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Tim's Toons: The Many Tears of Pixar

Tim here. We're just a couple of days from the release of Inside Out, the 15th feature produced by Pixar Animation Studios, and by virtually unanimous consent, a return to the glory days of a company that has spent the last few years in search of its artistic mojo.

It’s a movie about emotions, the personification of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear present in the mind of an 11-year-old girl. As befits its topic, virtually unanimous consent is also that it will make you feel lots. And it will make you cry. Lots.


Speaking privately, there's not much I enjoy more than having a movie wallop me into a sobbing blob, so I'm about as anxious for Friday as it's possible to get. In the meantime, I've whipped up this handy field guideto some of Pixar's best tearjerkers. This should not be regarded as a complete list: the more moments I compiled, the more I realized that the studio has been feeding off our sadness for almost its entire existence.

Red's Dream (1987)

As proof, I offer the studio's second short film, when it was still more the tech demo wing of Apple than a storytelling collective. That didn't stop John Lasseter from imbuing a little red unicycle with all the personality that some metal tubes and a vinyl seat could conceivably possess. And the point of this skillful exercise in anthropomorphism? Just to show us all how a meager slice of hope can make a lonely and unwanted life even more bitter. Yay for cartoons!

Toy Story 2 (1999)
The brand-new character, Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl, designed with the biggest eyes and most joyfully expressive face imaginable, shares her story of heartbreak and abandonment while Sarah McLachlan dolefully sings Randy Newman's most sorrowful lyrics of all time in "When She Loved Me". Meanwhile, the images are crammed full of rich oranges and reds and dusky filtered life for maximum nostalgia and shameless sentimental appeals. It is perfect.

Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Not all tears have to be sad tears. It takes nothing more than the word "Kitty" delivered by little Mary Gibbs, followed by a look of beaming happiness on the face of hairy monster Jake "Sully" Sullivan" to absolutely flatten me with weepy joy.

Up (2009)
The nuclear holocaust of Pixar's tearjerking moments: never again would every facet of sound and image be so hellbent on punching our tear ducts into submission. In a wordless montage, Carl and Ellie Fredricksen fall in love, marry, miscarry, grow old, and then she dies, all while Michael Giacchino's Oscar-winning score dances a sweeping waltz that transfers with perfect timing from lush orchestrations to thin pizzicato. It is one of the most devastating five-minute sequences in modern cinema, sketching its characters' lives so profoundly in nothing but brightly colored flashes that our sense of loss is just as punishing as Carl's. To me, it's the saddest, most heartrending piece of animation this side of the brutal "sometimes children starve to death" story of Grave of the Fireflies, and far more efficient.

Toy Story 3 (2010)
Not just a moment, there's an entire act of the film dedicated to slamming the audience upside the head with one pulverizing emotion after another. First, that damn incinerator scene, with the characters looking as solemn as CGI renderings of plastic have any reasonable right to, as they affirm their lifelong friendship in the most sober of contexts. Then teenage Andy's look of shock as he realizes that it's time to part with the one last shard of his childhood that he wasn't ready to give up. And then, for the benefit of anybody who has managed to keep themselves together through all of that, there's Tom Hanks's wistful delivery of the line "So long, partner." It is the most manipulative thing Pixar has ever put into a movie and but so utterly, damnably effective at it that all is forgiven.

Bob Iger's address to Disney shareholders (2014)
"We are working on Cars 3."

Well, I cried.

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Reader Comments (17)

The scene that made me cry the most of any Pixar movie was near the ending of WALL-E where EVE was trying to revive WALL-E as she would hum "It's Only a Moment" in this perfect close-up. It's my favorite film from Pixar and certainly the most moving for me.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

I frequently wonder about whether I'm abnormal because I don't seem to cry as much at movies as seemingly everyone else who have rivers of tears cascading out of their eyes at any movie that deals with a sad subject or if they're just exaggerating for effect. I know why I didn't cry at UP - because i think it's manipulative; they're cartoons that I have no relationship to so why would I? - although I definitely got a tear or two out of INSIDE OUT because it actually puts its emotional weight at the end once I'd had enough time to become invested in characters. I know it says more about me than it does others, but I always wonder if people who cry buckets at the *start* of UP also do when they watch the news about every sad story about real people. I shed a couple of tears in TOY STORY 3 and got misty-eyed at the MONSTER'S INC and TOY STORY 2 moments, but shedding actual tears? Sobbing? Head in my hands from sadness? Nope.

I dunno. It's a weird subject for me. I don't like hyperbole in writing, it just makes me tune out if I feel people are reaching just to have something to say about a film being the greatest ever the saddest ever the etc etc ever and I just always suspect when people talk about crying they're often glorifying their reactions. I sometimes cry at the strangest things, though, like THELMA & LOUISE, or Masterchef on the tele, so maybe it's just my own weirdly harddrived brain that's malfunctioning.

INSIDE OUT is good, though. It earns whatever tears it gets, although I am still confused why the little girl has male emotions when her parents have all-male all-female emotions. Maybe they wanted to try and say something about how gender gets clobbered into you but then I realise that's highly unlikely and I figure they just needed some male voices in there. Richard Kind is actually best in show for me with the voice acting. The very best joke is the very last one in the movie. It is *on point*.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I am a big cryer, both for sad and happy tears. I am a complete mess at the end of Toy Story 3. But the start of Up leaves me totally cold.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterIvonne

That Cars 3 line killed me. Amazing.

And yeah, if Inside Out doesn't tug your heartstrings, you may be a robot. There's a scene I won't spoil that I can't even think about without crying. The Up beginning always gets me (wish the rest of the movie lived up to it), but Inside Out is probably their biggest tearjerker, despite being such a fun movie. It's also their best.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

You don't wanna know the size of the guffaw I let out at the finale of this piece. well done.

