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25 Best Pixar Movie Characters

From Buzz Lightyear to Bing Bong, the most memorable heroes and villains from groundbreaking animation giants.

From Buzz Lightyear to Bing Bong, the most memorable heroes and villains from groundbreaking animation giants.

Ever since Toy Story introduced audiences to the joys of bickering action figures over 20 years ago, Pixar has continually set the standard for how to do animated characters right: give them humanity, a sense of humor, and a lot of heart; get some top-notch talent to voice them; and provide them with a story that taps into the ties that bind all of us, from the joys and fears of childhood to finding your bliss. We take it for granted now that, in the era of Woody, Remy and WALL E, animated features have to bring the complexity to the multiplex.

So in honour of our favourite forgettable blue tang getting her own movie — rejoice, fans, we finally have the Finding Dory we’ve been asking for! — we’re ranking our top 25 favourite Pixar heroes, villains and sidekicks. From plucky trash-collecting robots to anthropomorphic emotions, go-getter cowgirls to culinary rodents, Buzz Lightyear to Bing Bong — these are the characters, creatures and classic cartoon creations that keep us coming back to the company’s movies time after time. To infinity, and beyond!

By Sam Adams, Charles Bramesco, Tim Grierson, Noel Murray, Scott Tobias and Alissa Wilkinson.

25. Bruce the Shark, ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003)

Finding Nemo boasts many colorful comic-relief characters, (big up, Crush!), but the best is this well-meaning great white shark who’s trying to put aside his carnivorous ways. He’s even started a support group among his pointy-teethed brethren (their mantra: “Fish are friends, not food”). Reportedly named after the pet moniker Steven Spielberg’s crew gave Jaws‘ mechanical sharks — which was also the name of the filmmaker’s lawyer — Bruce (voiced by Dame Edna’s Barry Humphries) is all backslapping charm, despite his terrifying appearance. Maybe someday he’ll go more than three weeks without eating a fish … if only he could resist the sweet, sweet allure of blood in the water. TG

24. Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible), ‘The Incredibles’ (2004)

He can bust through walls and stop a moving train, but Mr. Incredible’s super-strength can’t do a thing to combat the existential horrors of middle age. Voiced with the firm, paternal baritone of Craig T. Nelson, Bob Parr can’t simply beat up the monotony of a daily routine or the banality of his son’s elementary school graduation. Though Bob prizes that undefinable quality of “specialness,” his crisis is unsettlingly familiar to anyone who’s ever taken a long, hard look in the mirror only to discover a stranger staring back. CB

23. Alec Azam, ‘Presto’ (2008)

In only four minutes of screen time, this carrot-craving rabbit cemented his place as one of Pixar’s greatest silent-film stars. Alec Azam is the adorable sidekick of the magician Presto, whose onstage battle of wills with his bunny confidante quickly escalates after depriving him of a snack before the show. Writer-director Doug Sweetland provided the “voices” for both characters — really, just a succession of grunts, screams and giggles — and he crafted a rascally rabbit who goes from insanely cute to cunningly malicious while sabotaging his partner’s magic act. But ultimately, he bails out the guy when his life is in danger — in the process, giving the show (and the short) a rousing finale. TG

22. Syndrome, ‘The Incredibles’ (2004)

In an era when Captain America‘s writers are sorting through death threats, there’s something prescient about The Incredibles‘ decision to make its central villain its hero’s “biggest fan.” Buddy — sorry, Syndrome — is fandom’s most toxic elements packed into a skintight suit, determined to destroy what he cannot have. But he’s a tragic figure, too, with an origin story that consists of a cold shoulder from the superhero he once idolized. With great power comes great responsibility — not just to protect the people, but to listen to them. SA

21. Nemo, ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003)

Even though it’s his name in the title, this tiny clownfish kid has never gotten his due. Overshadowed by Marlin and Dory’s bigger, funnier personalities, the sheepish Nemo actually goes through as emotional an odyssey as his father does. Born with a bum fin and never knowing his mother, who died in a barracuda attack when he was just an egg, this little fella has been smothered since birth his overprotective pops. So it’s no surprise that Nemo finally decides to rebel, which ends up getting him trapped in a dentist’s fish tank. It’s a harrowing coming-of-age, but it’s also instructive, helping him assert his independence while learning to appreciate why his dad worked so hard to keep him safe. TG

