Pixar Animation Studios have graced the public with a total of 15 films – 16 if you include The Good Dinosaur, which will hit theaters next week – and 13 of these 15 feature films are among the 50 highest grossing animated films of all time, including one of the most well known animated features of all time: Toy Story. The company has monopolized the animation realm, especially since its union with Disney in 2006, and it’s almost as if anything the studio touches turns to gold.
And with great films come great characters, and Pixar has some of the best, most dynamic, complex, interesting, adorable and funny characters out there. You name it, Pixar has it. Of course, there are countless Pixar animated characters to choose from, and everyone has their own preferences, so this list is meant to highlight some of the most talked about characters and those animated creatures that make the feature films the smash hits that they are.
Here is Screen Rant’s list of the 20 Best Characters from Pixar Movies!
Anger – Inside Out (2015)
For a character that’s largely reminiscent of every metaphor associated with the emotion of “Anger,” Inside Out’s Anger (expertly voiced by comedian Lewis Black) is actually far more complex than he may seem on the surface. The movie is about the personified “emotions” – the other characters are Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) – that make up the mind of Riley (Kaitlin Dias), a young girl feeling confused after moving across the country with her family. Anger, a loudmouthed red block prone to bursting into flame, is introduced in the film as a referee of sorts, meant to make sure everything is “fair” for Riley. But more poignantly, Anger is motivational, irrational and oftentimes helpful.
This essentially means that an emotion so often portrayed negatively – being angry isn’t something people strive to be – was actually taken far beyond that. Anger doesn’t only exhibit the negatives of the emotion, but also the necessity of it, making him a far more dynamic character than meets the eye. And with the attention of the film largely on Joy and Sadness, that’s impressive.
Art – Monsters University (2013)
Monster’s University’s Art is an oddball to say the least, but that’s what makes him so fantastic. As one of Mike and Sulley’s (Billy Crystal and John Goodman) “brothers” at the socially marginalized Oozma Kappa Fraternity house, Art is used most often in the picture as comedic relief, not meant to do much more than make viewers laugh (making Charlie Day the perfect voice for the character), Art goes far beyond that in satirizing college students in general and their mindset as they begin their college years.
He majors in “New Age Philosophy” and is oftentimes caught staring into the distance or chasing butterflies. He is most easily described as being in his own world. He identifies as an open-minded, free spirit and he often exhibits this in his remarks, usually with a more intelligent comment quickly followed with some quirky, unique to Art, comment that brings a laugh along with it. No matter how many times you’ve seen the film, Art wins a laugh every time.
Carl Fredricksen – Up (2009)
Easily one of the saddest Pixar movies ever made, Up gave us some of Pixar’s most complex and realistic characters ever created, starting with 78-year-old lead, Carl (Edward Asner). For one thing, Carl literally grows up right before the viewer’s eyes, giving backstory to the character – including a heartbreaking montage of his long and deeply-loving relationship with his now-deceased wife – than ever before and making him lovable and understandable, even as a bitter, old man.
But in addition, we see Carl go through the mourning process in full, rediscovering who he is without his other half on a wacky journey that involves having his house lifted far into the sky by a cloud of balloons, only to find that a small boy tagged along. In many ways, Carl is empowering, sending forth numerous messages of perserverance despite the increasingly sad series of events that occur throughout the film. But most importantly, Carl is the most human character Pixar has ever created, not just in appearance, but also in his emotional journey, his shortcomings and his dependency on others.
Crush – Finding Nemo (2003)
If anyone was ever to assign a personality to a sea turtle, Pixar nailed what that would look like. Crush is your quintessential surfer-dude: easy-going, up for anything and totally cool. But more than that, for such a small part in the film, Crush made a large impact on audiences, making him a favorite among young and old viewers alike.
Voiced by Andrew Stanton (also the director of the film), Crush is the antithesis of Marlin (Albert Brooks) – the anxious, neurotic protagonist clown fish of the film who comes across the turtle while searching the great wide ocean for his lost son, Nemo (Alexander Gould) – and that contrast helps Crush win over the hearts of nearly every viewer.
