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The animated movies that turn people into emotional wrecks

Tom Beasley
·Contributor
·7-min read
'Coco', 'Up' and 'Grave of the Fireflies'. (Credit: Pixar/Ghibli)
'Coco', 'Up' and 'Grave of the Fireflies'. (Credit: Pixar/Ghibli)

Whatever heavyweight drama Hollywood is able to produce in live-action, there’s just something about animation that gets the tears flowing. Pixar, obviously, has been clawing at audience’s tear ducts since day one — and there’s seldom a dry eye in the house when the credits roll on a Disney picture, or a Studio Ghibli adventure.

Read more: Pixar scenes guaranteed to make you cry

Over on Reddit, users have been discussing the animated movies that made them the most emotional by the end. Some of the usual suspects are there, of course, but there are some surprising choices that show just how varied the things are that can push audiences’ buttons.

Up

'Up'. (Credit: Pixar)
'Up'. (Credit: Pixar)

The opening montage of Up is one of the greatest achievements of Pixar as an animation studio. It’s effectively a blistering short film about love and loss, which sets out a powerful scenario for the more conventional movie that follows. It’s not a huge surprise that Pete Docter’s movie was the most upvoted suggestion on the entire thread.

Read more: Which is the best Pixar movie?

The user who brought up the movie particularly discussed a scene late in the movie in which elderly protagonist Carl has successfully taken his house to Paradise Falls and is finally able to open his late wife’s scrapbook, which urges him to embark on a new adventure. It’s enough to get anyone teary just reading about it. Goodness knows what Docter has planned with the upcoming Soul.

The Iron Giant

'The Iron Giant'. (Credit: Warner Bros)
'The Iron Giant'. (Credit: Warner Bros)

After a decade as a prominent force in the early days of The Simpsons, Brad Bird made his movie directing debut with The Iron Giant in 1999. Based on the 1960s novel The Iron Man — title changed in the US for obvious, superhero-related reasons — the film follows a young boy attempting to save a metal man from military personnel seeking to destroy him. It under-performed at the box office, but has undergone a reappraisal over the last two decades and is now considered a classic.

For those who grew up with it, The Iron Giant is an emotional Goliath, as it was for the Reddit user who suggested it. It might not be as widely seen as some of the other movies on this list but, for those who have had the pleasure, it’s as emotional as animation can get.

The Fox and the Hound

'The Fox and the Hound'. (Credit: Disney)
'The Fox and the Hound'. (Credit: Disney)

The Fox and the Hound is not one of the more widely remembered Disney movies, sitting in the strange wilderness years between the successes of the studio’s Golden Age and the Renaissance that began with The Little Mermaid in 1989. The film depicts the friendship between young fox Todd and hunting dog Copper, who must deal with the way their relationship changes when natural instincts begin to emerge.

Read more: Everything coming to Disney+ in October

The Reddit user who picked the film said they tend to “always lose it” when Todd is released back into the wild after living for so long with humans. With the movie among the Disney+ offering, plenty of kids will now be experiencing those same emotions.

Coco

'Coco'. (Credit: Pixar)
'Coco'. (Credit: Pixar)

The same user who suggested Fox and the Hound also had words of praise for one of the most emotionally vicious movies of the last decade — Pixar adventure Coco. The movie explores death and memory through the prism of the Mexican celebration Dia de los Muertos. With its usual precision approach to making audiences sob, Pixar wields its Oscar-winning song Remember Me to batter even the hardest of hearts into submission.

The user wrote that they thought it was “honestly beautiful” to share this emotion with a cinema full of people, and it’s certainly a shame audiences won’t get to repeat that with Soul, which is premiering on Disney+ at Christmas.

Brother Bear

'Brother Bear'. (Credit: Disney)
'Brother Bear'. (Credit: Disney)

Another under-appreciated Disney effort, Brother Bear tells the story of an Inuit boy transformed into a bear when he slays a beast out of revenge. It’s also notable for being one of the few acting jobs Rick Moranis has done during his retirement from movie work. The film perhaps suffered from being the Disney release in the same year that Pixar unveiled Finding Nemo which, naturally, beat Brother Bear to the Best Animated Feature Oscar.

