When you think of Disney and Pixar films, you might think of happy, light-hearted family films. Well, think again. From the earliest Disney films of the 1930s through to Pixar’s most recent movies, Disney has had storylines with some deep and moving moments that have gone down in cinematic history and left audiences all over the world flooded with tears.
From classics like Bambi to modern day releases like Big Hero 6, Disney and Pixar have used the deaths and broken hearts of our favorite characters to play with our emotions. There is no doubt that it works though, as they continue to produce successful film after successful film. And with the release of Finding Dory being yet another tearjerker, it looks like Disney isn’t interested in changing its longstanding policy of tragedy. With so many sad moments to choose from, it’s difficult to narrow them all down, but here are the 17 Most Heartbreaking Disney and Pixar Moments Of All Time.
17. WALL-E – WALL-E is reactivated
WALL-E is the adorable love story between two robots of the future, guaranteed to make you smile. However towards the end that smile will turn to a frown when we all are led to suspect the worst has happened. Eve has managed to repair WALL-E using spare parts and bring her lover back to life, but disaster strikes when WALL-E fails to recognise her. She then realises he has lost his memory and has reverted back into a robot with no personality or emotion. This would effectively mean the WALL-E se knew and loved had died.
However if you can hold in those tears a little bit longer then you can save yourself the embarrassment of crying at a robot love story, as all turns out well when WALL-E remembers her when they hold hands. This scene perfectly illustrates how Pixar is capable of making a beautiful story and giving us an attachment to any kind of character – be that robot, toy, monster or animal.
16. Pocahontas – John Smith Leaves
Disney films are supposed to come with a happily ever after, where the movie’s lead couple falls into a lifelong romance. However, poor Pocahontas was robbed of her happy ending when she had to watch her man sail away to the other side of the planet knowing she would never see him again; or at least not until the low budget sequel. The ending came after an already turbulent start to their romance as the star crossed lovers came from opposing sides of a colonization dispute.
However, after all they endured together we were tricked into a false sense of security that all would end in a fairytale wedding of sorts until John Smith was shot and had to return to England to be nursed back to health. Pocahontas was given the offer of going to England with him but was not prepared to give up her life and home for him – quite rightly so. But this ended up leaving the couple separated and their love left torn apart in its prime, despite a sweet ending where Pocahontas waved John’s boat off from a cliff top. It was a bittersweet ending to a beautiful film, but that didn’t stop the heartbreak from overshadowing the rest.
15. Hercules – Meg Dies for Hercules
Hercules is a classic Disney film full of action, jokes, songs and tragedy. Hercules may be the one that people call the hero of the film, but let’s not forget Meg’s heroic actions for Hercules. Despite Meg’s tragic back story of selling her soul to save her boyfriend, only to be left for another woman, Meg risks her life to save her new man Hercules. In fact, she dies for him. Upon seeing a pillar about to fall on him she instinctively dives in the way and is crushed beneath it. She goes on to explain herself to him by saying “people always do crazy things when they’re in love.” And that really is the icing on top of a very emotional cake.
14. Inside Out – Bing Bong sacrifices himself for Joy
Inside Out quickly created a buzz in cinemas as it promised a fun and quirky animated film with an all star cast. With the likes of Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling and Bill Hader lending their voicing talents to the film, we knew we were in for a treat and guaranteed to laugh. What we perhaps didn’t anticipate so much is that we would also get choked up at this tragic scene in the film.
The sad part comes when the beloved Bing Bong realizes the rocket will not be able to carry both him and Joy to safety and out of the dump. Upon this realization, Bing Bong starts the rocket again and jumps off before it flies itself away. Bing Bong then has a touching choice of last words as he thanks Joy for letting him be important one last time. So if you’re in the mood to cry over little creatures in your brain, sit down and watch Inside Out.
