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Top 7 Most Heart-Wrenching PIXAR Moments

Scenes from PIXAR movies through the years.

With Onward’s upcoming release, and the buzz around it sayingthat it will leave you in tears, I rewatched some of the most heart-wrenching Pixar moments and ranked them. The criteria was: how many tears were shed, how long did I cry for, and the intensity of the tightness in my chest. I also took into account how I felt when I watched each moment for the first time, and the lasting effect each has had (There will be SPOILERS if you haven’t seen these movies yet).

Andy, from Tory Story 3, saying goodbye to his old friend, Woody. | PIXAR

7. Toy Story 3 – “Thanks, guys”

MOMENT: Andy pulls up to Bonnie’s house with his boxes marked “College” in his trunk. He grabs a box marked “Attic” from his car and walks over to give Bonnie the box containing his childhood toys. He goes through introducing Bonnie to each toy—from Jessie to the three aliens. Lastly, he pulls out Buzz Lightyear, pointing out his features. Bonnie looks inside the box and sees Woody and says “My cowboy!” to which Andy asks, “What’s he doing in there?” He is apprehensive before finally giving Woody to Bonnie along with the rest of the toys. Andy then gets into one last play session with Bonnie (the new owner) and all of his old toys. Afterwards, Andy gets back in his car to leave, waves goodbye to Woody and Buzz with a final, “Thanks, guys.”

WHY IT’S SO HEART-WRENCHING: This moment falls on the list mainly for nostalgic reasons. I remember being a senior in high school when Toy Story 3 came out, so when Andy gives away his toys and is heading off to college (the next chapter in his life) I could relate. The moment holds up as a heart-wrenching one because it symbolizes growing up but still not growing old by watching Andy getting in one last playtime with his old gang of toys, whom we all grew up with, too.

Sully (voiced by John Goodman) says goodbye to Boo in Monsters Inc. | PIXAR

6. Monsters Inc. – “Kitty has to go”

MOMENT: Mike says “Go, go grow up now,” as Sully walks with Boo into her room. Boo is so excited, giggling and showing Sully all of her toys in her room. Sully tucks Boo in bed and she puts her tiny little hand on his arm and says “Kitty.” In which he replies, “Kitty has to go.” After hugging goodbye, Sully leaves through her closet door. Boo gets out of bed and excitedly hops over to the closet door. She opens it and says “Boo!” expecting Kitty to be there… Just to see her bedroom closet was back to normal.

WHY IT’S SO HEART-WRENCHING: This moment ranked on my list because Sully is so in love with Boo throughout the film, so when he has to say goodbye to her, it’s just so sad. The second Boo puts her tiny hand on his arm and says “Kitty” in that pitiful little kid voice, I’m done for. Additionally, the endless hope of children is represented when she goes to open the closet door and expects to see Sully there and is faced with disappointment. That moment just breaks my heart.

Marlin discovers one survivor after an attack in Finding Nemo. | PIXAR

5. Finding Nemo – “Daddy’s got you”

MOMENT: Marlin and his wife, Coral, are admiring their new home at the edge of the Drop Off. Marlin is so excited and Coral is doubting their choice because there is so much open space. It is then revealed that they’ve got all of their eggs in a tucked-away space below their anemone. Coral says that she likes the name “Nemo” for one of their 400 eggs. They begin laughing and playing when Coral shoots out of the anemone (with Marlin after her) , to reveal a terrifyingly empty reef. Coral is frozen staring at a barracuda who is looking right at her. She dives down to protect their eggs and Marlin attempts to stop her, getting knocked out in the process. The scene cuts to Marlin finding that Coral is gone, along with what appears to be all of their eggs. Marlin is in despair, when he finds one surviving egg. “Daddy’s got you. I promise I will never let anything happen to you, Nemo,” he says as he cradles the egg in his fins. 

WHY IT’S SO HEART-WRENCHING: This moment is so heart-wrenching because Pixar spent the first three minutes of the film making the viewer invest in this adorable clownfish couple who are so excited to be parents. Then they rip that story out from under you in a crushing reveal of the barracuda on the edge of the reef. When Marlin covers his eyes in despair and denial to then see one lone egg, you’re hit with another swift kick to the gut when he holds the egg and names it Nemo, in honor of Coral. It’s also on this list because of the musical score that comes in right before Marlin discovers Nemo. Every time I hear the first notes of Thomas Newman’s “Nemo Egg,” it puts me on the verge of tears.

Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) sings to Mama Coco in Coco. | PIXAR

4. Coco – “Remember me”

MOMENT: Miguel has just discovered the truth about his family and Mama Coco’s papa. He works so hard to get back to her and reveals that if Coco forgets about her papa, Hector, he’ll be gone forever. Miguel shows her the photograph with desperate tears in his eyes. His parents and grandma bust in the room, scolding Miguel for what they think has distressed Mama Coco. Rather than apologizing, he picks up Hector’s guitar and begins to sing “Remember Me.” Coco begins to liven up and sing the song with Miguel. The rest of the family is awestruck watching the two sing together. Coco smiles and tells her family about how her Papa used to sing her that song. The entire family is left with tears in their eyes.

WHY IT’S SO HEART-WRENCHING: When Miguel plays the first three notes of “Remember Me,” I’m already in a mess of tears and snot. This moment is not only on the list because of the song, but also because of how it represents a family bonding over a lost story of their ancestry. It shows so beautifully how important it is to celebrate families differences and never forget the ones who came before us. As the song that follows this scene states, “Our love for each other will live on forever.” 

