Beginning with Toy Story in 1995, Pixar has now fully produced thirteen major feature films, each one invoking a wide spectrum of emotions in its viewers. Their successful formula involves creating a certain level of buy-in, making us care about animated characters more than we ever had in the past.
Sometimes Pixar waits until you’re emotionally invested in the story to hit you with a tear-jerker moment, and sometimes they hit you with it right out of the gate. Here are 5 Pixar moments that never fail to reduce me to a slobbering pile.
5. Toy Story 3 – Andy gives his toys to Bonnie
The end of Toy Story 3 really was a fitting end to a great trilogy. Watching any characters say goodbye to each other after 3 feature films worth of adventures together is bound to be an emotional send off. Add in the fact that the movie began with the toys plotting ways to get Andy to play with them just once more, and you have quite the emotional payoff as they get their wish.
4. Cars – the fall of Radiator Springs
Oh big deal. So they paved a superhighway and bypassed a small town, so what?
On the surface, it just seems like business as usual- but this is where Pixar’s bread is buttered: the James Taylor song, the flashbacks, the emotion. Sally takes Lightning McQueen up to the old site of the Wagon Wheel Motel, for a bird’s eye view of the town below. As she tells him the story of the birth of Route 66, we see a vintage era bustling town. It’s 40 years in the past; everyone is happy, and the local businesses thrive as they welcome tourists passing through town on their way across country.
Then Route 66 is completed, bypassing Radiator Springs and redirecting traffic around what will become a sleepy old midwest town. The customers start disappearing (literally), businesses start to close due to lack of traffic, and you see the livelihood sapped from their owners’ faces. The story is based on a whole bunch of real towns and places like this.
Let’s say your grandparents owned a family business- just picture your dear old grandad’s face the day they shut their doors for good due to a lack of customers. Choked up a little?
3. Finding Nemo – Coral dies
A barracuda eats Marlin’s wife and all but one of his unborn children in the opening scene, come on. Thankfully they got this out of the way early so we still had some soda to wash down that gigantic lump in our throat.
2. Toy Story 2 – Jessie’s backstory
When Woody is separated from “his kid” in Toy Story 2, Jessie and the rest of the Woody’s Roundup gang are elated. Reuniting with their cowboy main character meant they could come out of storage once and for all, destined to be displayed in a Japanese museum.
When Woody refuses to go, an emotionally shaken Jessie reveals her own story of how she too was once a very special kid’s favorite toy. Until that one goddamn day.
They set you up with an original Sarah McLachlan song, so you’re instantly in that ‘holy crap there are so many helpless dogs without homes and food in this world’ frame of mind. Regardless of the song’s somber tone, the flashbacks show Jessie living every toy’s dream- the apple of her owner’s eye, sharing every waking moment.
One day Jessie falls behind the bed, and instead of being saved by Emily she lays there for years, watching her pre-teen owner have nail polish parties with her friends. She’s been forgotten. Dust collects.
That’s not even the sad part.
Years pass and Jessie continues to fade into childhood memory when suddenly she’s extracted from under the bed. She beams as Emily puts her in her purse and takes her in the car. Best friends reunited, just like old times! Does it get any better?
Just as you raise your arms above your head in a Rocky-Balboa-at-the-top-of-the-steps moment of exhaltation, Pixar sucker punches you in your emotionally exposed gut. The car stops, Jessie is placed in a box, and looks up to see Emily’s car drive away. A wide shot reveals Jessie’s new digs- a donation center.
It’s OK to cry here, at least that’s what I tell myself every time I see it.
1. Up – the first 12 minutes
Oh. My. Jesus.
After running the animated emotional gauntlet that is the opening scene of Up, the first question I asked aloud was “Why in the hell did no one tell me it was going to be like this?!”
The fast-moving life story of Carl Fredricksen and the love of his life, Ellie, is breathtakingly well executed. The top commenter on this YouTube clip sums it up perfectly: Pixar did in little over five minutes what Twilight couldnt achieve in 5 movies, create an actual love story.
Here’s the whole gut-wrenching thing. If you can get through it with dry eyes, what’s it like being a robot who reads blogs?