The 150-year-old turtle earned attractions at Walt Disney World in Florida (still running) as well as Disneyland in California (closed in 2008), making him an on-and-off screen hit. He’s the comic relief, a glimmer of hope for the main characters and an absolute blast as a character, even in such a small roll.
Darla – Finding Nemo (2003)
Speaking of minor characters that largely impacted a film, Darla (LuLu Ebeling) is a looming presence, threatening the life of Nemo throughout the film. The niece of a dentist who has acquired Nemo as part of his fish collection. Nemo finds out that she’s been known to kill the pet fish that are given to her before she even makes it home.
To have a character this ominous, but at the same time laughable, is no small feat, and represents yet another time Pixar absolutely nailed it. Just by looking at her picture in the film, we know all we need to about her. Her head gear, the crazy-eyed smile and the dead fish she’s proudly displaying all make her the movie villain that redefined what the word means.
She’s nothing more than a little girl that isn’t yet responsible enough to have a pet, and yet, we know immediately when she walks through the door to that dentist’s office that our main character’s life is at stake, making her the consequential villain. She creates suspense with ease and is the perfect representation of a bratty child that gets exactly what she wants.
Dory – Finding Nemo (2003)
Who could forget about Dory? A regal blue tang, she’s lovable, she’s unique and she’s, well, extremely forgetful. Dory’s a fun-loving, energetic soul that we root for at times, and at others we see her faults and naiveté as a liability to Marlin, whom she accompanies in his search for Nemo. But even at her most naïve, Dory is a standout character that we can’t help but love.
The fact that the long awaited Finding Nemo sequel, to be released in June of next year, will focus on her (and called Finding Dory) is more than enough to attest to the positive response viewers have to the character. And while it would’ve been easy to make her a love interest for Marlin (a recent widower), Pixar instead keeps with the light nature of her character and implements a close-knit, friendship-based bond instead, keeping her in a realm very much similar to Nemo’s – childlike and friendl.
Dug – Up (2009)
We all must love dogs, and Dug is no exception. Anytime a canine companion is brought to life through animation, fans swoon. They’re typically cute and cuddly and play big time on the phrase “man’s best friend.” In Up, this canine companion is reimagined in one of the most creative ways. We’ve all wanted to hear what our dog was thinking, and that concept is brought to life through a collar (voiced by Bob Peterson) that translates his every thought into English.
Dug is an innovative character. Originally tasked by a villainous explorer to find and capture a rare, flightless bird, Dug is far too kind-hearted to carry through with it. As his collar tells Carl upon first meeting him “I have just met you, and I love you.” Dug takes on the same lovable qualities of most animated, canine characters, such as a devotion to his owner and puppy-like behavior, but also shows off his intelligence in a new and entertaining way. Dug is the only one of his kind, and like most dogs, you can’t help but love him.
Edna Mode – The Incredibles (2004)
This character is proof of how important even the most minor characters in a film can be. Edna Mode (voiced by director Brad Bird) is a designer, known to the Incredibles family as the creator of their super suits, which fit each individual’s superpower. Edna has a lot of personality packed into a small exterior, taking stereotypical traits often attributed to designers and making them her own. (In fact, her design is actually a loving homage to famed Hollywood costume designer Edith Head.)
Edna is persistent and opinionated, refers to everyone as “darling” and takes pride in her work, first and foremost. She’s happily called out of retirement by Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) to repair a suit, but insists on making it her own, adding new elements and eventually creating suits for the entire family, which very subtly pulls along the rest of the story. Edna is at the crux of the movie, her strength and determination pushing the heroes to become what she knows they can be.
Francis – A Bug’s Life (1998)
Talk about a gender-bending animated character. Francis (voiced by foulmouthed comedian Denis Leary) is a ladybug, which his fellow circus troupe members repeatedly poke fun at, because he is a male. This blunt commentary on drag is lost on younger audience members, but speaks volumes. In many ways, Francis is the most progressive character of the ’98 animated feature, demonstrating not only the mantra “never judge a book by its cover,” but also squashing gender roles (excuse the bad pun) like a bug.
Francis is injured early in the film while rescuing Dot (Hayden Panettiere) – an ant princess rebelling against her controlling Queen Ant mother – and becomes the honorary den mother of the Blueberries, Dot’s group of ant friends. Starting out as an aggressive male, fighting audience members that make fun of his appearance and making younger insects cry, Francis discovers the softer side of himself, and is later referred to as a “natural mother.” And again, that’s quite a bit of context to pack into a single character, especially a minor one.
Frozone – The Incredibles (2004)
The superhero Frozone, or Lucius Best by day, is the best friend of Mr. Incredible and the husband of Honey (Kimberley Adair Clark), who will gladly hide his super suit whenever she gets the chance. But all jokes aside, Frozone is a fan favorite for more reasons than just his attitude – Frozone is loyal to the Incredibles in all situations and acts as the voice of reason and the foil to Mr. Incredible.
Not only does Frozone have an awesome power – he can manipulate water particles and turn them into ice, which he can use in whatever way he needs – but he also has some amazing human elements. For one thing, he is voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, but more importantly, he was designed after US Olympic speed skater Shani Davis, who became the first black athlete to win a gold medal in an individual sport in 2006. He had some big shoes to fill, but Pixar made sure he was able to fill them.
Heimlich – A Bug’s Life (1998)
Heimlich (Joe Ranft) – another member of A Bug’s Life‘s circus troupe – is lovable for many reasons, one of which being his gluttonous, care-free attitude. But there’s much more to the character’s qualities than that – this is Pixar we’re talking about.
For one thing, the fact that Heimlich is a caterpillar is suggestive of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. And on another note, Heimlich may have been named after Dr. Henry Heimlich, a namesake that happens to be the inventor of the Heimlich maneuver. Heimlich is only a minor character in the film, but he is always good for a laugh, and there’s much more complexity to the creation of the character than appears on the surface.
James P. “Sully” Sullivan – Monster’s Inc. (2001)
Sully (John Goodman) is the protagonist of Monster’s Inc., and rightfully so; he’s a “scarer” who ventures into the human world to scare children and collect their screams as energy. The fluffy blue monster, affectionately referred to as “Kitty” by Boo – a little girl who sneaks her way into Monstropolis – may have a frightening exterior, but his inner compassion and loyalty drive this character to become far more than just a scarer. He’s a hard-working guy, but in the end, his friendships with Boo and Mike are what define him more than anything else.
Sully is the first Pixar protagonist not to have a love interest, which allows the character to focus more on befriending Boo and developing a new way of harvesting energy from children to solve the Monstropolis energy crisis.
Merida – Brave (2012)
Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a female protagonist that the world was finally ready to see, and her reception was greater than anyone could imagine. In a world of Sleeping Beauties and Cinderellas, Merida redefines what it means to be a princess, as well as what it means to be a woman. She is Pixar’s first entry into the realm of Disney Princesses, a feat that brings certain 21st Century demands along with it.
As the princess to a Scottish Highland clan, Merida is expected to be married off to one of her father’s allies to ensure peace. Unwilling to obey her mother’s (Emma Thompson) orders, Merida consults a witch and unwittingly transforms her mother into a bear. As the film progresses, and Merida vows to return her mother to her human state, and in the process learns to balance her responsibility to her family with her desire to be her own woman.
Mike Wazowksi – Monsters Inc. (2001)
The little green eyeball voiced by Billy Crystal is the perfect companion for Sully, but steps out from the blue guy’s shadow as well. In a film that could have easily been monopolized by Sully’s lovable qualities, Wazowski stands out, and fans stand behind him one-hundred percent.
Perhaps it’s the little quirks that make him so great, his skittishness, despite the fact that he’s a monster, or his comical and romantic qualities that shine throughout the film, but whatever it is, Wazowski made a name for himself.