13. Dumbo – Mother and Baby Separated
If you think Disney’s habit of trying to make you cry is anything new, then you’re sadly mistaken. All the way back in 1941 Disney released the film Dumbo. A cartoon family film about a baby elephant sounds harmless enough, but Disney pulled their trademark move of making the lead character an orphan. The part of the film in which this unveils and mother and baby are separated by the circus is truly powerful and moving, and orchestrated perfectly to wring you dry of tears.
The mother manages to reach the baby through a barred window with her trunk, and she picks him up and rocks him to stop him crying. A lullaby style ballad is played, and before long the mother must put the baby down as she is carted away from him for good. Disney’s angle on child-parent relationships usually includes upset and separation, and Dumbo is a prime example of that emotion-crushing worldview.
12. Lilo and Stitch – Stitch Nearly Dies
If you say “Ohana means family” to someone and they don’t say “and family means no one gets left behind” in response, chances are they aren’t human. Maybe they’re one of those weird aliens like Stitch. Whatever they are, they’ve been missing out on life. Chances are this now famous catchphrase has made you laugh and/or cry before, and we’re not surprised. Lilo and Stitch is an emotionally charged and beautiful story of family and friendship.
There are scenes scattered throughout the film that are sad and touching, but the one that is most heartbreaking is when a sobbing Lilo is holding Stitch in her hands thinking he’s dead. After all the ups and downs of their friendship, you know how strong their bond and love for each other is. Out of all the Disney characters, these are two that you grow one of the biggest connections to and seeing one of them dead and the other distraught is all but too much. Luckily, Stitch wakes up in her arms and all of us our spared from crying through the credits.
11. Finding Nemo – Nemo’s Mother and Siblings Die
Pixar has seemed to inherit the classic Disney habit of killing off parents as Finding Nemo proved to us back in 2003. Pixar also doesn’t mess around when it comes to sad scenes and they aren’t afraid to hit you with them right at the start of the film. In the case of Finding Nemo, the tragic opening sees Nemo’s family getting attacked, with his mother and siblings (who were still eggs at the time) all killed by a huge and terrifying barracuda.
The opening is truly brutal and upsetting – and leaves an undertone of tragedy spanning throughout most of the film as the father Marlin seems to be heavily affected and paranoid as a result. Finding Nemo didn’t just break our hearts with its opening though, as some sad and hard hitting moments are scattered throughout the film. Let’s just hope we can handle the heartbreak that Finding Dory doled out while we constantly re-watch it over the course of our lives.
10. Hunchback of Notre Dame – Crowd Attacks Quasimodo
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is widely known for being one of the darkest Disney films of all time. It has one of the most despicable villains in Disney history, the lead loses out on the girl to a more attractive guy, and it’s full of heartbreaking scenes of cruelty. The most intense scene of this sort is the ‘feast of fools’ where Quasimodo is picked out of the crowd to be humiliated and tortured by the masses for his looks.
The scene is extremely distressing to watch to a level that some would say is inappropriate for a children’s film. Throughout the scene the poor innocent Quasimodo is subjected to an array of abuse including being pelted with fruit, having insults shouted at him, and even being strangled with rope. It’s guaranteed to upset audiences as they watch the harmless and happy hero rejected by the outside world that he spent his whole life dreaming of. It is possibly one of the most brutal scenes in a Disney film, and incredibly disheartening to watch.
9. Big Hero 6 – Baymax Dies
For a supposed kid’s superhero movie, Big Hero 6 sure packed an emotional punch when it came to character deaths. Of course the big death of the film that left audiences grieving the most was that of Baymax, or as some know him, the “big white thing.” But far more than a big white thing, Baymax had been a loyal companion throughout the film to Hiro and remained faithful all the way to his tragic death scene. He died in sacrifice to save a reluctant Hiro who was pleading for them to find another way – as were we all!
Luckily in the end they manage to recreate Baymax using a chip and the duo are back together again. Many audiences did not expect much from Big Hero 6, let alone such emotionally stunning scenes. And yet this wasn’t even the only scene in the film that had people getting emotional!
