Pixar is one of the biggest names in animation. The release of their first film Toy Story in 1995 put them on the map. They have become the gold standard for children’s animation. The studio has won 11 of the Best Animated Film Academy Awards. Many Pixar films are some of the most beloved family movies all over the world. Their characters have become part of the pop culture landscape.
Pixar and its characters are so valuable to Disney that Bob Iger, shortly after he became CEO of Disney, bought Pixar for $7 billion. This is more than Disney paid for Marvel and Star Wars. This was because Iger noticed that many of the characters in Disney theme parks were ones created by Pixar, as these were the ones that had connected with audiences. Pixar was valued for its ability to create new characters. Pixar is set to release its 27th film, Elemental, in June 2023, so look back at Pixar’s 20 greatest characters ranked.
Bing Bong is one of Pixar’s silliest characters who also has one of the most heartbreaking arcs in the company’s history. Introduced in the film Inside Out, Bing-Bong is the imaginary friend of Riley who Joy and Sadness meet. Bing-Bong gives his life so that Joy can take care of Riley. He slowly fades away from Riley’s memory. His sacrifice is such an emotional moment it was even referenced in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law as a sad moment for both Bruce Banner and Jennifer Walters.
Merida is the lead character in 2012’s Brave and was Pixar’s first female protagonist. She is a Scottish Princess who defies her culture’s customs looking to forge a life on her own terms. Merida has been an incredibly popular character since she first premiered. She is one of the few Pixar characters to spin off beyond the company being part of the Disney Princess line. She had a cameo in Ralph Breaks The Internet and made her live-action debut on the ABC series Once Upon A Time.
18 Lightning McQueen
While the Cars films might be the lowest Pixar franchise in critical ranking, the fact that the franchise got three films shows how the series did have an impact, and central to that is Lightning McQueen. Voiced by Owen Wilson, audiences see Lightning McQueen begin the series as a hot shot egotistical rookie in Cars, an athlete in his prime in Cars 2, and a seasoned veteran who becomes a mentor in Cars 3. It has been seventeen years since Cars premiered, and audiences still recognize Lightning McQueen and can’t help but say Ka-Chow!
17 Mr. Incredible
Mr. Incredible is the father of the Parr family in The Incredibles and the central character of the first film. Mr. Incredible’s story arc is about overcoming his insecurities and embracing his family’s inner strength. Incredibles 2 finds comedic moments with him stepping into a stay-at-home father role. Mr. Incredible is both a great superhero but also a good father.
Elastigirl is the mother of The Incredibles and she and Mr. Incredible get an equal booking. Yet Elastigirl stands slightly higher on the list due to her being a better superhero than Mr. Incredible. Holly Hunter gives Elastigirl a sense of confidence but also a strong-nurturing side to her that makes her the glue of the Parr family. She is both a great superhero and a great mom and has been a fan favorite ever since 2004.
Remy is the lead character in Ratatouille. Voiced by Patton Oswalt, this little rat who dreams of becoming a chef feels relatable to anybody who has aspired to be more than what they were born into. He is passionate, sarcastic, and a little self-absorbed, but also a character who believes that the world does not have to be what it is. Remy changes the lives of those around him and is the second-best rodent Disney has made, behind only Mickey Mouse himself.
14 Edna Mode
Edna Mode appears in only two scenes in The Incredibles, but the character steals the show. Voiced by Brad Bird and based on costume designer Edith Head, Edna is the woman responsible for making the various superhero costumes. Edna has some of the most memorable lines in The Incredibles. Even with just a couple of scenes, Edna is one of the best characters Pixar has created, and a hilarious homage to costume designer Edith Head.
13 Mike Wazowski
Mike Wazowski’s name isn’t just fun to say, he is a great character to watch. Voiced by Billy Crystal, Mike is one of the co-leads in 2001’s Monsters Inc. and the 2013 prequel film Monsters University. Adult Mike is a ladies’ man and humorous. Monsters University added some depth to the character showing how he dreamed of becoming a scarier and how life had different plans for him. Mike Wazowski is easily one of the most recognizable characters in Pixar’s history.
Boo is the central human character in Monsters Inc. A young girl who finds her way into the monster’s world, while she originally is perceived as a threat, both Mike and Sully eventually begin to care for her. The relationship she forms with Sully is the heart of the movie, and their departure was an early indicator of just how emotional Pixar films could be. Boo is such a popular character fans have been theorizing they see her in other films from Pixar, including Toy Story 3 and Brave.
