John Lasseter has one of those names—maybe you’re not familiar with it, but you’re almost guaranteed to have seen and fallen in love with his work. After graduating from CalArts’ animation program, Lasseter jumped right into animating for Disney. From here Lasseter quickly developed a highly successful career, working on some of your favorite, iconic animated films at Lucasfilm, Pixar, and back to Disney, before accepting a job as Head of Animation at Skydance Productions. Because the movies he’s worked on are so famously stellar and memorable, it’s almost impossible to rank them, but below is the best attempt at deciding the top ten greatest John Lasseter movies of all time. *Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD*
Released in 2006 by Pixar, Cars tells the story of anthropomorphic vehicles caught up in the competitive life of racing. When arrogant rookie Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson, is on his way to the most important race of his life, he ends up stranded in a ghost town and has to learn the hard way that there’s more to life than winning. Aside from Owen Wilson, the cast includes Bonnie Hunt as Sally Carerra, Micheal Keaton as Chick Hicks, and Hollywood royalty Paul Newman as Doc Johnson. John Lasseter, who wrote and directed Cars, has said that the story for the film was originally inspired by a cross-country road trip he took with his wife and sons in 2000.
9. A Bug’s Life
Bugs, normally creepy and inconvenient to most, become fun and lovable—not to mention educational—in this 1998 classic. When misfit ant Flik (Dave Foley) goes looking for fighters to help him defend against grasshoppers, he inadvertently recruits what turns out to be a bumbling circus troupe. This all-star cast consists of Kevin Spacey as Hopper, the leader of the grasshopper gang, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as Princess Atta, Flik’s love interest, Hayden Panettiere as Atta’s younger sister Dot, and Dennis Leary as Francis, the angry lady bug clown. Ringmaster P.T. Flea voiced by John Ratzenberger is a clever homage to P.T. Barnum most kids are likely to miss until rewatching the film as an adult. Heimlich, a caterpillar voiced by John Raft who longs to be a butterfly, teaches kids to dream of becoming their best selves.
John Lasseter’s first film to executive produce for Skydance Animation, Luck follows foster child Sam Greenfield. Known for her comedic misfortune Sam follows a black cat into the Land of Luck where she scrambles to help her friend Hazel get adopted. On her journey, Sam discovers the age-old systems of good luck and bad luck that affect our everyday lives on Earth and learns that good fortune isn’t what it seems. Sam Greenfield is played by voice-over newcomer Eva Noblezada, who is joined by Simon Pegg as Bob the black cat, Jane Fonda as Babe, the dragon CEO of Good Luck, and Whoopi Goldberg as The Captain, a leprechaun who runs the Land of Luck’s security.
7. Toy Story
Perhaps the most famous Pixar production, Toy Story is the heartbreaking story of toys Woody and Buzz Lightyear, who struggle to come to terms with the fact that they’re no longer an important part of their owner Andy’s life. This film with its perilous adventures and lovable cast of characters would rank much higher on the list if it weren’t for how downright sad it is. Toy Story is not for the faint of heart, as its powerful storytelling tends to make viewers cling to their childhood toys, fearful that they might cause said toys the distress Andy causes Woody and his friends. Toy Story stars Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allan as Buzz Lightyear, Annie Pots as Bo Peep, and Wallace Shawn as Rex. While Disney wanted the movie to be a musical, John Lasseter himself did not. Ultimately, a compromise was reached where Randy Newman would compose a non-diegetic soundtrack. The now iconic soundtrack features “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” which was written by Newman in one day.
6. Inside Out
Yet another devastating story released by Pixar! While A Bug’s Life anthropomorphized bugs, and Toy Story anthropomorphized toys, Inside Out anthropomorphized actual human emotions. Genius! When a young girl is forced to move across the country, her emotions—joy, fear, anger, disgust, and sadness—compete for her attention and try their best to help her adjust to a new version of life. The emotions are played by Amy Poehler as Joy, Lewis Black as Anger, Bill Hader as Fear, and Mindy Kaling as Disgust, a team that works together to pull on the audience’s heartstrings.
5. Monster’s Inc.
In Monster’s Inc., imaginary monsters become very real as we follow Mike Wazowksi (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) on their quest to elicit screams from children. This comedy classic was conceived by John Lasseter and director Pete Docter while having lunch. “When we were making Toy Story, everybody came up to me and said ‘Hey I totally believed that my toys came to life when I left the room,'” Doctor says in a 2002 DVD commentary, “So when Disney asked us to do some more films, I wanted to tap into a childlike notion that was similar to that. I knew monsters were coming out of my closet when I was a kid. So I said ‘hey, let’s do a film about monsters.’”
Skydance Animation’s first short (released in 2021), Blush is the science fiction story of a horticulturist/astronaut who gets stranded on a desolate dwarf planet where life and growth are impossible. When an ethereal alien visitor with bubblegum pink hair crash-lands on the planet, her energy causes plants to flourish and thrive. Animator Joe Mateo says his idea for the story was inspired by the loss of his wife to breast cancer, and how his daughters kept him alive during the insurmountable grief.
2016’s Zootopia tells the story of rookie cop bunny (Ginnifer Goodwin) and her unlikely partner in justice, the con artist fox (Jason Bateman), as they work to uncover a conspiracy. There are many words to describe Zootopia: sophisticated, complex, and groundbreaking. Not on that list would be childish, frivolous, or silly. While this film is undeniably fun, it also tackles dead-serious topics such as racism and prejudice, which makes it eye-opening and educational for kids and adults alike.
Set in a dystopian future, a small waste-collecting robot ventures out on a space journey that will decide the fate of humanity. Of all the Pixar films, Wall-E (2008) might indeed be the most frightening, as it predicts a grim future driven by consumerism, laziness, and greed, which could very well be where we are headed. With that said, it is also one of the most charming, as it explores an innocent love story between WALL-E and robot EVE, who has been sent to his planet in search of life signs.
1. Wreck-it Ralph
This 2012 wacky buddy adventure follows video game villain Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Riley) and video game outcast Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) as they set out to fulfill his dream of being a hero and her dream of being a car-racing winner. The electric colors and video game nostalgia are so satisfying, and the underlying message of self-acceptance is so refreshing it will have you wanting to watch it again and again.
Whichever John Lasseter movie is your favorite, you have to admit they’re all fantastic, they all have shaped the nature of children’s entertainment, and they will all go down in history as the most iconic animated films of all time. Other notable and impressive John Lasseter films include Coco, Frozen, Moana, Big Hero 6, Brave, and Tangled.