Top 10: From ‘Toy Story’ to ‘Coco,’ Pixar’s Greatest Moments

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With Pixar’s upcoming sequel “Incredibles 2” hitting theaters this weekend, it felt appropriate to remember the best individual movie moments in the company’s history. Rather than doing a typical ranking, I’ve decided to forgo competition and just let the moments speak for themselves without comparison. Here are the iconic scenes that will stand the test of time to infinity and beyond…

Buzz Lightyear takes to the skies to rejoin his friends (“Toy Story”)

Shouldn’t the reality of their existence as talking toys be enough for Woody to believe Buzz can fly? It takes the most desperate of perils to finally overturn the pullstring cowboy’s skepticism. In a moment of sheer exhilaration, Buzz proves his heroic worth by activating his wings to glide himself and Woody to their friends in the moving van ahead. Furthermore, Woody finds redemption after being wrongfully accused of pushing Buzz out of Andy’s window. The scene crescendos the action in spectacular triumph, not to mention solidifying a lasting partnership between two unlikely friends.

The toys holding hands while facing their incineration demise (“Toy Story 3”)

Easily the darkest scene in Pixar history, audiences witness a moment of defining clarity for Andy’s toys. If this is truly the end, then it must be faced together, hand in hand, hearts entwined. That depiction alone is what likely elevated it into “Best Picture” contention. As we know, the rest is history. “Toy Story 3” became only the third animated film ever nominated for the Academy’s highest honor. For many of us, the “Toy Story” franchise has overseen our development from youth to adulthood. To experience such a mature handling of death and finality parallels our own sad yet brave resignation from childhood.

Andy plays with his toys one last time (“Toy Story 3”)

I know, even just reading that description elicits tears. Andy has always been a devoted toy lover, but with age came the distance and loose abandonment. In this heartbreaking hand-me-down sequence, we see Andy cherishing his youth by playing with his beloved manufactured family one last time. Nostalgia isn’t so much reveled in as it is provided a grateful send-off. Audiences know that Andy is doing the right thing by giving away his toys to the little girl next door, but it’s still such a heavy emotional toll to experience. Unlike Disney animation of old – which delights in a cycle of happily-ever-after – Pixar separates itself as adult fare by acknowledging the magical escapism of make-believe without serving it.

Jessie’s flashback montage (“Toy Story 2”)

Based on her traumatizing origins, you wouldn’t expect Jessie to be a bundle of perkiness and country sass. Reliving Jessie’s abandonment by her kid owner, Emily, was a serious kick to the gut. It’s a grim awakening to realize you are a temporary fixation whose given love is both fabricated and fleeting. After such a heartbreaking story, it’s easy to understand Woody’s hesitation to rejoin Andy since he’ll soon board the train of desertion. If anything, the sequence sobers one up to the truth society tends to avoid: not everyone’s upbringing is as cushy or privileged as one deserves. Rather than compare or reside yourself to a depressing state of mind, be the support system those people with a rough rearing never had. Once Woody understands this, Jessie finds herself willing to trust love again.

The life of lovebirds Carl and Ellie (“Up”)

Normally Pixar releases a cute and sentimental short film before launching into their main feature. For “Up,” director Pete Docter and his fellow creatives had the genius idea of combining this trademark into one motion picture. This new storytelling method provides a wallop of heart before settling in. Life definitely feels like it flashes by as quickly as Carl and Ellie’s decades-spanning love. Ellie’s passing at the end is a swift and cruel blow to Carl, a man who never wasted a moment and yet still had so many more to share with his soulmate. The extended prologue is the epitome of life’s paradoxical nature of bestowing extreme happiness and immense sorrow.

Wall-E scours the literal wasteland that is future Earth (“Wall-E”)

“Wall-E” is arguably one of Pixar’s more overpraised efforts. Its overly simplistic narrative and broad themes lack the complexity and wonder of compelling science fiction. However, one would be remiss to ignore the sheer awe of desolate grandiosity that Wall-E silently roams across. Taking in such a stark display of total environmental devastation is disturbing. Yet, the way Wall-E dutifully trudges along despite the ruin and decay is inspiring. His nonchalance ironically provides a deeper appreciation of Earth, the scale of its beautiful terrain that is no more and other natural pleasures of its existence. Illuminated without a line of dialogue, there’s poetic charm to this opener that stuns with all-timer movie confidence.

Anton Ego tastes the ratatouille (“Ratatouille”)

Pixar’s least kid-oriented film still manages to warm even the frostiest of hearts. When notoriously harsh food critic Anton Ego (played to snobbery perfection by the late Peter O’Toole) finally tastes the ratatouille, he has what appears to be a profound religious experience with just a few bites. The shocking moment of approval is a resounding appreciation of hard work regardless of background. Talent is nondiscriminatory, and although taste may be subjective, the intensive labor that fuels passion will always be lauded by someone.

“Remember Me” song awakens Coco’s lost memory (“Coco”)

In a twist on the “race-against-time” plot device that typically climaxes films, a song is instead used to stop the countdown. What a transcendent tune it is! Miguel’s great-grandmother “Coco” battles her dementia with fervency as Hector reminds her of the father she’s on the verge of losing all over again. With each lyric delivered, we see Coco’s spirit rise and energy temporarily revitalized. She has reunited with a father who was wrongfully shunned from the family. Music flows back into the Rivera clan with zest and infinite binding. The sequence rightfully causes a joyful release of tears upon seeing a fractured family repair itself through the power of song.

Bing Bong sacrifices himself and fades away (“Inside Out”)

Childhood imagination fades from memory, but it is also responsible for getting youngsters through tough times when reality offers little kindness. Such is the case with Bing Bong, an imaginary anthropomorphic elephant friend of Riley’s. At first a nuisance to the Emotions, Bing Bong soon proves to be a valuable guide while navigating through Riley’s memory zone. Although his jovial personality never dims, Bing Bong resigns himself to the fact that he’s a few new memories away from extinction. This doesn’t make Bing Bong’s departure any less difficult, as we see him nobly sacrificing himself to nothingness so that Joy can return to headquarters and put Riley back in emotional equilibrium.

Marlin and Dory enter the East Australian Current (“Finding Nemo”)

What seems like an insignificant passage from one part of the plot to the next winds up becoming the most memorable moment of the film. Fearful that his new (and forgetful) friend Dory is lost for good after a jellyfish attack, Marlin discovers that not only is she safe but a group of turtles is transporting them across the ocean to find Nemo. The laid-back “surfer” demeanor of Crush and the sprite enthusiasm of his son inject the movie with a hip sense of camaraderie that makes the journey less somber than assumed. What could be a depressing kidnapping drama that risks scarring kids and parents alike suddenly becomes an adventure of the high seas. The stakes don’t exactly diminish, but the surrounding environment’s humorous tone and upbeat optimism actually motivates Marlin on his quest. With the entire ocean supporting him, finding Nemo becomes less daunting and more intrepid.

What are your favorite moments in Pixar’s 23-year history? List them below in the comments!

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