Why Pixar Movies Work (And that Ballad Does Not)

This weekend I made the EXCELLENT choice to rewatch Pixar’s “Coco.”

As expected, I laughed, I sighed, and I cried buckets. I very rarely cry at movies, but inevitably SOB during Pixar movies. Don’t judge. We all have.  Those emotionally manipulative warlocks had us choking up 5 minutes into “UP”!

And as an actor it made me wonder: Why is it exactly that Pixar seems to have a direct line to our tear ducts?

And more importantly: How can I steal this wizardry?!?

Because let’s face it, when was the last time the short-song cut of that contemporary ballad got HALF the emotional reaction of Sully saying goodbye to Boo in Monsters, Inc.? What are we doing wrong?!

I have a theory!

Let’s take a look at five of the most tear-jerking Pixar moments and see what they have in common. In no particular order:

  1.  UP: The Opening Montage

We see the a couple fall in love, get married, deal with infertility, build a home, have some small adventures, let go of some bigger adventures, grow old, and say goodbye.

  1. Toy Story 2: The Story of Jessie/ When She Loved Me

Damn you Sarah Mclachlan! You know what you did…

Another montage of a long beautiful friendship and a painful goodbye.

  1. Monsters Inc:  Saying Goodbye to Boo

Are we getting the pattern yet? Sully loves Boo, but he needs to leave her behind for her own good.

“Love you! Goodbye.”

  1. Toy Story 3: Andy Giving Away Woody

Love. Bye.

  1. Inside Out:  Bing Bong, “Take Her to The Moon For Me”

No spoilers here. Just follow the pattern. Buckets shall be wept.

So what’s the common denominator here? Sure, all these scenarios involve loss, but that’s not the emphasis. The real lesson to be learned is this:

We only care about the loss because we have come to care deeply about the relationship itself.

And this is the mistake being made over and over again in audition rooms. If you focus on the loss instead of the love, no one will care enough to listen.  If you go into a room singing “On My Own” as you start at “And I know it’s only in my mind,” all we get is the loss. So be mindful when cutting those ballads! Don’t just go for what seems like the most emotional part of the song.  

Show us the love, and we’ll feel the loss.  

Just show us the loss and we’ll feel bored.  

Ya feel me?


Till next time, Happy Halloween!




P.S. If you need a hand selecting audition pieces that are going to pack a Pixar Punch, go ahead and schedule an audition rep coaching here! Talk soon!  

Sara Glancy is an NYC actor and the founder of Audition Rep Matchmaker, a service that helps match actors with the audition materials that will book them jobs.

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Originally published on saraglancy.wordpress.com on June 25, 2015. Updated for more up-to-date Pixar references. ;) Photo by Jessica Osber.

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