20. Violet Parr, ‘The Incredibles’ (2004)

Violet’s desire to hide is familiar to virtually anyone who’s ever been an awkward 14-year-old, though not everyone was lucky enough to have the power to become literally invisible. “What does anyone in this family know about normal?” she demands of her mother at the dinner table, echoing every teenager for all of time. But though Violet is the most talented of all her family — she can disappear and throw up a mean force field — she’s also super-smart, which makes the moment when she finally transforms into a confident superheroine (and asks her crush out on a date) that much more delightful. AW

19. Lots o’ Huggin Bear, ‘Toy Story 3’ (2010)

The Toy Story dolls, games, and action figures go through all three movies with a deep existential fear of obsolescence — but none take matters into their own padded paws quite like the strawberry-scented super-villain of the third film. “Lotso” is so psychologically scarred from being left behind by his owner that he creates his own fascist state at a local daycare, deciding who gets played with properly and who gets ripped apart by toddlers. It’s hard to say what’s more disturbing: this bear’s tragic backstory, or that he has the honeyed voice of Ned Beatty. NM

18. Remy, ‘Ratatouille’ (2007)

The title was considered a tough obstacle for general audiences to clear — and that’s nothing compared to asking them to care about a rat that prepares food. But between the film’s passionate celebration of culinary delights and Patton Oswalt’s infectious vocal performance, Remy the rat proves to be the unlikeliest of heroes, a dreamer who refuses to accept his natural role as an indiscriminate dumpster diver. His keen nose and tiny little hands are ideal for seasoning dishes, and his resourcefulness as a restauranteur, with sous chefs and rat chefs, cannot be denied. ST

17. Marlin, ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003)

Pixar’s movies tend to look back on childhood with a rosy, nostalgic glow, but for Nemo’s dad, it’s a minefield, one narrowly averted threat after another — and when Nemo vanishes, it’s every parent’s nightmare. Albert Brooks, that great poet of comic neurosis, finds the humor in Marlin’s abject panic. But he never plays it solely for laughs, which makes it even harder when he realizes that the only way for his son to have a happy childhood is to sometimes stand by and watch him get hurt. All you can do is keep swimming. SA

16. James P. ‘Sulley’ Sullivan, ‘Monsters Inc.’ (2001)

If you put Sulley’s whole life story in order, what you get is this: A good-natured but oblivious shaggy blue monster arrives at Monsters University leaning on privilege and his family name to get into the prestigious business of scaring. A few hard knocks later, he learns the importance of paying your dues and acknowledging other people’s — er, monsters’ — talent. He becomes a top performer at work. Then he risks it all to save a tiny girl named Boo, someone smaller and weaker than himself. Wingman to zany Mike Wazowski, accidental wrecker of cars, small-time theatre actor, pretty decent dancer: “Sulley” Sullivan is a top-notch monster, and a true American hero. AW

15. Bing Bong, ‘Inside Out’ (2015)

Inside Out is a movie about growing up and becoming more complex emotional beings — not just base reactions like Joy, Sadness, Anger, and so on, but a more bigger and more nuanced control panel. And that means shedding imaginary friends like Bing Bong, a furry pink elephant with a hobo suit, a bowler hat, and a crushing sliver of melancholy peeking through that toothy smile. The film wrings tears out of its audience like a wet sponge, but nothing squeezes harder than Bing Bong knowing when it’s his time to make the ultimate sacrifice. ST

14. Helen Parr (Elastigirl), ‘The Incredibles’ (2004)

A young Elastigirl chuckles at the suggestion that defending humanity be left to the boys. Smash cut to a couple decades down the road, and she’s landed in an not-so-stimulating life of minivan carpools, folding laundry, and bake sales. Holly Hunter’s alternately warm and stern vocal work serves as a reminder that the best superheroes also make for the best moms: guided by a tender heart, but unafraid to use a little force when things get unruly. Whether she’s enforcing bedtime or punching a baddie, lights out means lights out. CB