June 18, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Oh and I can confirm that Inside Out is a wet faced joy. I was resistant (i really was. Pixar done me wrong with the movie towards sequels) but I quickly succumbed.

June 18, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

The critic monologue in Ratatouille made me cry

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterÁngel Ramos

Angel: Me too! It's just so perfect.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

I was never a bit crier at the movies. A got a lump in my throat and wet in my eyes during Beth's death scene in the Winona Ryder version of Little Women, but that was it.

Until Up. I'm with Glenn in thinking that people who cry at the start of Up are just weird - a lump in the throat is just fine, because the sequence is perfectly done and incredibly sad, but there's no connection to these characters yet. But it's DAMN effective at setting you up for the end, where I cried TWICE: Once when Carl had to let the house go, and then again at the very end, where you see the house at the top of Paradise Falls. That image got be going but good.

I also LOVE the very end of Monsters, Inc. which is a marvel of concise storytelling.

But Toy Story 3. The incinerator scene started me going, but then is the scene where Andy says goodbye to his mom, and from that moment on I was a goner. I don't know if it was the 3D glasses or what, but I have never cried so much over a movie - like great big heaving SOBS and BUCKETS of tears. It hit me right where I live. Once the floodgates were open, there was no closing them. I didn't stop until about ten minutes after we left the theater. It was awful. Even now, just THINKING about the end of that movie get me all misty-eyed. Dammit.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Pixar in most of their films make me ball like a small child, and I never feel like the tears aren't well earned. In the words of the illustrious Nick Davis in "Toy Story 2 when Sarah McLachlan starts singing 'When She Loved Me' I enter a fugue state of crippling grief."

The moment in Finding Nemo when Dory is trying to convince Marlon to stay because he's close and she remembers better with him there and the way Ellen Degeneres says "With you, I'm home," instant sobs. She really would have been on my supporting actress ballot.

The Married Life sequence in Up is the balliest, most ambitious piece of animation since Fantasia to me. I will remember until the day I die watching this with my little sister in the theater, sobbing through 3D glasses. And then years later re-watching it with my nephew then almost three and me sobbing again and he came over to me saying, "Uncle Drew it's okay; it's just a movie." He just liked the talking dogs.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDrew C

Bob Iger's address to Disney shareholders (2014)
"We are working on Cars 3."

Well, I cried.

Effing hilarious.

Even though I rarely cry at films, Pixar movies leave me completely cold. I simply don't find sad in the slightest a lot of the tearjerker moments because I feel they're forcing me to fall for them. That's most likely the reason why I'm not a fan of most of its movies.

To me, it's the saddest, most heartrending piece of animation this side of the brutal "sometimes children starve to death" story of Grave of the Fireflies, and far more efficient.

I don't think anything is more efficient in animation to make one feel devastated than GotF. Futurama's "Jurasic Bark" is also much more heartbreaking than all of Pixar emotional moments combined.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

@Me34, now see, Grave of the Fireflies is the one where I'm totally cold towards. Nothing more forced "YOU WILL CRY NOW" then poor dying kids, in that maudlin anime way.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohnny

Oh Christ...

I am SUCH a crier... There are movies that I have seen hundreds of time (History Boys, Gosford Park, To Wong Foo, Billy Elliot) that I cry at a different spot each time I watch...

Yes, I cry at To Wong Foo... when they women have their "I am Spartacus" moment, and when Stockard Channing - one of the most under-appreciated actresses in recent memory IMHO - mentions the Adam's apples.. i die. DIE.

And 100% yes, Toy Story 2, Monster's Inc, WALL-E... but I have to admit, I have never seen and am TERRIFIED to see UP or Toy Story 3, because I'm pretty sure I'd just break into a million pieces and never recover... The comment about the "bravest piece of animation since Fantastia" is such high praise that I may have to spend a Friday night in alone and watch...

Also, OMG FUTURAMA AND ALL THE FEELZ. "Jurassic Bark", “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings”, “The Late Philip J. Fry”, "Meanwhile", "The Sting", and DEAR LORD "Luck of the Fryrish"... Some of the realest emotions on TV in the last 25 years came from aliens, cyclopses, and robots. Just perfect.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBilly

I'm another person who doesn't cry during the beginning of "Up" when we're supposed to cry, or at least I didn't the two times I saw the film. What gets me fare more is the sequence with the "Stuff We Did" scrapbook toward the end - it's a quieter, more unassuming moment that comes at a time when we're fully invested in the character and his journey, and the emotion it evokes is compounded by the memory of the montage it recalls.

"Toy Story 3" is another story, and if you saw it the summer you graduated from high school and actually grew up with Andy in real time, like I did, well... you're basically powerless to the emotional wallop.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Angel & Mike - Me three! Actually, the moment when he remembers his mother's ratatouille makes me tear up as much as anything I put in the list. Such a profound demonstration of how important happy memories can be.

June 18, 2015 | Registered CommenterTim Brayton

I don't really get the crying thing either, but then, I think I've cried at maybe three movies in my life, total. Inside Out was not one of them, but it is a very moving and beautiful film.

June 20, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

You're forgetting about Dory's monologue at the end of Finding Nemo.

"Please don't go away. Please? No one's ever stuck with me for so long before, and if you leave... if you leave... it's just, I remember things better with you, I do, look! P. Sherman, 42... uh, 42... ugh! I remember it, I do. It's there, I... I know it is because when I look at you... I can feel it. And... and I look at you and I... I'm home. ...Please. I don't want that to go away. I don't want to forget."

Ellen Degeneres should have been a more serious contender for an Oscar Nod that year.

July 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterConMan

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