Too often the phrase “family film” is applied to stories which, though they may be appropriate for all ages, are not always engrossing for all ages. Enter Pixar, an animation studio that's renowned for creating colorful, whimsical movies that are, at the same time, sophisticated narratives of genuine art. Widely recognized for prioritizing the quality of the story, Pixar has brought us many beautiful, dramatic, hilarious, and tragic moments over the years. Here are just a few choice picks from the collection.
10. A Bug’s Life—Hopper’s Speech
After the protagonist, Flik the ant, stands up to the tyrannical band of grasshoppers, some of the underlings assume that the sparks of rebellion are insignificant, but their leader Hopper doesn't see it that way. In this scene, he argues that “just one ant” might not be a problem now, but if all the other ants start to follow Flik’s lead, the grasshoppers can be easily overthrown. The speech is a strangely insightful look into the dynamics of oppression and power for a story about anthropomorphic bugs. “You let one ant stand up to us, then they all might stand up,” Hopper says, after burying some grasshoppers in an avalanche of seeds to demonstrate his point. With this chilling monologue, Hopper convinces the other grasshoppers that they must suppress the rebellion before it can begin in order to retain their control.
9. Brave—Archery Contest
Merida’s determination, pride, and ambition are in full force in this scene. Discovering a loophole in the contest rules, she enters herself as a representative of her own clan in the competition to claim the “right” to herself as bride, declaring, “I’ll be shooting for my own hand.” This scene is a primary example of standing up for what you want and what you believe in, even when others might be against you. She handily beats every one of the suitors competing for her hand, getting a bulls-eye on each of their targets and ripping her fancy dress in the process. The way her tight dress tears as she aims her bow is symbolic of breaking the confines of the old Scottish customs in order to do what she loves—and in this case, she’d rather beat her peers in archery than marry any of them.
8. Ratatouille—Meeting Collette
This movie has many hilarious scenes showing the unavoidable consequences of Linguini’s plan to have Remy the rat cook in the kitchen, but there are others that shine as well. At first, Linguini thinks he can sweet-talk the kitchen’s only female cook. However, Collette quickly cuts him off and puts him in his place. Comically using knives to emphasize her point (no pun intended), Collette asks “How many women do you see in this kitchen?” and as Linguini stutters to come up with a quick reply, she takes control of the conversation, talking over him and demonstrating why she’s not one to be trifled with. With the force and efficiency of a drill sergeant, she throws out orders and instructs Linguini with unflinching authority. It’s a refreshing example of a female character whose ambition and determination are not portrayed as flaws but as assets that contribute to a happy ending.
7. Finding Nemo—The Anglerfish Scene
Although there are many cherished moments in this Pixar favorite, Dory and Marlin’s encounter with the Anglerfish in the lower depths of the deep sea is one of most well scripted scenes within the movie. After a bumbling attempt at cheering Marlin up, Dory leads them down into the darkness and promptly forgets who he is as well as where they are, cuing Marlin to ad-lib as “her conscience” just to get her to focus on figuring out their next move. Marlin’s dry practicality and Dory’s excitable bewilderment clash for only a moment before they both see an enchanting light… that they soon discover is connected to a horrifying anglerfish. The ensuing scene mixes drama and comedy simultaneously as Marlin tries to avoid being eaten while Dory uses the light from the anglerfish’s stalk to read the mask. In the last suspenseful moment, it almost seems as though the anglerfish has succeeded, until it’s finally revealed that the anglerfish has gotten caught between a rock and the mask.
6. Monsters Inc.—The Ending
While the panicked intrusions of the Child Detection Agency scenes are funny for showing monsters afraid of children, it’s still the last few moments of the movie that stand out for being so uplifting and heartwarming in just one line and the look on the main character's face. After believing that he’d never be able to see Boo again, Sulley learns that Mike reconstructed the door to her room for him, and the door is reactivated when Sulley puts in the last piece. When Sulley opens the door, all that can be seen is his head peeking out from the closet, looking around, and when Boo’s voice subtly calls out her nickname for him, the movie ends just as his face lights up with the most heart-lifting smile.
5. Wreck-It Ralph—Felix in Jail
When Fix-It Felix is wrongly thrown in jail, he discovers a loose bar in his cell wall and attempts to make an escape with the help of his trusty hammer. To his dismay, it only makes all of the bars thicker and stronger. Felix laments to no one in particular, “Why do I fix everything I touch?” Not a moment later, Wreck-It Ralph busts through the wall, easily accomplishing what Felix could not. Felix is filled with relief to see him at first, but hastily changes his mind and refuses to give Ralph a chance to speak as he complains about his recent misfortunes, which he points out are all Ralph's fault. “You don’t know what it’s like to be rejected and treated like a criminal!” he exclaims. The irony in this scene is that Ralph continuously felt this exact treatment when they lived in their game, explaining why Ralph wanted to run off in the first place.
4. Toy Story—Meeting Buzz
The arguments between Woody and Buzz are the foundation of this movie, but it’s the first encounter between them that sets the tone of their initial relationship. Irritated by Buzz’s baseless confidence, Woody antagonizes Buzz to prove his assertion that he can to fly. Buzz accepts this challenge and proceeds to conduct a series of acrobatic maneuvers across a landscape of toy balls and racecar tracks, finishing by propelling himself off the ceiling fan and succeeds by sheer luck. Buzz believes he passed the test, but Woody dismisses the demonstration as “falling with style”, arc words that become an inside joke between them as they begin to cultivate a friendship.
3. The Incredibles—No Capes
Although she only appears in a few scenes, the petite fashion designer Edna Mode steals the show with her feisty and assertive attitude. “You can’t, it’s impossible, I’m far too busy,” Edna insists, dismissing the mere mention of redesigning Mr. Incredible’s suit, but Ms. Edna Mode is just playing coy before she jumps at the opportunity. Edna’s personality is playful, not straightforward, yet she makes it bluntly evident that she knows exactly what she wants and is not afraid to go for it. Quite adamant about her ideas, she quickly rejects Bob’s interest in adding a cape to the design of his new suit, declaring, “No capes!” Then, in a fast-paced montage, she proceeds to satirize a staple of the genre with a list of examples of how capes have been responsible for numerous fatal accidents, and she concludes by repeating herself: no capes.
2. Wall-E—Dancing in Space
For an environmentally-themed movie about a garbage-compacting robot, Wall-E is strangely powerful in its emphasis on bonding and relationships. If there was ever any uncertainty, the dancing scene cements it. After narrowly escaping destruction from an explosion, Wall-E and Eve reunite in space and share a touching moment, weaving in circles around each other to soft, jubilant music. Their blissful display attracts the attention of some humans aboard the spaceship, breaking there mind-numbing routine long enough for them to look each other in the eye for the first time. The scene also cuts to the Captain rediscovering information about Earth through the computers’ database, fascinating him to the point of staying up past his robot-assigned bedtime to whisper, “Computer, define dancing”. The computer’s answer is spoken over a shot of the two affectionate robots outside.
1. Up—Growing Old Together
The brief montage at the beginning of UP sets the tone for the remainder of the movie, building sympathy for what otherwise have appeared to be only a grumpy old man. In flashbacks, it shows the history behind Carl and Ellie’s married life. With only soft music and no distinct dialogue, the series of scenes reveals their hopes, dreams, and adventures together, which are soon interrupted by challenges and disappointment, but Carl and Ellie carry on with persistence and the development of a new dream. As time goes on, it seems like their dream has a lower and lower chance of being realized, until the heart-rending moment when Ellie passes on.
Though these are my top ten, Pixar’s work is chock full of even more outstanding and memorable moments. What are some of your favorites?