Over the last decade, Pixar Animation Studios have become hugely popular for their wildly clever, beautifully told films. Filled with childlike wonder along with a seamless injection of jokes for the parents, Pixar films are for everyone, masquerading as kid’s films.
Besides the jokes, Pixar know how to hit an emotional beat and reduce even the most hardened of grown ups to a blubbering mess. Being able to deal so truthfully and honestly with the universal themes of friendship, love and even death is just one of the many things that puts Pixar so far above the rest. With their next venture, the Mexico-set Coco, set for release this year, we take a look at Pixar’s most heartbreaking moments so far…
5. Sulley says goodbye – Monsters Inc.
Monsters Inc. twists the childhood fear of ‘monsters in your closet’ to tell the story of Mike and Sulley, two blue-collar workers whose job is to collect the screams of supposedly toxic human children to power Monstropolis. When a little girl named Boo accidentally ends up on the other side of the closet, shenanigans ensue leading to a touching friendship between Boo and her monster, Sulley.
Prepare yourself, because the uplifting friendship seemingly ends with a heart-wrenching goodbye. Forced to follow protocol, Sulley must return Boo to her bedroom...and then never see her again. The scene that follows manages to get more and more upsetting, as Boo excitedly shows Sulley her toys, her childlike naivety unaware that this is goodbye.
Upon realising what’s happening, Sulley and Boo hug in a moment brimming with more emotion than most live-action films could ever hope to achieve. Sad enough, right? Well, it gets worse. After Sulley leaves, Boo opens her closet door expecting to see the big blue furball, only to be left with an empty closet. Has someone been cutting onions…?
4. Dory alone – Finding Nemo
The story of clown fish Marlin searching for his lost son, Nemo, is a wonderful undersea adventure and introduces memory-impaired show stealer Dory. Audiences everywhere fell in love with Dory instantly, proving so popular that a sequel centered around her was released last year. Marlin and Dory’s hunt for Nemo is full of peaks and troughs, with one dip being particularly devastating.
Believing he's seen the last of his son, devoted father Marlin gives up hope, turning his back on new friend Dory. Delivering the agonising blow is the fear in Dory’s eyes as she pleads with Marlin to stay, knowing she is doomed to forget him and everything else. Surely it’s not healthy to care so much about a couple of fish?
3. Into the furnace – Toy Story 3
The Toy Story series is full of heartbreaking moments, but they all lead to the incinerator. The elegantly simple tale of toys coming to life was the beginning of Pixar, making the third instalment particularly poignant. Having been mistakenly left at a daycare centre, Woody and friends must tackle the tyrannical cuddly bear Lotso, and somehow make their way back to their owner. Through a series of shenanigans the toys end up in a landfill incinerator in one of the most on-the-nose metaphors for Hell ever.
As our beloved heroes slowly descend into the fire, they at first make a pained struggle to fight against the powerful conveyer belt, before gradually resigning themselves to their fate. One by one the toys share a terror-stricken look with each other before dramatically taking the other's hand. The final embrace between heroes Woody and Buzz as they face their doom is sure to burn in your memory. Make no mistake, you’ll be sharing the same terror-stricken look with your fellow audience members.
2. Take her to the moon – Inside Out
The goofy, cheerful Bing Bong is the most tragic character in Pixar’s line-up of tragic characters. Set within the mind of eleven year old girl, Riley, Inside Out follows the five personifications of emotions who influence her actions.
During a stressful time in Riley’s life, emotions Joy and Sadness become stranded and require the help of Riley’s long-forgotten imaginary friend, Bing Bong. A few action-packed set pieces later and Joy and Bing Bong find themselves in the memory dump, fading away into nothing, Back to the Future-style. The plan of escape is to use Bing Bong’s singing powered wagon to fly out, but try as they might the contraption is not powerful enough to carry them...not both of them anyway.
With joy near giving up, Bing Bong suggests one last try and as the two of them blast upwards he leaps from the wagon in a noble act of self-sacrifice. The real heartbreak comes as we watch the long forgotten friend fade and disappear forever - the perfect, soul-crushing symbol of a fading childhood. Not only that, but Bing Bong’s lonely existence concludes with a final sacrifice to save Riley, the girl who grew up and abandoned him.
1. A life well lived – Up
The protagonist of Up is an unusual one: a grumpy, dejected old man who wants nothing more than to be left alone, a peculiar choice to lead an animated film aimed at children. At least he would be if the film didn’t begin by showing us why he’s such a grump.
The film begins with Carl as a child, meeting his first crush and love of his life, Ellie. What follows is nothing short of breathtaking. A montage of Carl and Ellie’s relationship put to Michael Giacchino’s Oscar-winning score, we watch as the couple go through the ups and downs of life.
From marriage and buying a house, to struggling to conceive, the opening sequence of Up is better than the entirety of most films, period. Of course, the true heartbreak comes when Ellie succumbs to old age, leaving Carl alone along with an audience of blubbering adults and children.
There really is no other choice for the top spot.
What are your most heartbreaking Pixar moments? Let us know @Cineworld.
Jon Fuge is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.