Roz – Monsters Inc. (2001)
Roz (Bob Peterson) is the perfect caricature of any crabby, bitter receptionist, but fans can’t get enough of her. Always donning her red sweater and horn-rimmed glasses, Roz is barely even in the film, but still made a large enough impact that fans recognize her anywhere.
Roz secretly leads the Child Detection Agency (which is tasked with returning children back to the human world if they accidentally end up in the monsters universe), explaining why she closes up her desk every time she hears they are in the building, but it’s her bickering with Mike Wazowski that drew attention to the character, and his fear of her “always watching.” Roz is a minor character in the film, and while most of the film she is portrayed as suspicious and cynical, the good-guy twist in the end adds the dimension needed for her to be considered one of the best.
Sheriff Woody – Toy Story (1995)
He’s the cowboy all Pixar fans fell in love with more than twenty years ago, and that’s still tugging at our heartstrings today. So what makes Woody (Tom Hanks) one of the most recognizable characters in Pixar history? His determination, his passion and his everlasting love for his owner, Andy (John Morris).
Woody goes through many trials over the various Toy Story movies: dealing with his potential replacement (Buzz Lightyear), trying to maintain his leadership status among the toys and, most importantly, trying to make sure that Andy is happy. There isn’t a better character to embody friendship than Woody, and that’s what makes him so amazing and essential to this film.
Slinky Dog – Toy Story (1995)
Yet another Toy Story favorite, Slinky (voiced by Ernest himself, Jim Varney) is Woody’s toy companion through thick and thin, and he’s easily one of the most loyal toys in Andy’s room. Even when Woody disappears, Slinky stands up for him, believing in him and on multiple occasions attempting to save him.
Slinky, like Dug, is another play on man’s best friend, and though he is Andy’s toy, it’s apparent that his loyalty is to Woody more than anyone else. He’s a minor character, but he’s friendly, understanding and loyal to his friends, which makes him a great asset to one of the major themes of the film: friendship.
The Seagulls – Finding Nemo (2003)
The seagulls in Finding Nemo are such minor characters they don’t even have names. But they are successful antagonists in the film, and, despite only ever uttering a single word (“mine”), they add humor as well as suspense to the scenes they’re in.
They’re treated as pests, especially when Nigel the pelican is seen with them, but they actually propel the story along, transitioning Dory and Marlin from the world under the sea into the human world, where Nemo is trapped in a fish tank. And they add humor while doing it. While it can be argued the jellyfish played just as large of a part in Merlin and Dory’s journey, it’s the seagulls that add humor, while the one dimensional jellyfish are just sort of, there.
Tow Mater – Cars (2006)
Fans of Cars are typically torn on whether or not they like Mater, but those that are in favor of the Pixar character adore him. Voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, Mater is a good ‘ol southern truck, with the accent and catchphrases to show for it. He’s very rusty and has green eyes and buckteeth, making him a very realistic materialization of the character’s background. As far as what makes him so lovable, he has an abused past that makes him skittish, but that also drives him to make real connections with others, including Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), the disillusioned race car at the center of the franchise.
And despite the split opinions on Mater, he moved from supporting character to protagonist in the 2011 sequel and has also starred in several shorts, demonstrative of how much support he actually has, even if he’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
WALL-E – WALL-E (2008)
To have a relatively mute protagonist in an animated feature is bold, but Pixar nailed it with WALL-E. He’s a robot and his name is an acronym (it stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth-Class), but that’s as robotic as this character appears in the film. Because he was left alone on Earth for hundreds of years, WALL-E no longer diligently does his job, as he’s developed a sort of “glitch:” a personality.
WALL-E becomes easily distracted while working, collecting rather than compacting trash and developing human characteristics, much to the credit of his favorite collectible, a copy of Hello, Dolly! and a TV to play it on. Viewers are sympathetic to WALL-E, feeling the pain of being alone and his longing for a companion and love, which he later finds in EVE, a female robot sent to collect him. As viewers follow WALL-E on his journey, they can’t help but fall in love with him.
Let us know if we missed any of your favorites in the comments below!