to terms with how everyone sees him but also embracing who he is and his friends accepting him for that fact. Despite all these efforts, Cars 2 does stick out from not just the pack of Pixar sequels but also just the animation studios’ output in general.

After the genre and lead character switch in Cars 2, Cars 3 brings the franchise back to basics doubling down as a sports movie and offers a conclusion to Lightning McQueen’s story. In the first Cars he was the rookie sensation, but by the time of Cars 3 he is now the old champ and after a terrible accident similar to his mentor Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) Lightning must decide how he wants to end his career and eventually settles into the role of a mentor figure for a new character, Cruz Rameriz (Cristela Alonzo).

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