Line up, saps, Pixar apparently doesn’t think we’re sad enough this year and is releasing Finding Dory. Come on Pixar, have you seen this year? We’re good on crying till January, thanks. In honor of these unsolicited salty-faced times to come, I’m ranking some of the most blatant shots fired from Pixar’s emotional manipulation cannon in order of guts wrenched. Not every Pixar film is here, because some just aren’t that sad (I’m looking at you, Monsters University) and some I just haven’t seen, because I’m the worst (Brave) or I’ve been told they are (Cars 2, The Good Dinosaur).
While Wall-E doesn’t have a specific moment of pure jackhammering on the soul sadness, it is notable for the long, dialogue-free opening that follows our Johnny 5-lite hero rolling his way around a trash-covered earth, with nary a friend to be had, except his cockroach buddy. It’s one of the most visceral depictions of isolation and loneliness I’ve ever seen in a movie, animated or otherwise, and makes the second half of the film, set on a comical spaceship full of squishy humans and a worker-class of robots, seem very jarring as a tonal shift.
The accepted sad part of Finding Nemo is the beginning, when a barracuda fridges Marlin’s wife and all but one of their eggs, and yeah, that’s sad, but it’s sad in that Bambi’s mom dying kind of way. It definitely establishes Marlin’s character and makes us understand why he’s really concerned about getting Nemo back, because it’s a really tough sell otherwise that a father would look for his son, apparently? Okay, yes, I’m not made of stone, this is a brutal scene and it totally got me. But not as much as this scene:
This moment where Marlin believes his son is dead and he plans to abandon his search, leaving Dory behind, has lower stakes than the original barracuda scene. Obviously, as viewers we know Nemo is still alive and we know that the movie isn’t about to end with his dad giving up on him. But that moment of true despair from Marlin on believing the one last thing he loved in the world, the only thing he has left, is totally gone, plus Dory’s begging him to not let her lose her memory again, combined with the deafening silence of the score, makes for a much more lingering bit of suffering.
3.The Toy Story Trilogy
Including all of these movies together, because while each one has its share of heartstring moments, like Buzz’s existential crisis in the first one, Jessie’s longing for her owner in part two, and dear lord, that incinerator scene in the third one, it’s as a collective trilogy that really makes you realize how much Pixar just hates us. You can dunk this series in as much peppy Randy Newman music as you want, John Lasseter, but I know what a horror movie is when I see one. The Child’s Play series has nothing on the Toy Story movies when it comes to doll-based terror.
This psychological graveyard hits all ages. It instills children with the delightful fantasy that their toys are actually alive, and then smacks them with the further idea that they’ll be responsible someday for abandoning them and sentencing them to a life of quiet irrelevance. For adults who understand metaphor, it’s a three-part story about how everyone you love will eventually abandon you, and the best you can hope for is that the cycle of love and loss might repeat itself a few times before you go.
You know what, fuck you, Up. You know what you did.
Out of all of Pixar’s movies, this one is actually the one that got me the most choked up. And no, it isn’t just because the main character has the same first name as me, but, yes, it is because of that. It’s also because while the only character death in the movie is Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong, and by the way, I never want to meet the sadistic bastard at Funko who decided to make this Pop figure…
…it’s a movie that’s literally about the very nature of being sad. Look, most of us get sad when someone important dies, either in our lives or in a story we’re invested in. So while Pixar’s films often bring the pain through death and loss, there’s something so much more cutting about the internal feelings of grief felt over an esoteric reason. Something like starting a new life in a new city far from one’s friends, or just being afraid to be vulnerable, even around your parents, because you think they need you to be strong.
I remember movies as a kid that taught me to smile, be happy, like it was just a choice we could make all the time. I don’t really remember ever seeing a movie when I was Riley’s age that really taught kids that, hey, sometimes you feel really bad and there’s not a lot you can do about it, and it really sucks and you’ll hurt. Sometimes you don’t even really fully understand why you hurt and you hurt anyway, but also sometimes going through that hurt is what you have to do to feel better. And that’s a more nuanced, darker kind of sadness than the rest of these examples, because it’s the kind of sadness you just need to expect to deal with for the rest of your life.
But seriously though, Up can go fuck itself.