13. Carl Fredricksen, ‘Up’ (2009)

Your grouchy old neighbor has lived more life than you’ll ever know. That’s the lesson of Up, which shows how the snarling Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) was once a sweet little boy who fell hard for pretty Ellie, their lifelong bond forged by a shared passion for exploration. In the movie’s dazzling opening montage, we bear witness to the arc of their love affair, from blissful wedding to heartbreaking funeral. The pain of Ellie’s death haunts the film, but this septuagenarian finds a path through his grief in the most unlikely of ways: by tying a bunch of balloons to his home and embarking on a journey to the South American jungles. Along the way, Carl finally lets go of his wife, paradoxically, by reconnecting with the spirit of adventure that made them fall in love in the first place. TG

12. Woody, ‘Toy Story’ Movies (1995-2010)

Andy’s cherished cowboy was shaking in his boots when the newer, fancier, shinier model came to town. The petty jealousy that seizes Woody when he feels himself being replaced gets at the essence of childhood’s emotional turbulence, a time when discovering that your bestest friend considers someone else his bestest friend might as well be the end of the world. Tom Hanks imbued the rustler with apoplectic hilarity (“YOU. ARE. A. TOY!”) and made for the perfect straight man against the delusional Buzz Lightyear, but it’s the uglier aspects of his personality – envy, selfishness – that make this toy human. CB

11. Dug the Dog, ‘Up’ (2009)

For all those who say that Up peters out after its powerhouse opening scene … um, have you forgotten about Dug? More than just comic relief, the relentlessly upbeat, charmingly naive talking pooch represents both the surreal wonderland that the heroes drop into and the sunny outlook they eventually learn to adopt. Whether he’s galumphing to the rescue or getting distracted by a squirrel, the wide-eyed dog is a model of righteous living. Whatever adventure you’re having, you should always be asking yourself: WWDD? NM

10. Buzz Lightyear, ‘Toy Story’ Movies (1995-2010)

Nearly 10 years before The Incredibles, Pixar was sending up superheroes with Toy Story‘s big-headed galactic defender — a fatuous, hard-headed boob who’s bought into the myth of his own power. Fortunately, Buzz’s heart as big as his brain is small, and he learns to earn his heroism the hard way rather than assuming it’s his by birth (or manufacture). The bravest thing he does is accepting his own faults. To infinity, and beyond. SA

9. Edna Mode, ‘The Incredibles’ (2004)

A Pixar adventure about a family of superheroes was always a can’t-miss idea, but the appearance of Edna Mode, as their diminutive costume designer, takes The Incredibles to another level. Writer-director Brad Bird, who also voices Edna, stops the action cold just to have a sequence about appropriate action-wear for the specially abled, culminating in a brilliant screed on the impracticality of capes. Edna is a reminder that the superhero suit needs to the perfect synthesis of form and function — otherwise, greatness as both a crimefighter and an icon is impossible. ST

8. Mike Wazowski, ‘Monsters Inc.’ (2001)

One of the best gags of the Monsters movies is that these big freaky creatures have such mundane names. In the case of Mike Wazowski, that’s both the joke and the point. In both Monsters Inc. and its 2010 sequel, Monsters University, the one-eyed, apple-shaped beastie is just an ordinary Joe, hustling to get ahead in life. He’s cheerfully self-deluded about how scary he can be, but he also has the gumption and guile to get himself and his friends out of impossible scrapes. It’s weird to think of a lumpy green thing as an everyman, but Billy Crystal’s voice helps make Mike a monster of the people. NM

7. Sadness, ‘Inside Out’ (2015)

There’s poetry in the tone of utter defeat that Phyllis Smith brings to this cutesy embodiment of melancholy – miserable, self-pitying poetry, like the kind a tween would write. As she moans and groans her way across the interiors of the human mind, Sadness doesn’t mature in any significant way. The little miracle of this literal sad-sack is how she instead provokes change in the audience, showing that the unhappy parts of ourselves are the ones most deserving of love, instead of denial or repression. Ain’t nothing wrong with a good cry. CB

