Pixar has, since the release of Toy Story in 1995, become one of the most important animation companies of the last century. Their innovative technology changed the modern face of cartoons in popular culture, helping bring CGI to life for the first time. Since then, the company has released 19 films with a massive range of topics. Superheroes, inventor insects, forgetful fish, and even robots, spirits, and emotions themselves have been given a world to explore and learn and grow, to the joy of audiences all around the world.
But that doesn’t mean the films created by the company are completely happy and fun. Sometimes, the movies actually manage to be subtly darker than any other animated film company, overtly more complex than anything else on screens. Sometimes it’s because the world introduced by the movie has an underlining horror to it that can’t be rivalled. Sometimes it’s because the movies are willing to go further than anything else and portray betrayals and surprising ends on screen and in full sight for the children. And sometimes, it’s because the people behind Pixar are just as flawed as anyone else, and their background drama has risked to overtake the movies they produce. So don’t let the adorable toys or wide-eyed cartoons keep you from realizing just how dark these movies can actually be. These are 20 of the darkest things you never realized about Pixar, and fair warning: spoilers are coming hot and fast in this one.
20. Toy Story: Toys Are Apparently Ageless & Endless
In Toy Story, we’re introduced to a world where toys are very real, very alive beings. They have wants and needs, and prove to be intelligent and aware throughout the story. And as evidenced by the fact that Sid was able to take them apart, reassemble the parts, and they still exhibited intelligence – they apparently can’t ever be ended, which is scary when you think about it. That means that every toy, in every room across the world, is alive and awake. That’s pure paranoia fuel, especially when you take into account that the toys just can’t be ended. That means they’re always watching, and they always can be. They don’t need to eat, but they just exist perpetually. And they can move just fine when people are around, they just choose not to. What happens the day they decide to turn on humanity, and enact the single greatest surprise in history? And every single one of those silent spies was brought there by us.
19. A Bug’s Life: Features Some Crazy Stuff
A Bug’s Life is the second Pixar film to be produced, and on the surface it seems like a very cute film. An inventor ant unknowingly recruits a bunch of performers he mistakes as soldiers to fight off an army of aggressive crickets. But underneath the cutesy animation and silly plot is a surprising movie. Multiple characters are lost on-screen, in increasingly grisly ways. Some of the cricket henchmen are crushed when they cross their leader Hopper, and others are swept away in the eventual rainfall during the climax. But Hopper gets the worst of it, and is grabbed by a bird during the finale. But instead of just being taken by the bird, Hopper is met by a nest full of chicks, which is actually quite alarming.
18. Toy Story 2: The Toys Cause A Major Series Of Accidents
Toy Story 2 follows the undying abominations (I mean, the heroes) of the previous movie as they embark on a quest to save their friend Woody after he is stolen by a toy collector. But along their way, they ruin the lives of a lot of people. A toy store is ruined, and a pizza delivery driver is for sure getting fired after the toys steal his truck from right out under his eyes. But the worst has to come with the poor drivers who are just trying to get somewhere in their cars. The toys have to cross the road and cause a massive multi-car crash. We’re talking major accidents, with people at least injured if not killed in the process. And yeah, the toys are trying to save their friend, that’s a nice reasoning. But also – seriously Buzz, people might have died during that.
17. Monsters Inc.: Shows Us That Monsters Anywhere And Any Time
Monsters Inc. is a fun movie. The cartoony designs of the monsters and their world helps keep the nominally strange story light and fun when, in reality, it should be considered one of the spookiest movies in recent memory. Seriously, this story posits a world where not only do the monsters that fill all of our nightmares all work together, but they’re smart enough to plan out their fear attacks. They can appear out of any closet, giving them the ability to travel to any point in the world at any moment. They could come at you from anywhere, at any time. And the more you scream, the more power they get. So yeah, it’s funny that they have sushi places and all, but that is completely and utterly strange.
16. Finding Nemo: Thinks Nature Over Nurture
Nature against nurture is considered one of the principal debates and differences in philosophy all around the world. The question of whether or not someone can truly overcome their upbringing and intrinsic teachings, to grow beyond their expectations or if they are doomed to repeat the failings of the past and fulfill the expectations of their family and upbringing. Entire libraries of philosophical texts have been written about the subject, which is why it’s surprising to see Finding Nemo of all things making the conclusion that nature wins out. The sharks that Marlin and Dory run into on their way to find Nemo are trying their very best to no longer hunt fish, despite their innate desire and need to. But no matter how hard they try – and they really try to – they just can’t overcome their needs. They end up chasing our heroes and almost get them, which would have been a sad turn for the movie to take. It’s just a weird thing to see come from the movie, especially one this cutesy.
15. The Incredibles: An Argument For Some Dark Philosophy
The Incredibles is maybe the best Pixar movie since their company’s inception, centering around a family of superheroes who find themselves brought out of hiding to try and stop a super villain from destroying a city. But at the core of the story might be more than just a happy family perspective. Some noted film critics have argued that the film actually argues for some controversial politics. Some even claim that it supports Nietzsche and Rand’s arguments towards superiority and objectivism.