Carl reminisces about the past and his Ellie in Up. | PIXAR

3. Up – “Paradise Falls”

MOMENT: The moment really begins for me when Carl and Ellie get married and Carl is carrying Ellie into the old house where they first met. Their love story is told through a series of heartwarming snippets of their life together. The moment takes its first turn when a scene of them decorating a nursery is followed by a scene with them in a fertility office where Ellie is crying, holding her face in her hands. It picks back up as they save money for a trip to Paradise Falls. The montage continues through years of Ellie straightening Carl’s tie, both cleaning the house, and going to work together. Carl buys a ticket to South America, takes Ellie to their spot (where they always watch the sky) to surprise her, but Ellie can’t make it and falls on their walk up… Ellie’s now in the hospital and Carl sends her a blue balloon, just as he did when they were kids. The scene cuts to Carl holding the blue balloon in an empty funeral, then on his porch, and finally walking into their home, alone.

WHY IT’S SO HEART-WRENCHING: I feel like this moment does not need an explanation for why it’s so heart-wrenching, but here I’ll explain why it hits hard for me. I remember vividly watching this movie in theaters with my little brother. I was 16 and he was 10 at the time. I remember being so surprised that we just witnessed an entire epic love story told in the course of 11 minutes. We both were crying at the end of this moment and looked at each other with tear-stained cheeks. Our relationship grew stronger that day, being able to share such a special moment together. I think that I aspired to have what Carl and Ellie had: a love story so simple with traditions, like the blue balloon and Grape Soda pin. I feel lucky now, at 26 to say that I am lucky to have that Carl and Ellie type of love, which is why I now cry throughout the entire first 11 minutes of Up, not just the moment when Ellie passes. 

Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is embraced by her mother in Brave. | PIXAR

2. Brave – “I just want you back”

MOMENT: The time is running out for Merida to figure out how to turn her mother from a bear back into a human. The sun is rising on the second day and she thinks she has it figured out when she repairs the tapestry she damaged. She drapes the tapestry over Eleanor’s back in hopes that will change her into a human once again. As the sun rises, it dawns on her that her mother has changed into “full bear” when the human likeness in her eyes fades to black. She begins to sob and says, “You’ve always been there for me. You’ve never given up on me. I just want you back.” While still crying, and clinging to her mother, the sun continues to rise. The scene pulls back to reveal that Eleanor is, once again, human. Merida is overcome with joy and says, “You changed!” To which Eleanor replies, “Oh, darling, we both have.”

WHY IT’S SO HEART-WRENCHING: This moment makes it on the list because I can relate to Merida and her mother’s relationship—one in which there are clear differences in personalities, aspirations, and beliefs. I think a lot of people can relate to not always seeing eye-to-eye with their parents, so when the two characters change their outlook to one of acceptance rather than trying to change the other, it truly does tug at my heartstrings. In rewatching this scene, tears were most definitely shed.

Bing Bong (voiced by Richard Kind) says goodbye in Inside Out. | PIXAR

1. Inside Out – “Take her to the moon for me”

MOMENT: Joy and Bing Bong are stuck down in the memory dump, when Joy realizes they can try to use Bing Bong’s rocket to launch themselves out of there to get back to their mission of helping Riley. They sing Bing Bong’s song in an attempt to launch themselves out of the pit twice, coming up short each time. Bing Bong convinces Joy to try one more time. Before the rocket launches off the ramp, Bing Bong jumps out and stays in the memory dump. Joy makes it out and looks back down at Bing Bong as he is fading away. His last words are, “Take her to the moon for me, okay?” before he disappears, symbolizing being completely forgotten by Riley.

WHY IT’S SO HEART-WRENCHING: The way this entire movie so wonderfully reflects what it is like to grow out of being a child and into a teen is unbelievably well-done. So when this moment occurs three-quarters of the way through the film, I’m left feeling like a preteen all over again: insecure, a little hopeless, and confused. Bing Bong represented Riley’s childlike imagination and the carefree state of what it’s like to be a kid. Therefore, when Bing Bong disappears and is forgotten by Riley, my heart is literally aching. In addition, Bing Bong sacrifices himself, unbeknownst to Joy, so that she can make it out of the memory dump and continue to bring balance back into Riley’s emotions. It’s such a beautiful and deeply sad moment that will bring me to tears just thinking about it.

It was so hard to narrow down a list like this with so many heart-wrenching moments to choose from in Pixar’s vast lineup. I would love to know what your top heart-wrenching moments are in Pixar! Post them in the comments below.

About the Author
Hi! I’m Shay. I am a teacher and board-game enthusiast from Reno, Nevada. I have 2 dogs and a rabbit who make my life worthwhile. Additionally, I love spending time with my husband and family — being outdoors or working on our house together.

3 comments on Top 7 Most Heart-Wrenching PIXAR Moments

  1. Rachel Choo says:

    So good! I’d flip the scene in Brave with the scene in Up. And the Coco scene discusses would be my #2. Amazing round up!

  2. Daniel Kirk says:

    Shay,

    Love your article and the in-depth breakdown of these moments! 🙂
    My three boys love all seven of these movies as their favorites.
    We are super excited for Onward, and look forward to mine and yours breakdown conversation of the movie together.
    D. Kirk

  3. Samantha Earl says:

    These are all definitely worthy picks. Pixar really does have its own special way of making my chest seize up in emotion. I loved the pun you used in “Brave”: “As the sun rises, it dawns on her…” Very clever!

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