Pixar’s 12 Most Brilliant Moments
12. The Incredibles — Edna Mode’s ”No capes” speech
Brad Bird’s The Incredibles marked a turning point for Pixar. It was the studio’s first feature with an all-human cast, its first PG rating, and — at 115 minutes — easily its longest picture to date. The film also represented the studio’s first stab at darker, edgier comedy, and no scene shows this off better than Edna Mode’s tirade against superhero capes. Did that heroine just get sucked into a jet turbine? In a Pixar movie? As Edna would put it, this scene was bold. And hilarious.
11. Toy Story — Buzz Lightyear proves he can fly
In 1995, Toy Story introduced audiences to the brave new world of computer-animated features, and we didn’t have to wait very long for the film to offer its first ”wow” moment. When challenged by Woody to prove he can fly, Buzz Lightyear climbs a bedpost, delivers one of recent cinema’s most iconic lines — ”To infinity and beyond!” — and proceeds to get very lucky as he bounces and glides across Andy’s bedroom. Notice how much fun the animators had with this scene, particularly with their shot selections. That first-person viewpoint on the Hot Wheels track blew my 10-year-old mind at the time. It still does.
10. Toy Story 2 — Jessie’s song, ”When She Loved Me”
The first time Pixar broke your heart was with this simple Oscar-nominated song written by Randy Newman and sung by Sarah McLachlan. Chronicling the multi-year friendship between Jessie the cowgirl doll and her owner, Emily, the tune ends with a poignant shot of Jessie abandoned in a donations box. Pixar trusted that children wouldn’t fidget during this melancholy and deliberately paced flashback. And due to the scene’s success, we received some even more affecting moments later on, such as our next entry.
9. Monsters, Inc. — Sulley revisits Boo
Less can be more, as the just-about-perfect ending to Monsters, Inc. demonstrates. Mike Wazowski has reconstructed the door to Boo’s room, and Sulley slowly opens it to see if his 2-year-old pal is waiting inside. Sulley quietly calls out, ”Boo?” Then we hear Boo respond, ”Kitty!” Sulley’s face lights up with joy, and fade to black. Director Pete Docter wisely resisted the urge to show the two characters embracing one another. We don’t need to see them reunited — it’s enough simply to know that they will be.
8. Finding Nemo — Riding the East Australian Current
Where to begin? Crush the sea turtle — who’s voiced by Nemo director Andrew Stanton and reminds me of an aquatic Jeff Lebowski — may be the coolest animated character around. Thomas Newman’s calypso-infused score is a thing of beauty. And that wild ride through the EAC makes my Six Flags roller coasters seem dinky by comparison. Righteous, indeed.
7. Toy Story 3 — Andy’s toys hold hands while bracing for death
While this scene may have caused nightmares for the youngest of moviegoers, it brought tears to many people’s eyes. Andy’s toys find themselves in a landfill incinerator, seconds away from death. ”What do we do?” cries Jessie to Buzz, who, after a brief pause, gently extends his hand to the cowgirl. One by one, the toys grab hold of one another. They realize that if this is going to be their final moments alive, at least they’ll meet their fate together. Any other movie would have had the characters scream for their lives until they were rescued, but Pixar used this as an opportunity to contemplate how one goes about accepting death.
6. Monsters, Inc. — The Door Vault chase
One of the selling points of computer animation is its ability to massively replicate characters and objects. We got a dose of that capability with the hundreds-strong ant colony in A Bug’s Life. But it was Monsters, Inc.‘s chase sequence among thousands of moving doors that really showed off the medium’s cloning prowess.
5. Ratatouille — Anton Ego eats the title dish
Something as simple as the sound of an instrument, a smell in the air, or the taste of food can resurrect a memory you had forgotten was even there. Elitist food critic Anton Ego (deliciously voiced by Peter O’Toole) is teleported to his rural childhood simply by taking a bite from a ”peasant dish” of ratatouille. It’s an insightful moment that made every adult in my theater laugh with recognition. And Ego’s subsequent review, which exalts the discovery and defense of the ”new,” could have just as easily been about Ratatouille itself.
4. WALL-E — WALL-E and EVE dance together in space
Pure poetry. Again, Thomas Newman’s score clinches the deal here. The composer mixes electronic and acoustic sounds, which is appropriate because WALL-E and EVE’s waltz through space represents an instance where something artificial (robots) partakes in a human custom (dancing).
3. Up — Carl and Ellie’s ”married life” montage
Many of Pixar’s greatest moments rely not on snappy dialogue, but on a harmonious relationship between visuals and music. That couldn’t be truer of this breathtaking montage, which — in the span of four wordless minutes — recounts Carl and Ellie’s marriage as they grow old together. ”I’ll never forget sitting in a meeting when [director] Pete Docter and [co-director] Bob Peterson were reading the first treatment of Up,” Pixar honcho John Lasseter told EW. ”Bob read the beginning of the film, and I had tears rolling down my face.” Toss in Michael Giacchino’s Oscar-winning score, and just try not to be moved.
2. The Incredibles — 100 Mile Dash
On top of everything else The Incredibles is — a madcap comedy, a marital-strife drama, a commentary on society’s tendency to embrace mediocrity at the cost of greatness — it’s also a kickass action movie. In just three minutes, Dash’s chase through a tropical jungle does more things right than many action features. The scene’s pacing is impeccable — a full-throttle sprint that still finds moments to breathe, such as when Dash lets out a chuckle upon discovering his ability to run on water. And keep track of how many shots here couldn’t have been achieved in a live-action film. Computer animation allows the camera to go wherever you want, and I’ve never seen a sequence take advantage of that freedom quite like this one.
1. Toy Story 3 — Andy plays with his toys one last time
This scene still gets me just thinking about it. In a shrewd last-minute decision, Woody writes the address of Bonnie — a young neighborhood girl — on the box containing Andy’s toys. Andy assumes his mother wrote the note, so the college-bound teenager stops by Bonnie’s house to hand over his toys. One by one, Andy introduces each toy to Bonnie, giving every character his or her moment in the spotlight. But then Andy realizes that Woody is buried at the bottom of the box. Bonnie reaches for Woody, and in a moment that’s remarkably animated, Andy flinches. Here Andy sits, on the precipice between childhood and adulthood, having to decide whether he’ll be able to let go of his own childhood so that another kid can have a slightly happier one.
Andy opts to give Woody to Bonnie, and the two play with the toys for a few minutes. At this point, the ending had already entranced me — hook, line, and sinker. But the shot that truly sent me overboard comes a few seconds later. Andy waves goodbye to Bonnie. She, in return, waves Woody’s hand. Upon seeing this, Andy lets out a small gasp. ”Thanks guys,” he says before driving off. ”So long, partner,” Woody replies as the camera soars above Bonnie’s house to reveal a cluster of clouds shaped exactly like the ones on Andy’s bedroom wallpaper.
It’s a flawless ending — one that allows Andy (and the audience) to say farewell to a group of characters we’ve grown to love, while also letting him take a rite-of-passage step toward maturity.