6. Merida, ‘Brave’ (2012)

It took Pixar unconscionably long to create their first female lead, but this headstrong Scottish lass was worth the wait. There’s so much spirit in her unruly, flame-colored curls that you pray they’re never confined by a princess’ garb, but her rebelliousness nearly carries a terrible cost. The way she negotiates the push and pull between independence and understand makes her one of Pixar’s richest characters, and Brave its most poignant exploration of parent-child relationships. SA

5. Jessie, ‘Toy Story 2 and 3’ (1999-2010)

Many characters in the Toy Story universe wrestle with the anxiety of abandonment, but none rip your heart out the way this rootin’-tootin’ yodeling cowgirl does. Jessie projects a sunny disposition to hide a deep psychic wound: Her beloved human Emily grew up and discarded her. Much of the character’s sweetness and vulnerability come from Joan Cusack’s bubbly, fragile performance — but praise is also due to Randy Newman and Sarah McLachlan, whose “When She Loved Me” scores a tear-jerking montage outlining the happy relationship that Jessie assumed would last forever. In those three minutes, the cowgirl goes from being a great comic sidekick to a tragic figure, articulating everything the franchise needs to say about childhood’s end. TG

4. Anton Ego, ‘Ratatouille’ (2007)

Pale, balding, and sharp-featured, with a permanent scowl affixed to his face, Anton Ego is designed like the critic of the popular imagination: a joyless vampire who sucks the life out of creative enterprises. As he knocks stars off Gusteau’s famous five-star restaurant in Paris, the wag seems to revel in its demise. But when Remy the Rat revives the place, the man shows another side of himself. Voiced imperiously by Peter O’Toole, Anton is the villain of Ratatouille for much of the way, rejecting the credo that anyone can cook. Then he’s served a variation on a childhood favorite, and his reaction speaks to the film’s true message about the rich, evocative, fulfilling qualities of good food — and good art. ST

3. Dory, ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003)

More than just Marlin’s neurotic sidekick in Finding Nemo, Dory the forgetful Blue Tang was always good for upbeat Zen koans (“Just keep swimming!”) and the occasional useful whale translation. But now that she’s got her own movie, it turns out her short-term memory loss is sort of a superpower of its own: Dory’s struggles also help her see the world differently and solve problems the other fish can’t crack. Plus she’s generous, smart, devoted to her friends, and has killer comic timing, whether she’s acting as the teacher’s assistant on the coral reef or hanging out with a grumpy octopus. Did Pixar create the first special-needs comedy-action heroine? AW

2. WALL-E, ‘WALL-E’ (2008)

There’s no more beautiful stretch of filmmaking in the Pixar catalog than the wordless opening minutes of WALL-E, when a trash compactor robot is the only sign of life on an Earth that humans have rendered uninhabitable. Dutifully tidying up a garbage planet, one tiny cube at a time, WALL-E is like a cross between Short Circuit‘s “Johnny Five” and Charlton Heston inThe Omega Man, a saucer-eyed imp who survives on resilience and routine. His childlike sweetness comes through in flickers — first in the whimsy of watching a Hello, Dolly, clip, later in a friendship with the high-tech probe EVE — but it saves the world just as surely as the lone seedling that pokes through the barren soil. He’s a symbol of our determined, rust-bucket soul. ST

1. Joy, ‘Inside Out’ (2015)

The spunky, literally emotional heroine of Inside Out is so lovably peppy and bright, and easy to trust — especially given she’s speaking in the voice of Amy Poehler. She’s our helpful guide to young Riley Andersen, giving filmgoers a tour of what goes on inside a preteen’s head and explaining how a team of anthropomorphic emotions work to keep their girl-you’ll-be-a-woman-soon host safe and happy. But what’s so moving about this film — especially to parents — is that we discover along with Joy that children have to change, and to let some parts of themselves die in order to grow. It’s such a classic Pixar switcheroo: taking a character that’s cute and fun and then let her lead the audience to a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. NM