11 Heartwarming Pixar Movie Moments That Prove Pixar Can Do More Than Make Us All Cry
By now, we're all familiar with the fact that the animators at Pixar Studios are probably perfectly calibrated machines invented to create Pixar movies that make grown humans feel heartwarmed, as well as weep copious amounts of tears in dark theaters in front of their bewildered children. Some of the most heartbreaking sequences ever put to film exist within Pixar's oeuvre: Nemo's mom getting eaten by a barracuda in Finding Nemo; all the toys clasping hands as they prepare for certain fiery death in Toy Story 3; and, God help me, the first five minutes of Up. (I'm crying right now just thinking about it.)
The studio's latest effort, the phenomenal Inside Out, continues that trend (spoiler alert!), traumatizing viewers young and old with the heartbreaking "death" of Riley's imaginary friend Bing Bong. ("Who's your friend that loves to play?" *sobs uncontrollably*) But lest we ignore that movie's lesson and get wrapped up in one emotion at the expense of all the rest, let's take a moment to remember the times Pixar movies brought us joy.
Here are 11 of the most heartwarming moments in Pixar's history, ranging from the more light-hearted to the decidedly poignant:
11. A Bug's Life — "I'm A Beautiful Butterfly!"
One of the running jokes in the 1998 animated insect comedy (that WASN'T Antz) centered on Heimlich, the obese, German-accented caterpillar who longed to be a butterfly. At the end of the movie, Heimlich's wish finally came true, and his unbridled joy (and quotable exclamation) was infectious.
10. Brave — Bullseye
When Pixar's first female protagonist decides she doesn't want to get married off to some random dude in a kilt, she doesn't just stomp her feet and pout — she actually does something about it. She competes in the competition for her own hand, hitting a bullseye three times in a row and slicing her suitor's arrow right down the middle.
9. The Incredibles — Running On Water
If there's a sequence in a Pixar movie that's more purely exhilarating than the one where Dash discovers the true extent of his powers, I certainly can't think of one. His gasp, his look of disbelief... and then his giggle of delight are all reactions a preteen boy who suddenly realized he can run on water would totally have. It's these small human touches to a story about superheroes that made The Incredibles such an acclaimed film.
8. Up — Taking Flight
After devastating viewers with its tragic opening, the movie needed to rouse audiences back to life... something which this sequence achieved in spades. The soaring music, the colorful animation of the hundreds of balloons, and Carl's determination to finally fulfill his promise to his beloved Ellie all combine to make this a particularly uplifting scene. (Pun intended.)
7. Toy Story — Falling With Style
One of the emotional nadirs of Pixar's first feature-length film was when Buzz Lightyear learned the horrible truth: that he couldn't really fly. So when really did fly — right through the open sunroof of Andy's car — it was a gratifying moment for both viewers AND Buzz. The fact that he accepted his heroism with such uncharacteristic humility was just the icing on the cake. "Buzz, you're flying!" exclaimed Woody. "This isn't flying. This is falling... with style!"
6. Finding Nemo — "Just Keep Swimming"
You can always count on Dory to perk up your spirits with a well-timed joke or adage or song. When Marlin is despairing at the loss of the Sydney address where Nemo is located, Dory cheers him up with an improvised ditty: "When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming, just keep swimming." These are unexpectedly sage words of advice from such a forgetful fish.
5. Wall-E — "Define Dancing"
Like the scene of Carl's house lifting off in Up, what makes this moment from Wall-E so thrilling is the perfect combination of music, animation, and emotion. The sight of Wall-E and Eve dancing through outer space, with their contrails leaving paths through the purple flames of the Axiom's jets, has got to be one of the most stunningly animated sequences in Pixar history. The fact that it also serves as the high point of one of the most unexpectedly affecting romances in movie history certainly doesn't hurt.
4. Monsters, Inc. — "Kitty!"
A glowing red light. A slow-opening door. A little girls' voice. A euphoric smile. Excuse me, I think I've got something in my eye. This is one of those rare moments when Pixar actually changes things up by making you cry tears of joy.
3. Ratatouille — One Bite
This movie about a food-loving mouse doesn't usually rank in the Top Three of anyone's Best Pixar Movies list, but it should for this single moment. When feared restaurant critic Anton Ego takes a bite of the titular dish, ratatouille, it's literally sheer transcendence. He immediately flashes back to a memory of his mother making him the same meal when he was a child, and anyone in the audience can identify with those sudden, unpredictable rushes of memory that stop you in your tracks. It's a universal feeling, and one that melts the audience's heart as much as Anton's.
2. Inside Out — Sadness Saves The Day
When Joy finally realizes that it will take more than just herself to get Riley's emotions back on track, it's a moment that most adults probably saw coming a mile away, but that doesn't make the epiphany any less affecting. Ultimately, it's Sadness that convinces Riley not to run away, as the young girl realizes it's OK to feel sorrow for the memories she's lost. Joy and Sadness must learn to coexist — and they do, forming the first complex, multi-colored marble in Riley's memory bank. It's a shockingly mature moment for such a kid-oriented film.
1. Toy Story 3 — Saying Goodbye
Okay, this is an interesting one because it tends to end up on everyone's lists of most tear-inducing Pixar moments as well. But, while there is definitely sadness in watching Andy bid farewell to his favorite childhood toys, there is also happiness in watching him share them with young Bonnie. The satisfaction of knowing that Buzz, Woody, and the rest of the toys will be able to continue to bring joy to a new owner mingles with the pain of goodbye into the perfect encapsulation of the word "bittersweet." This is precisely the kind of happy/sad moment that Inside Out was preparing us for.
Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures