Note: Originally posted at reeltimepodcast.org
With Pixar’s latest film, Brave, coming out this week, I chose to dedicate a list to the films the studio has released so far. And I thought that with only 13 films released (including their latest) it would be best if we focused on Pixar’s best individual moments. Each of their films, even Cars 2, their worst, has at least one moment worthy of a mention in this list, but with a limit of ten, not all of the films could be featured. So, before I proceed with the top 10 Pixar moments, I’d like to take some time to recognize the amazing action sequences of Cars 2, the thrilling scene inFinding Nemo where Nemo shows what he’s made of and helps rescue a whole school of fish from captivity, and the scene in A Bug’s Life when Flick and his friends finally stand up to the evil grass hoppers. Do note that the ranking of these single moments does not necessarily reflect the ranking of the actual films. And please, do share your favorite moments in the comments section.
Without further ado, here are the top ten Pixar moments:
Despite being their second-worst film, I still enjoy Cars on a technical level (and because it is a fitting swan song for Paul Newman), but that’s also its problem. It’s all about the superficial, the spectacle and selling toys. There are a couple of scenes in there that stand way above the flakiness of the rest of the movie, one of which is great enough to be on this list. In this scene, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is on the verge of becoming the youngest Piston Cup winner in history. As he almost reaches the finish line, he sees how Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton) nearly destroyed The King (Richard Petty) in a dirty attempt to catch up and win, so he stops before crossing the finish line, and goes back to help the badly damaged The King finish his last race. This scene always gets me because of how honest it feels. The way it plays out, with very little fanfare from the audience and without a swelling score makes it feel real, as if the film actually had something to say, and here is the huge payoff. This is the scene that shows me that although the film is weak, it’s still a worthy Pixar production.
WALL•E, after spending a few nice moments with EVE has to rescue her from a sandstorm, so he takes her to his storage unit, which is more like a bachelor pad, and tries to impress her with all the cool things he has lying around and with his awesome dance moves. There’s not much else going on beneath the surface, but I just had to include it in this list because it is just so damn adorable. It is also very honest and human, which is what gives the film its heart and makes it Pixar’s best film.
The “Married Life” segment of Up may have gotten all the attention, but for me, the greatest and most emotional moment happens later on in the film. The moment when Carl (Ed Asner), beaten down by all the events that have happened so far, flips through Ellie’s childhood scrapbook and realizes that although her ultimate dream didn’t come true, she still lived the dream life simply by being by his side for all those years. When he sees the line quoted above, it brings their relationship full circle. It’s as if she knew that he would not easily stop grieving and left something behind to give him the courage to move on and continue being the explorer he always wanted to be. That’s true love right there.
It was fitting for Pixar to have its first full-length film released through Disney because like many of the first features from the house of mouse, Toy Story is ultimately a bleak story told through cute characters and situations. The bleakest scene in the whole thing is when Buzz (Tim Allen) realizes that he is actually not a space ranger, but a toy. It happens as he and Woody (Tom Hanks) are trying to escape from Sid’s house. In an attempt to avoid Sid’s dog, Buzz goes into a room where a television is on. As he’s waiting for the danger to pass, he suddenly hears what he thinks is a message from Star Command. As he’s about to respond, the message is revealed to be commercial for Buzz Lightyear toys. He’s devastated, but in a last attempt to prove that he is the real thing, he tries to fly out of a window, only to have his hopes dashed as he falls and damages himself.
Although not as traumatic as the death of Bambi’s mom, this scene from Toy Story stands next to it as one of the cruelest reality checks in an animated film aimed at children. The fact that Pixar had the balls to carry that scene out in the middle of the basically risk-free Disney renaissance is one of the things that made this movie such a revolutionary step forward in the world of American animation apart from being technologically groundbreaking.
What can I say about this sequence that hasn’t been said already since the film’s release in 1999? A montage telling the story of the downfall of the relationship between a girl as she grows up and her favorite toy, set to a downer of a song written by Randy Newman and performed by Sarah McLachlan was always going to be nothing but an arrow straight through the heart. And it works every single time.
In less than thirty seconds, with a single stationary shot of Sulley’s face and only two spoken words, director Pete Doctor and the animators at Pixar captured what many strive for, but rarely achieve: pure joy without blatantly pulling heartstrings.
In this scene, the feared food critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole) finally visits the new Gusteau’s Restaurant. He asks the chef to give him the best he’s got, and our hero Remy (Patton Oswald), in a surprise move, prepares ratatouille, a simple vegetable dish considered to be for peasants. Ego is intrigued, and so he proceeds to eat the dish, not expecting what would come next. As he tries it, his mind flashbacks to when he was a young country boy having a bad day, and his mom making it better by feeding him the same dish. Then we go back to present-day Ego, who is stunned by what this simple dinner platter has done to him. This scene, with its unexpected flashback, shows us that Ego was not always the feared man he is known to be, he was once one of us. Most importantly, it reminds us that although our taste in things may evolve, sometimes the simplest of things, such as a plate of ratatouille, can have a bigger affect on us than any haute cuisine dish, especially when that’s all we have become used to eating.
No matter what the film was like before the ending, Toy Story 3 had to go out on a high note. It had to bring the whole 15-year saga to a conclusion that would satisfy every person that would pay to see it, especially those who were children when the original came out, and who more or less grew up with Andy. Seeing Andy all grown up, heading off to college, and handing down his toys to a little girl who will care for them as well as him while telling her what makes them so special brought tears to my eyes. But seeing him talking about Woody, revealing what it means to him, and therefore reveling what could be some issues the toy has helped him overcome, made me lose control of my emotions. And ending the film with Woody saying “So long, partner” as Andy drives away was pure bliss.
Logic tells us that no main characters, especially children, are going to die in an animated film from Disney. However, every single time I watch this scene from The Incredibles, it just doesn’t feel like that is the case. Knowing what we know about Syndrome’s motivations and past actions, as well as the way the scene is edited, scored, and performed , it feels like a high-stakes scene from the best Hollywood action films where anything could happen. In fact, this scene is far more intense than any big set piece from many other action films that have come out since 2004, which is something many wouldn’t expect from an animated film. Although prior to The Incredibles, Pixar had taken on some dark themes in a mature manner, for me the company didn’t “grow up” until the release of this film. This scene particularly exemplified their growth the most.
Isn’t it odd how one can care so much for the blooming relationship of two inanimate objects? Like I said in the previous WALL•E entry, our two main characters are filled with so much honesty and humanity, even more so that the humans on screen that you can’t help fall in love with them. Were it not for this scene featuring WALL•E and EVE dancing in space, celebrating that he just survived a near-tragedy, and that he also managed to save the plant that is needed to prove that Earth is once again habitable, would not have been nearly as beautiful, even if had featured the same breathtaking animation and Thomas Newman’s gorgeous score. But it does, and for that reason, this is the greatest single moment that Pixar has ever worked on.