Professor of language and literature at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore spoke about it, saying “I can’t help thinking of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and his idea that some people are better and more deserving than others. The movie salutes Superman. Not the ‘superman’ in comic books but the one despots believe in. Its idea seems to be that even in a democracy some people are ‘more equal’ than others, and the rest of us shouldn’t be so presumptuous as to get in their way.” Considering the movie has a group of people born with gifts who have to hide them from society until they reveal themselves to be better than a public that shunned them and an enemy who wants to give powers to everyone, this interpretation makes sense.
14. Cars: Did Cars Replace The Humans?
Credit to Dan O’ Brien for pointing this one out in his argument towards a collective (and horrifying) universe, but it’s still worth exploring more. Cars introduces a world where there are no people on the roads, just sentient cars. But that begs the question – what happened to the people? Man made monuments and geographical landmarks are spotted through the movie. This is a world where humans existed, but no longer live in this world. What makes it creepy is that there’s no explanation or clue to what happened to humanity. Did the cars target the humans? Were people ended by the rising pollution caused by cars? Was humanity even able to survive the event? Dan O’ Brien even uses it as a connection between this movie and Wall-E, giving humanity the chance to fly off into space. It’s interesting, and also strange.
13. Ratatouille: Those Rats Are Going To Get So Many People Sick
Ratatouille is an incredibly charming film, taking place in a Paris where a friendly rat named Remy tries to live out his dream of becoming a famous chef despite being, you know, a rat. And while he spends most of the movie controlling the actions of a human through his hair (a terrifying aspect in of itself), Remy eventually recruits an army of rats to team up with him and cook for a restaurant. While it’s nice to see them all unite behind him, they are also literally rats and therefore covered in diseases that they are just getting all over that food. Plenty of people are going to get sick from that, so it’s not all that surprising to see the restaurant closed at the end of the movie.
12. Wall-E: Might Have Almost Doomed Humanity
Wall-E is the lead character of, well, Wall-E. He’s a scrappy and lovable trash-bot in a forgotten and abandoned Earth. But he’s drawn into an adventure that brings the last of humanity back towards the planet where it all began, leading people to try and restart the Earth once again. Despite the (awesome) credits implying that the human race will manage to restore themselves and the planet, there’s still the reality that a LOT of the people who are coming back to the planet aren’t going to make it long. There’s only going to be a limited amount of food, and growing plants takes time even when you don’t have a mostly extinct planet at your feet. Wall-E risked the entire human race on a group of people morbidly obese enough to never touch the ground learning agriculture. That’s some pretty risky odds, Wall-E.
11. Up: Teaches Children About Passing
Really, Up might have been the saddest Pixar film to be released yet, focusing on an elderly bitter widower and an excitable and honorable boy scout as they embark on a cross country trek to the other side of the world in a house lifted by balloons. And while part of that is really whimsical, the movie is pretty consistently heartbreaking in its portrayal of passing away. Elle, the recently departed wife of old man Carl, is introduced to audiences in a beginning montage that brought audiences to tears and showcased her miscarriage and eventual demise. And over the course of the film, we learn that the Snipe Kevin’s mate was ended by the villain. Even the villain gets a sad on-screen final scene, falling off a blimp.
10. Toy Story 3: The Sad Ballad Of Sid
This is another one Dan O’ Brien has brought up before, but it’s worth more exploration. Sid was a little boy introduced in the first Toy Story as a threat and antagonist for the heroes. He’s a mean-spirited boy from next door, who the toys all fear for his mean means of “playing.” But from the perspective of anyone who is NOT a toy, Sid comes across as a sad little boy. He’s creative, forming entire narratives about his toys and the adventures they go. He even repurposes old toys into new creations, fostering an artist’s mind. And then he finds out toys are real in objectively the most alarming way possible. All for creating something new and fun. That act probably messed with Sin in a fundamental way – leading to a young man who we see briefly in Toy Story 3 as a garbage man with toys attached to the front of his truck. What is that about?
9. Cars 2: Features Scenes Of Harming Living Cars
So, Cars 2 is held up (or low, we guess) as the worst Pixar movie and it’s not hard to imagine why. The movie centers around Larry the Cable Guy’s Mater, one of the most annoying cartoon sidekicks in the history of annoying cartoon sidekicks. And not helping matters is the weird shifting tone between the goofy slapstick spy material, and the scenes involving the car spies. The worst comes with the fate of Rod Redline, the spy who Mater spends most of the movie confused for. Captured by the villains and subjected to pain, he is eventually removed from the equation completely when the villains force his engine to overheat. And that is a very sad end for the car.
