Pixar may be responsible for the majority of this century’s great animated films, but it’s not always as kid-friendly as you might think: here are 15 times it got a bit too real.
1. Toy Story‘s toy torture
Pixar’s first feature film, from 1995, was a big-hearted odd-couple romp that’s gone on to spawn three sequels (Rashida Jones is currently understood to be scripting number 4). In this scene from the original, nasty kid Sid uses his sadistic torture techniques on his neighbour Andy’s cowboy toy, Woody – and in the same film we see the effects his experiments have had on his own toys. It’s freaky.
2. Wall-E’s post-apocalyptic loneliness
2008’s Pixar film focussed on the lovable robot Wall-E, who amiably carries on his job of tidying up the earth after humans have all left. The tragedy is twofold: first, the little critter is hopelessly alone and keeps himself company with romantic old films; second and perhaps more serious is the fact that humanity has totally destroyed the planet, making life on Earth near-impossible. Instead they live on a spaceship and subsist on screens and snacks: here, the species has grown bloated and childlike. It’s an extreme and depressingly plausible way to begin the cautionary tale.
3. ‘No capes’ in The Incredibles
In 2004’s awesome superhero animation, super-fashionista Edna Mode objects strongly to Mr Incredible’s request for a cape by listing the ways capes have led to superhero deaths over the years. Not only do we see all these deaths – by hurricane, jet engine, rocket, elevator shaft – we also see the evil Syndrome getting his comeuppance at the end of the film when his own cape is swallowed by a plane engine, along with him. Brutal.
4. Torque’s torture and death in Cars 2
In the spy-movie follow-up to the friendship yarn Cars, there’s an American spy character called Rod ‘Torque’ Redline. In the opening scenes of the film, we see the smart-talking Torque being tortured by the evil Professor Z, who uses an electromagnetic magnifier to boil an unusual petrol (Allinol) inside Torque until he explodes.
5. Ellie’s death in Up
Up begins with a notoriously beautiful silent montage that tells the story of Carl’s life. It’s tragic too, though: after Carl marries his childhood sweetheart, Ellie, she suffers a miscarriage, they are unable to have children, and she predeceases him, leaving him thorny and alone in old age.
6. The death of Inside Out‘s Bing Bong
In this tale of emotions causing havoc inside Riley’s mind, Joy and Sadness find themselves accidentally trapped in Long-Term Memory. Here they encounter Riley’s childhood imaginary friend, Bing Bong, who tries to guide them back to their headquarters, only for him and Joy to fall into the ‘Memory Dump’. Their attempts to use a rocket car to get out of the deletion zone fail repeatedly, until Bing Bong realises how he can help Joy escape: he sacrifices himself, jumping off as the car takes off, disappearing tragically into oblivion along with Riley’s useless memories as Joy rides to safety.
7. The window of dead rats in Ratatouille
In Ratatouille, Rémy is a rat that wants to be a chef, much to the chagrin of his garbage-eating family. When they move to Paris, his dad explains to him what humans do to rats by showing him a window full of dead rats in traps: it’s the storefront of a Parisian pest control company that exists in real life (Aurouze). In the context of the film, though, it’s basically like looking at a wall of corpses.
8. Bob thinking his family is dead in The Incredibles
When Mr Incredible gets captured in The Incredibles, his wife follows in a jet, and his children sneak on board too. When the three of them arrive at Mr Incredibles’ location, the evil Syndrome sends missiles at them, which destroy the plane – though luckily, the Parrs make a daring escape. That said, the audio that Mr Incredible hears in captivity makes him believe they all died in the explosion, leading him to stew in a state of furious grief.
9. Monsters, Inc.‘s near-death experience
In a similar scene to the above example, Monsters, Inc.‘s Sully believes the toddler he’s looking after, Boo, has been crushed in a trash compactor. Weirdly, it’s played for laughs.
10. Jessie’s song in Toy Story 2
The tragedy of feeling replaceable is exemplified by Toy Story 2‘s Jessie, whose hopes of being wanted again lie solely in being part of a collection to be shown in a museum. In the cowgirl’s attempt to convince Woody that he’ll one day feel the same sense of abandonment by his owner Andy – Woody is the essential last piece of Jessie’s collection jigsaw – she sings a tragic song about how she was forgotten by her owner, how toys will always be left unhappy in the end, and how the next best thing (sitting in a museum) is worth settling for. It’s deflating to say the least.
11. Buzz discovering he’s just a toy in Toy Story
When we meet Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear, he believes himself to be a crucial element of something called Star Command – not a toy. Woody reveals his true nature to him, at which point Buzz suffers what adults might call ‘an existential crisis’, and kids might call ‘being really sad’.
12. The death of Nemo’s mother and many siblings in Finding Nemo
‘Dad, why don’t I have a mum, or any brothers and sisters?’
‘Because your brave mum tried to stop all our many, many eggs from being eaten by a barracuda after it knocked me out. You were the only egg left when I got back.’
‘Oh. That sucks.’
‘Yeah, well, life’s a bitch and then you die.’
13. A Bug’s Life‘s final meal
In the underrated A Bug’s Life, a villainous grasshopper character called Hopper has a massive fear of birds. This fear is exploited by our ant protagonist Flik and his buddies, who use a fake bird to trick him. When Hopper encounters a another (real) bird, he believes it to be another trick, only to enrage it, be caught, and get fed to the bird’s chicks. Gruesome.
14. Monsters, Inc.‘s scream extractor
In Monsters, Inc., the objective of all the monsters is to capture children’s screams to power their world. Normally, this is done by scaring children while they’re asleep – considered an ‘ethical’ way to collect screams in the film – but nasty guy Randall tries to attach Boo to an experimental scream extractor later in the film. It’s basically like watching a torture device being used on a toddler.
15. Toy Story 3‘s incinerator
At the end of Toy Story 3, there’s a danger that every single character we know and love will be incinerated in a furnace. They make every effort to leave, but it looks impossible, at which point they all hold hands, give up, and wait for death. Obviously, there’s a deus ex machina moment when the aliens manage to stop the smelting, but it’s too late: we’ve just seen the bleakest Pixar moment of all time.