The Best (and Worst) Pixar Movie Sequels

Toy Story 4 just debuted in theaters and so far is enjoying scores of positive reviews. Picking up from where they left off, Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the Toy Story crew have settled into their new life with Bonnie.

And if TS4 is anything like its predecessors, you can expect lots of laughs, a few tears with just a dash of self reflection. And while the Toy Story sequels have been largely well received, the same can’t be said for every Pixar entry. Here is our list of the best (and worst) Pixar sequels.

The Incredibles 2

The worst thing you can say about The Incredibles 2 is that it wasn't strictly necessary; the best thing you can say is that it was almost as good as the original. Picking up right where The Incredibles left off (really — just a few seconds later), The Incredibles 2 explores how the super-family adapts to life as American society tentatively starts to accept superheroes in it once again.

This time, working mom Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) takes center stage, as she works with two wealthy benefactors in order to help the public regain its trust in costumed vigilantes. When a mysterious new villain called the Screenslaver discovers a way to mind-control everyday citizens through their TVs, the whole family steps up to help — which, ultimately, might do more harm than good. With a quicky retro aesthetic, sharp writing and a ton of great action set pieces, The Incredibles 2 demonstrates that animated sequels can be so much more than uninspired cash-ins. - Marshall Honorof

Toy Story 3

Honestly, I would have been fine if Toy Story ended as a trilogy. Toy Story 3 follows Woody and the gang as they deal with Andy’s impending entry into college. Mistakenly, put on the curb as garbage, the toys instead wind up at a daycare center which is ruled by Lotso, the seemingly genteel leader of the daycare toys. After discovering that Andy hadn’t meant to throw them away and being fed up with the toddlers’ rough treatment, Woody and the gang make a break for it, but not before discovering a bitter Lotso has been deceiving everyone about their past owners due to a bitterness at being replaced. A story of growing up and embracing the future and the change that comes with it, Toy Story 3 is funny, emotional and engaging. In other words, Toy Story 4 has some big shoes to fill.  – Sherri L. Smith

Toy Story 2

Of all the movies in the Toy Story franchise, Toy Story 2 will always hold a special place in my heart. Following the ending of the first film, all of Andy’s toys are at peace with each other thanks to the arrival of Buster, the new family puppy. With a common threat for Andy’s attention and the hatchet buried between Buzz and Woody, fans wondered where the series would go next. Ominous premonitions in Woody’s nightmares within the first few minutes of the movie soon make their way into the real world. Woody is stolen at a yardsale, destined to be sold and put on display in a Tokyo museum, never to be played with again. The thief, Al McWhiggin, is the greedy toy collecting antagonist. The remainder of the plot revolves around Buzz and the gang mounting an epic rescue for their friend. Highlights of the film include Jessie’s heartbreaking “When She Loved Me” and a showdown between Buzz and Zurg. Incredible character development, improved animation and the overall feeling that the movie had more fun with itself in comparison to the previous film made Toy Story 2 a superior sequel. —Hunter Fenollol

Finding Dory

After thirteen years, audiences weren't demanding a follow up to Finding Nemo, but it came as a pleasant surprise to animated fish fans like me nonetheless. Finding Dory could have easily fallen prey to the formulaic disappointment lower-ranked Pixar sequels faced: it fleshed out a storyline from a first-movie side character in the form of an absurd adventure; it introduced borderline-pointless characters and created conflict without presenting gaping plot holes. But Dory — that insanely forgetful, cheerfully courageous, regal blue tang fish — is such a damn lovable character that her own title movie couldn’t disappoint if it tried. Of course, it somewhat relied on Ellen DeGeneres reviving Dory’s quirks to their full appeal. Spoiler: she succeeded, evoking so much nostalgia for the first time I saw Finding Nemo in elementary school. Dory’s emotion-soaked quest for self-sufficiency proves any sequel can, at the very least, do its original justice if it stars an endearing subject. — Kate Kozuch

Monsters University

Technically, Monsters University is a prequel, but it's still a continuation of a popular Pixar franchise. And, in the grand scheme of things, it's not that bad. Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James "Sully" Sullivan (John Goodman) are two monsters who both attend the titular Monsters University in order to learn how to scare children. There, they form an unlikely friendship and go through the standard "college movie" routine. They attempt to join a frat; they try to cheat on exams; they get into a huge misunderstanding that results in an over-the-top finale. The movie doesn't add much to the already-good Monsters, Inc. storyline, but it's a decent excuse to spend a few more hours with the extremely likable lead characters. There are a few good jokes, and the cast is on-point, even if it's ultimately a pretty insubstantial film. - Marshall Honorof

Cars 2

If I may take a guess, part of the reason the Cars series elicits the hate that it does stems from a global sentiment that the world didn't really need a trilogy of films about Lightning McQueen and his friends. And although that's certainly a defensible position to take, the irony here is that the third installment happens to be the most grounded of the lot, while Cars 2 — the movie where a tow truck portrayed by Larry the Cable Guy haplessly stumbles bumper-backwards into the high-stakes, take-no-prisoners arena of global espionage — is actually the bastard stepchild of the trio. Sure, as a gearhead I appreciate the cavalcade of cameos from racing greats, and I'm still delighted every time I see Lewis Hamilton immortalized as a McLaren GT3 race car. But there's no denying that Cars 2 was the first Pixar film that made us all collectively question Pixar’s greatness, and that’s how it shall forever be remembered. — Adam Ismail

Cars 3

The final edition of the Cars franchise straight up made me sad. It’s mean-spirited towards Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), who’s repeatedly insulted and doubted as a washed-up old man. Not cool, considering he’s younger than Doc Hudson when he retired. The veteran Lightning attempts to take on young, faster rival Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), while teaching Cruz (Cristela Alonzo) how to race. Storm is nothing more than a competitive jerk when, in my opinion, he could’ve been an interesting character with some better writing. But then he wouldn’t fit into the "young people suck, old people rule, technology is scary!" narrative of the entire movie. I’m barely a millennial and I’m offended! We still get to see our beloved Radiator Springs characters, but they play irrelevant roles in pushing the plot along. Even Luigi and Guido are nothing more than filler. And if that wasn’t dissatisfying enough, McQueen's arc ends with following in Doc's tire tracks! I don’t think that’s what any fans of the original would’ve wanted. — Kate Kozuch

Credit: Pixar