The Most Tear-Jerking Moment from Every Pixar Movie So Far


From left: Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story; Sulley in Monsters, Inc.; Carl and Ellie in Up. (Photos from Pixar)Monsters University hits theaters on Friday, marking the 14th Pixar feature film since Toy Story was released 18 years ago. In that time Pixar has honed the fine art of making audiences misty-eyed with happy, sad, and happy-sad moments. While some movies more effectively turn on the water works (the tears shed over Up could sustain the lives of every clownfish in Nemo's colony), every Pixar movie has that moment that tugs at the heart strings.

So presented here in chronological order are the most tear-jerking moments from every Pixar movie so far. [SPOILERS AHEAD!]

Toy Story: Buzz Learns He Can't Fly

In the first Toy Story movie we're introduced to Buzz Lightyear, a toy who doesn't realize he's a toy that can't do all the cool things a real-life version could do. Buzz's high-flying delusions of being a Space Ranger come crashing down when he happens to see a commercial advertising the Buzz Lightyear action figure ("not a flying toy") on a TV. A dejected Buzz responds by looking to the skies one last time, raising our hopes as he climbs a stairway bannister in a misguided attempt to prove he really can fly. He leaps from the second-floor rail before plummeting to the stairs below, crashing in a twisted heap with one arm knocked out of its socket, and looking for all the world like Icarus after flying too close to the sun. The scene is tough on its own, but add Randy Newman's lilting refrain of "Clearly, I will go sailing no more," and there's not a dry eye in the house.


A Bug's Life: Flik Is Banished

After the iconoclastic Toy Story challenged audiences' ideas about what an animated movie could be, A Bug's Life showed the Pixar team could go a more traditional route just as well. As a result, A Bug's Life is not remembered for any standout heart-wrenching scenes, but Flik's banishment from the colony is sad all the same. At the beginning of the movie, Flik sets out ot recruit some warrior bugs to help him defend his ant colony from the grasshoppers who demand food from them every year (just like in The Magnificent Seven). But it turns out his warriors are just washed-up circus performers, and when his fellow ants find out, they send him packing and get to work preparing a new tribute for the grasshoppers. Of course Flik returns to save the very ants who realized too late his plan was their only real hope to rid themselves of the ravenous grasshoppers.



Toy Story 2: 'When She Loved Me'

The Pixar team upped the emotional ante in its Toy Story sequel by introducing Jessie, a cowgirl counterpart to Woody with a story that had him convinced (albeit briefly) not to return to his beloved Andy. In a flashback montage set to Sarah McLachlan's heart-rending Oscar-nominated ballad "When She Loved Me," we're shown that Jessie once belonged to a girl who loved her as much as Andy loves Woody. But little girls grow up, and Jessie found herself languishing under a bed as her owner took an interest in makeup, boys, and rock 'n' roll. Years later the girl rediscovers Jessie under her bed, and makes her unspeakably happy by dusting her off, and holding her close for a long car ride — at the end of which she's placed in a cardboard box and donated. Jessie's last glimpse of the now-grown girl is through a handhold in the box as she drives away and McLachlan sings "when she loved meeeee."


Monsters, Inc.: Sulley Revisits Boo

The unlikely friendship between a fuzzy blue monster and a 2-year-old girl is at the heart of Monster's, Inc. When James P. Sullivan, aka Sulley, aka Kitty, returns to screens this weekend he'll have a lot of fans who can't wait to see him back in action, but it's going to be hard not to feel like there's something missing without Boo around to keep him on his toes. In Monsters, Inc., it stings when Sulley has to say goodbye to Boo just before her door, his only way to ever see her again, is shredded in a wood chipper. But the real tear-jerker comes when his little green pal, Mike Wazowski, reveals that he's painstakingly collected every piece of the door and reassembled it all so Sulley can revisit his young friend from the human world. When he opens the door, light falls on his face and he breaks into a smile at the tired-sounding voice that squeaks, "Kitty." His eyes and ours are ready to burst into tears as the screen fades to black.