8. Tarzan – Parents and Baby Gorilla
Tarzan is rarely given enough credit for being the highly emotional and saddening story that it is. In a Disney universe full of orphans and absent parents (Aladdin, Cinderella, Hercules, Lion King, Sleeping Beauty…need we go on?) it’s easy for the storyline to become a cliché, and that’s perhaps why Tarzan is often overlooked. However, Tarzan focuses on the child-parent relationships much more than most films, and the effect of losing parents or a child. It handles the difficult subject with an emotional maturity and gritty realness that you wouldn’t expect from a Disney cartoon, complimented throughout with a stunning and heart-warming soundtrack.
Although many moments stand out as poignant, perhaps the most upsetting is the early death of Tarzan’s parents – who had just survived a shipwreck and built a home on the deserted island in a heart warming sequence that becomes somewhat short lived by what follows. The same scene also parallels to the family life of a gorilla couple with their baby. In their scene, their happy gorilla family also ends in tragedy when the gorilla child meets the same fate as the human parents in Tarzan’s scene. In a bittersweet twist that sets the movie’s tone, Tarzan is found by the gorilla mother who instantly falls in love with the orphaned baby. This moment of the film perfectly depicts how Tarzan is both heart-warming and heartbreaking – and often all at the same time.
7. The Fox and The Hound – Widow Tweed Gives Up Fox
Although it may not be one of Disney’s biggest or most famous films, The Fox and The Hound has become a cult classic of the family film genre. The movie is such an endearing and sweet tale of an unlikely friendship and is really a testament to Disney’s excellent choice of stories; no matter how unexpected they may seem at first. And keeping in with good Disney tradition it comes with its fair share of ups and downs along the way, taking audiences through a spectrum of feelings.
The moment that will really bring a lump to your throat is when the adopted fox cub Tod is released into the wild by its lonely owner Widow Tweed. She does it upon realizing that her pet is no longer safe with her, but it breaks her heart and leaves little Tod confused and not understanding what is happening. This sad moment is probably one of the most underrated sad scenes in Disney history, from one of the most underrated Disney films of all time.
6. Monsters Inc – When Sulley Says Goodbye to Boo
Goodbyes are never easy to deal with, and Pixar has a habit of making them even tougher. After watching Sulley grow to love the human child Boo in Monsters Inc, audiences then get heartbroken by their separation. Sulley must put Boo to bed before leaving her for good, but poor little Boo is none the wiser and tries to follow him – but the door only leads to an empty closet. Boo not knowing what’s happening makes it all the sadder, and will make even the biggest of monsters choke up a little.
To soften the blow, there is a glimmer of hope at the end of the movie when Sulley opens a mystery door given to him by his friends. The shot shows his face when the door opens and he smiles, before muttering Boo’s name. The movie ended on that small beacon of hope at a reunion, and many were rooting for it when a new Monsters Inc movie was announced. However Monsters University went for the prequel instead, leaving their separation unresolved and our hearts still aching from this scene.
5. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey – When You Think Shadow Hasn’t Made It
It is a universal truth that dog deaths are the saddest kind of deaths in films and guaranteed to make audiences weep. Although luckily the golden retriever Shadow in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey does in fact survive, we’re led to believe he hasn’t made it after the other two pets return home without him shortly after he tells them he can’t make it any further. After surviving bears, mountain lions and the dreaded vets, they got so close to home and yet their faithful leader Shadow seems to have fallen at the last hurdle.
But it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the film and know he’s going to make it, you still sob hysterically praying for him to surface over the hill. You still hold your breath as the little boy scans his eyes across the hill, searching for his best friend. Your heart still breaks every time, but luckily that happy ending restores all your hope and faith in the world. It’s a roller coaster of emotions, and it doesn’t ever get any easier.