Sully is the heart and soul of the Monsters Inc. franchise. Voiced to perfection by John Goodman, Sully is both a big terrifying monster and a lovable softy. Sully might not have the most famous lines of a Pixar character, but he has one of the biggest hearts. Sully’s characterization is made better with the addition of Monsters University which allows Goodman to voice a more laid-back slacker, highlighting exactly how much he will mature by the time audiences see him in Monsters Inc.
Pixar has a lot of great villains, from the Prospector in Toy Story 2 to Randall in Monsters Inc., but Syndrome from The Incredibles is the best of the best. Voiced by Jason Lee, Syndrome is a fanboy gone wrong who, after being rejected by his hero Mr. Incredible begins his quest to kill all superheroes. Syndrome is equal parts humorous but also threatening. The moment he is willing to kill children shows how evil he is.
Mei is the lead character of Turning Red. Mei is a 13-year-old girl in 2002 who turns into a giant red panda when she experiences emotional stress due to an ancient family curse. She is unique among not just Pixar characters but animated protagonists as she feels like a contemporary character. She is a young student who has friends, crushes on boys, and has a complicated relationship with her family and culture. Mei might be a new Pixar character (and may be a literal manifestation of puberty and periods), but it shows that the company’s best days are far from behind them.
While Finding Nemo might be named after the young fish, it is his father Marlin who is the central protagonist. Marlin is a father who loves his son but due to a great family tragedy is overly protective. When push comes to shove, Marlin faces his own fears and stops at nothing to find his son. Marlin is one of Pixar’s greatest heroes, an everyday dad who learns a valuable lesson in being a parent.
Joy is the lead character in Inside Out and the primary emotion that controls Riley’s young childhood. Amy Poehler is perfectly cast as Joy. The character shines for the lesson she undergoes, learning that Riley needs to experience a whole host of emotions and that sometimes there is value in an emotion like sadness. Inside Out 2 will explore a new set of emotions, yet thankfully Joy is still set to be part of the film.
Coco is filled with a colorful cast of characters, but the heart and soul of the movie is Miguel. Similar to Remy from Ratatouille, Miguel is a young man driven by his passion for art, in this case, music. Miguel is accidentally transported to the Land of the Dead on Día de los Muertos and embarks on a quest to discover and confront the secrets of his family. Miguel has the heart and passion of a musician, but his family’s love for him and his love for them makes him such a beloved character. His final moment singing the heart-melting Disney song “Remember Me” to his grandma Coco will bring a tear to even the most cynical viewer.
One could make the argument that Ellen DeGeneres’s performance as Dory in Finding Nemo is the best case for why the Academy Awards should have a Best Vocal Acting performance. Dory is a laugh-out-loud character in Finding Nemo, but her short-term memory gag is also a key element to the franchise’s core theme: the relationship between parents and their children with physical and mental disabilities. This is expanded upon in Finding Dory. After she got lost from her family, she goes on a quest to find them. Her parents and friends must learn that Dory is Dory, and that is not something to be worried about but embraced.
4 Carl Fredricksen
Up shows the magic of Pixar, as they were able to make an animated film aimed at families and young kids and make a protagonist that was a 79-year-old widow and make it connect. Carl Fredricksen’s love story with Ellie is one of the company’s best, and his journey into embracing life is relevant to all audiences. Carl’s voice actor Ed Asner passed away in 2021. After a career filled with great performances, Carl remains one of his most iconic.
WALL_E is easily one of the most recognizable Disney and Pixar characters ever. Even if someone has not seen WALL-E, they see one image of him and know who he is. The story of this sad little robot left on Earth for years to clean up who becomes fascinated by the remnants of the culture humans left behind that eventually falls in love with a robot is a story that connected with audiences. WALL-E’s good nature heart shows EVE what love is, but also inspires a group of outcast robots and even brings humanity back to Earth to begin again. A unique design and limited dialogue make WALL-E one of Pixar’s best characters.
Woody is one of the co-leads of the Toy Story franchise, and with Tom Hanks providing the voice he has become of the most beloved film characters of all time. The Toy Story movies are billed as buddy movies between Woody and Buzz, but Woody is very much the central character of the franchise. Woody is brave, loyal, and heroic. Not only one of Pixar’s most famous characters but also one of Disney’s biggest icons.
1 Buzz Lightyear
Toy Story is the film that launched Pixar Animation Studio, and no character has become a bigger icon than Buzz Lightyear. His toy was the hottest-selling toy item of 1995. A Buzz Lightyear toy was even put on a space shuttle. He was even given his own spin-off film in 2022 titled Lightyear. Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase “to infinity and beyond” is one of the most iconic film quotes of all time and is very much the spirit of Pixar Animation.