Finding Nemo: Nemo's Mom Dies

After putting the tear-jerker at the end of Monsters Inc., the team at Pixar stuck it right up front in the opening of their next movie, Finding Nemo. Before Nemo is born, we're introduced to his parents, Marlin and Coral, who are preparing their home in a sea anemone for the 400 eggs nestled in a hollow just a few feet away. While admiring the new digs, the loving couple gets a big shock when they come face-to-face with a barracuda seemingly intent on devouring their eggs. Coral dashes off to protect them, and Marlin tries his best to fend off the big predator, but gets knocked unconscious in the process. When he wakes up his wife is gone, and so are all their eggs but one. Choking back tears, Marlin scoops up that lonely, cracked little egg to take it home to hatch. So it is that not even five minutes into this movie, the audience is watching through bleary eyes as they're introduced to Nemo a few moments later on his first day of school.


The Incredibles: Mr. Incredible Thinks His Family Is Dead

The Incredibles is packed with superheroic action, but not much in the way of tear-jerking moments. (For that you might want to check out Incredibles director Brad Bird's first animated feature, The Iron Giant, already considered a classic in animated films.) But one scene still gets to audiences. After Mr. Incredible is taken prisoner by Syndrome, his wife, Elastigirl, shows up in a jet along with their kids, Violet and Dash, to find him. Syndrome targets them with missiles and makes Mr. Incredible listen to his wife's increasingly frantic pleas to call off the weapons because (bombshell) "there are children on board." The missiles blow up the jet, and Elastigirl saves them with some quick thinking, but Mr. Incredible thinks they're all dead, and the knowledge leaves him a hollowed out husk of the man he was moments before.


Cars: Doc's Story

Cars isn't an overly sentimental movie by design, but Paul Newman lent it some heart by voicing Doc Hudson in what would be his last feature film credit. Hudson is a champion racer from the 1950s who keeps his past a secret while working as a doctor and a judge in tiny Radiator Springs. We learn through flashbacks that Doc won three Piston Cups before a racing accident left him sidelined. When he came back he expected crowds of cheering fans, but instead was ignored. He gave up racing for good and resolved to live out a quiet life in Radiator Springs.

Ratatouille: Anton Ego Takes a Bite

Ratatouille taught a generation of future foodies that a meal can affect them emotionally and even transport them to another time and place. Anton Ego is the tall, thin, imposing food critic whose reviews can make, but usually break, promising young chefs. Linguini is just such a promising young chef whose secret weapon happens to be a rat named Remy who really knows his way around a kitchen. Linguini fears for his future when Anton comes to sample his work. But Remy hits a home run when he prepares the titular ratatouille for the critic. A single bite sends Anton back to the comforts of his mother's kitchen, where she fed him the same "peasant" dish. The icy critic melts, returning to the enthusiastic boy who loves food, and he's so thankful for the meal that when he finds out a rat prepared it, he's not even mad.


WALL-E: Eve Kisses WALL-E Goodbye

In WALL-E, a desolate Earth is abandoned by all life, leaving the titular ancient trashbot to collect interesting junk and watch old movies to fend off his crushing loneliness. When Eve, a special robot on a mission, arrives and finds signs of plant life on the long-barren planet, she and WALL-E find themselves working together on a quest to bring the humans back to Earth. Such a mission is, of course, fraught with peril, and WALL-E gets himself into big trouble saving Eve, who has to reboot him when they get back to Earth. The tear-jerker comes when the reboot brings WALL-E back in a soulless default mode, leaving Eve distraught as she tries to jog his memory with a Rubik's Cube and his favorite movie. Finally she gives up and prepares to say goodbye, holding WALL-E's hand and holding her head against his. In a twist on a classic Disney trope, her "kiss" ignites a spark that brings WALL-E back, and the two are reunited in the sweetest love story ever about two robots.