8. Brave: The Behind The Scenes Drama Will Bum You Out
Brave was a decent Pixar film about a teenage girl in Scotland who goes on a mystical journey with her mother. But behind the scenes, it was originally going to be a more important film. It was intended to be the first Pixar film directed by a woman, Brenda Chapman. She based much of the emotional core of the movie on her relationship between herself and her own daughter, and was poised to make a powerful film about motherhood and familial love. But eighteen months left in the production of the film, Chapman was removed from her position and replaced by Mark Andrews. The movie became a more predictable tale as a result, and left a bad taste in the mouths of feminists all around the world.
7. Monsters University: Teaches Children To Give Up
Monsters University is, on the surface, a prequel to Monsters Inc. and another average entry in the catalogue of films about believing in yourself. But the real emotional core of the movie actually comes from a subversion of that cliché idea, letting Pixar go all out with the theme of “dreams don’t always come true.” The movie follows the one-eyed monster Mike going to Monsters University to learn how to become the scary monster he always wanted to become. But as the film goes on, it becomes more and more obvious that he just doesn’t have it in him to become a great scary monster. No matter how hard he wants it or how much he tries, he just can’t manage to become the monster he always wanted to become. That’s a good lesson for kids, sure, but that is pretty sad to teach little kids with silly cartoons.
6. Inside Out: Boils Down The Human Psyche To Five Emotions
The human mind is a complicated and tricky thing to try and understand. But Pixar tried to explore it with the help of silly personifications of the mind. But that is actually pretty insulting to children. Kids can understand that there are more feelings than just those five by the time they’re old enough to understand this movie. So it manages to do the one thing no other Pixar movie has ever done before – it talked down to its audience. There’s more to our human experience than just five voices yelling at one another. Plus, it implies that voices running around in your head that you don’t always recognize as your own are worth following around and listening to, and that sure is a problematic aspect of the movie if there’s ever one.
5. The Good Dinosaur: Is A Massive Jerk
The Good Dinosaur might not be the very worst of the Pixar films, but it’s probably the most disappointing. The promise of a beautiful reverse “boy and his dog” film never came to fruition, and instead the movie was an all around depressing slog with a little feral boy and just the most annoying dinosaur this side of the Land Before Time sequels. Arlo is the main dinosaur in the film, and he’s portrayed as something of a jerk throughout the film. He’s selfish and short-sighted, and we’re supposed to feel bad for him even as he risks the lives of members of his family and runs afoul of various species on his massive journey. He’s mean-spirited, and his personality isn’t nearly as charming as the creators thought – the same going for the movie as a whole.
4. Finding Dory: Dory Almost Ruins Her Friends’ Lives
Dory was a fun side character in Finding Nemo, with her memory problems becoming a charming aspect of the massive success. And when she returned to screens in 2016, it was a big enough deal to become one of the biggest successes the company has ever had. But with the movie came a series of decisions by Dory that almost managed to get her closest friends swept away in the process. In her search for her family, Dory leads Marlin and Nemo into the clutches of a squid that almost manages to eat Nemo. And their continued quest gets the father and son almost taken to a terrible fate – Cleveland. Dory got them into that mess, and was more concerned with finding her family again than the well-being of her adopted family.
3. Cars 3: Proves That Cars Fear Aging And Passing
The Cars franchise, despite being some of the lesser Pixar films, have managed to become major financial successes for the company thanks to all the merchandise. That’s what meant that some of the worst critically performing films in their canon ended up getting three films to their name. And the third one has a series of sad reveals about the state of cars as time goes on, and it gave audiences the best understanding of how cars can deteriorate and pass away, just like anyone else. Our main character, Lightning McQueen, found himself becoming more and more depressed with his diminishing results of his races, and even almost passes away on the track when his age manages to get the better of him. The movie is surprisingly heavy for children, and goes to some weighty places about age and limits.
2. Coco: Straight Poisons A Hero On Screen
Coco is, surprisingly enough, the first musical that Pixar has ever really approached. The story of family and sins past being uncovered and forgiven is a sweet and bright story full of silly characters and colorful settings. But hidden among the film is one of the most depressing character ends in Pixar. As one of the heroes, Hector, relives his past, audiences are given a first hand account of his best friend Ernesto realizing that his more successful friend is going to leave him in a lurch and decides to end him. Hector is tricked into drinking a farewell beverage with his childhood friend, but doesn’t make it a mile before he passes.
1. Pixar Was Founded By A Massive Creep
John Lasseter is something of an important icon to animation nerds. He was one of the creators of the company that would become Pixar, and the sheer level of creativity he’s brought to the screen helped change the face of animation forever. He’s a jovial and friendly fellow in the animation community, and has been crucial to turning Disney animation back into the powerhouse it’s meant to be. But as with many foundational members of the entertainment world in 2017, accusations of misconduct have forced him on “sabbatical leave” from the company. It turned out that Lasseter was partial to getting too close to employees. There was even reportedly a list of “Lasseter” rules for the company as a warning to women, which is the definition of an unsafe work environment. So it turns out Pixar was founded by a creep, which is very disappointing for fans.
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