4. Toy Story 3 – Andy Gives Away His Toys
Toy Story 3 was anything but a kids’ film, and it seemed blatantly targeted at the now young adults who grew up on the Toy Story franchise. It played heavily to childhood nostalgia and using the famous characters and friendships to tug on the viewer’s heart strings, it successfully became known as a film that made grown men cry. Although there were more than a few tear-jerking moments in the film – the incinerator scene comes to mind to anyone with a heart – the ending was undoubtedly the saddest part.
Noted for leaving entire theaters uncontrollably sobbing, many kept their 3D glasses on after the film in order to mask their tears. Toy Story 3 plays to emotional situations that we have all experienced as adults such as leaving home, leaving your childhood behind, and saying goodbye to loved ones or loved possessions. It also features the unbearable moment where Andy reluctantly decides to give Woody away too, thus parting with his best friend and childhood partner in crime. But perhaps what makes the emotions all the harder to deal with is it isn’t actually a sad ending; it’s the right ending. The toys weren’t being played with by Andy, the toys belong as a group together, and the little girl will love the toys like Andy did. It makes the emotion all the more real that Andy chose to do the right thing, even though it was hard for him. The scene ties up the trilogy perfectly, realistically, and beautifully, and it pulls on your heart strings with all its might.
3. Bambi – His Mother Dies
The scene that caused a generation some childhood trauma makes it to the third place on the list. Despite being released in 1942 Bambi remains a popular film and still has an impact on pop culture to this day. It truly is a timeless classic and one of Disney’s most beloved stories. But more so than being recognized as a classic, the film is known for being one of the biggest tearjerkers of all time and it’s all down to one very well known scene.
The scene in question manages to handle Bambi’s mother’s death very tastefully, with her death not shown on camera but instead the shot heard and her character not seen running after Bambi. A confused and upset Bambi is then told that his mother can’t be with him anymore. And just like that the hearts of audiences around the world were shattered, and not an eye left dry from 1942 to now. Having an innocent animal die is sad enough, but having its little fawn left orphaned and distraught is just about enough to make anyone cry.
2. UP – The Opening Love Story
UP became an instant hit upon its release and received a well-rounded mix of laughs, tears, silliness and sincerity. However, it was the opening scene that drew the most attention and almost presents itself as a short film within a film. The scene goes through the lifelong love story of two childhood sweethearts from their first meeting through to the tragic death of an elderly wife, leaving behind a heartbroken widower.
The entire story of Ellie and Carl is beautiful and romantic in every way, and the tragic story of them constantly putting off their big adventure due to real life getting in the way is all too real. To cap off the tragedy, the scene is then followed up perfectly by telling the story of how Carl found happiness after Ellie while remaining as in love with her as ever. It’s the most adorable love story ever told in computer animation, and yet it will leave you watching the rest of the film behind a cloud of tears.
1. The Lion King – Mufasa Dies
The Lion King is now known for being a legendary story, and a cinematic masterpiece of intense tragedy and fun comedy. For those wondering how Disney got hold of a plot with such dark twists and turns – especially for a film where the key musical number is about having “no worries” – The Lion King is actually based off the Shakespeare play, Hamlet.
So it stands to reason that the most tear-worthy moment in the film, and one of the most famous Disney scenes of all time, comes when a young Simba finds the trampled corpse of his father Mufasa. Mufasa’s is possibly one of the most mourned movie deaths of all time, and the scene where he is found by his child is executed perfectly to make audiences of all ages well up. It’s hard to believe a cartoon lion cub could make you cry, but seeing little Simba nudge his father’s body and sob “wake up dad” will tear you apart just as much as it’s doing right now while you remember the scene. Not only is the scene even sadder because the heroic Mufasa had just saved Simba’s life, but in a ruthless twist, his killer Scar convinces young Simba that it was all his fault and he can never go home again. Damn Disney, you really don’t know how to hold back do you?
Which of these scenes have you reaching for the box of tissues? Are there any we missed? Let us know in the comments, and try to not let your tears get inside your keyboard!