Up: The Saddest 10 Minutes in Film History

In the opening scene of Up we're introduced to Carl, a short geeky kid who wants nothing more than to be like intrepid zeppelin pilot Charles Muntz. He falls head-over-heels for Ellie, a wild-haired neighborhood girl who shares with him her Adventure Book and her plan to follow in Muntz's footsteps to South America, moving her clubhouse next to Paradise Falls in Venezuela. Most of the pages of her Adventure Book are empty, to be filled in later with memorabilia from all the adventures she'll be having. The two grow up together and get married, building a house just like the clubhouse in her drawings, but that's as close as they ever get to Paradise Falls. By the time they finally get around to buying two tickets to Venezuela, it's too late. Ellie soon dies, leaving Carl alone to flip through her Adventure Book one last time. By this point we're about nine minutes in and if you aren't crying you're an android, but the final emotional punch comes when Carl gets to the previously blank pages. Ellie's life with him is laid out in pictures with a final message to him. "Thanks for the adventure — now go have a new one! Love, Ellie"


Toy Story 3: Andy Gives Away His Toys

The final Toy Story movie brought us many emotional moments. If we ranked them on a tear-jerker scale of 1 to 10, Lotso's back story would be a 4, and the moment when all the toys hold hands while facing certain incineration would be a 7. But the last scene in the movie is a 10 out of 10. Andy, who's had these toys all his life, is on his way to college. But before he goes, he's got one last chore to complete. It's time to donate his treasured old friends. At the last minute Woody sticks a note on the box of toys with a neighbor girl named Bonnie's address. Thinking his mom stuck it there, Andy dutifully takes the toys to Bonnie, giving each of the movie's stars their moment in the spotlight as he hands them over. The real tear-jerker comes when he reluctantly gives her his most beloved toy of all, Woody. Not only is he saying goodbye to his toys, he's saying goodbye to his childhood, and it takes the audience right back to that difficult moment right along with him.


Cars 2: Doc Is Gone

As the only Pixar movie to receive a "rotten" rating on RottenTomatoes.comCars 2 isn't remembered for its emotionally affecting scenes so much as its clunky story. The biggest tear-jerker in this one comes from what's not in the movie: Doc Hudson. Director John Lasseter was reportedly adamant that despite Paul Newman's retirement from acting in 2007, he would bring him back for the sequel. It wasn't meant to be. Newman died of lung cancer in 2008, and instead of trying to replace him, Lasseter decided to cut Doc from the script. It's implied that the beloved Cars character died before the events of the sequel, and the Piston Cup is renamed in his honor. It was a fitting tribute to Newman, whose relationship with racing dated back to 1969 and lasted until 2005.



Brave: Merida Tears a Bond with Her Mother

Breaking from the traditional Disney princess mold, Brave gave us a tough female protagonist whose skill with the bow and arrow would give even Robin Hood pause. Princess Merida's mother is not so impressed with her teenage daughter's archery, wishing she'd be more ladylike and choose a suitor to marry. Despite their differences, Merida and Queen Elinor share a strong mother-daughter bond. That bond is torn in a literal way when Merida blows up, telling her mother, "I'll never be like you," as she uses a sword to cut a rift between her and mom in the family tapestry. The two reconcile over the course of the film, but that tense moment rang true enough to get us misty-eyed thinking about our own relationship with our mothers.


What do you think? Which movie had the saddest moment? Vote below or add your personal favorites in the comments below.

Poll: Which Pixar moment made you cry the most?
Click to vote:
  • Buzz learns he can't fly in 'Toy Story'
  • Flik is banished in 'A Bug's Life'
  • Andy gives away his toys in 'Toy Story 3'
  • Doc is remembered in 'Cars 2'
  • Merida cuts the tapestry in 'Brave'
  • Jessie's backstory in 'Toy Story 2'
  • Sulley revisits Boo in 'Monsters, Inc.'
  • Nemo's mom dies in 'Finding Nemo'
  • Mr. Incredible thinks his family is dead in 'The Incredibles'
  • Doc's backstory in 'Cars'
  • Anton Ego takes a bite in 'Ratatouille'
  • Eve kisses WALL-E goodbye in 'WALL-E'
  • Carl & Ellie's life together in 'Up'
I write about movies for Zimbio.com, which means I spend way too much time thinking about the geekiest possible ways to approach the cineplex. I'm also hopelessly addicted to audio books. Follow me: Google
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