Read more: Rick Moranis comes out of retirement for Ryan Reynolds ad

For the Reddit user who suggested the film, though, this is anything but a forgotten movie. They said the film’s emotional punch “gets me every time”. It will be interesting to see what happens when it inevitably gets a live-action remake.

Wall-E

'Wall-E'. (Credit: Pixar)
'Wall-E'. (Credit: Pixar)

Pixar again and it’s another of their most celebrated works — Andrew Stanton’s beautiful meditation on humanity’s future, Wall-E. The movie follows the titular lonely trash robot whose purpose changes when he meets another machine, sent to examine the wasteland Earth for any viable life. It’s that mostly silent first act for which the film is mostly remembered, though the consumerism satire of the second half is just as strong.

For one Reddit user, it was heart-breaking to note that “Wall-E knew love more than any of the humans”. In 2020, the notion of a robot being more compassionate than any human being really doesn’t seem that ridiculous.

Big Hero 6

'Big Hero 6'. (Credit: Disney)
'Big Hero 6'. (Credit: Disney)

Disney has dominated the superhero movie world with its Marvel Cinematic Universe, but they also brought cinema’s most en vogue genre into animation in 2014 with Big Hero 6. Loosely based on a very obscure Marvel superteam, the movie features plenty of zippy action, but is mostly a showcase for the squishy, inflatable healthcare robot Baymax.

It was Baymax who prompted the movie’s addition to this thread, which pointed to the inflatable droid’s heart-breaking comments when he is seemingly fatally injured. Disney can even make an air-filled automaton an emotional powerhouse.

Treasure Planet

'Treasure Planet'. (Credit: Disney)
'Treasure Planet'. (Credit: Disney)

Treasure Planet came out a year before Pirates of the Caribbean made swashbuckling adventure on the high seas cool again. As a result, the most expensive movie to ever use traditional, 2D animation was a monstrous box office flop, only earning $110m (£85m) worldwide and costing considerably more than that to produce and market. This sci-fi riff on Treasure Island has largely been written off as one of Disney’s biggest misses.

Read more: Chernobyl creator to reboot Pirates of the Caribbean

However, according to the Reddit user who suggested it for this thread, the movie has real emotional power, and not just because it was their father’s favourite film. They said: “It captures the feeling of wonder and adventure that I desperately wish I had in my life but never have and likely never will.”

Grave of the Fireflies

'Grave of the Fireflies'. (Credit: Studio Ghibli)
'Grave of the Fireflies'. (Credit: Studio Ghibli)

This list could easily have been filled with as many Studio Ghibli efforts as Disney and Pixar stories, but it’s the movie universally acknowledged as the Japanese studio’s most depressing that made the cut for Reddit users. The 1988 tear-jerker follows the tragic story of two siblings attempting to survive in the final months of the Second World War.

Read more: 10 best Studio Ghibli movies

The movie is a universally acclaimed landmark of animation, with a rare 100% approval score among film critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Sadly, it’s the only Ghibli release that isn’t available as part of the company’s deal with Netflix.

A Goofy Movie

'A Goofy Movie'. (Credit: Disney)
'A Goofy Movie'. (Credit: Disney)

The big screen leading man debut of Disney stalwart Goofy doesn’t exactly scream emotion, but anyone who thinks that obviously never saw A Goofy Movie. It’s a nuanced and beautifully made take on father-son relationships that, 25 years, after it was first released, has secured a cult following among those with whom it struck a chord during their childhoods.

That’s certainly true for those who discussed the movie as part of the Reddit thread, with one pointing out that they didn’t know their father at the time and so it was especially resonant. As with so many of the movies on this list, Disney+ repetition will likely secure it a whole new audience.

Watch: The evolution of Pixar’s animation