For me, it’s probably when Mufasa dies, leaving Simba’s in tears, or that whole first scene in Up which, in my opinion, was way too full on for an animation.
Nonetheless, everyone has at least one Disney movie that makes them well up, whether its tears of utter despair (like the end of Monsters Inc) or tears of overwhelming joy (basically the end of every Toy Story). We can’t deny it, Disney are the connoisseurs of emotion.
We’re all aware that it’s all just a drawing, the characters aren’t real. And it’s somewhat understandable how we find regular movies emotional, they have real human actors, real settings, and relatable lives. It makes sense that it plays on our emotion. But cartoons going through unrelatable journeys in make-believe locations is absurd.
So what is it about these films that make us cry? How did Monsters Inc. have us weeping at the sight of a door??
Well, let me explain.
Whilst, obviously, characters, dialogue, and setting play a vital role, the music is where the real magic lies.
See, its the position of certain tracks and the contrast of happy music over happy sense then suddenly the same music over sad scenes that triggers our emotional responses.
Where have they done this?
Let us take Monsters Inc as an example, remember that scene where Sully’s putting Boo to bed to stop her from crying, and she eventually falls asleep and you sort of see him give her an affectionate look of care? That’s the first time the audience see’s Sully take a fatherly persona towards the child and it makes us, the viewers, happy. That scene is complemented by a soft recognizable, happy piano melody. I couldn’t tell you what key or tone it’s in, but it is a warming piece of music.
The next times that, that particular piece is played, is at times of sadness or heightened emotion between sully and Boo in the movie. And then that final scene at the end where the all famous door is remade and Sully gets to see his beloved Boo once again.
So how does contrasting even make a difference?
Well it simply uses two completely polar opposite themes or attitudes in order to exaggerate one of them. For instance the scary dog in Up, the one with the funny voice. Imagine him with a fitting voice, a scary voice to match his serious look. It fits but it doesn’t really exaggerate his threatening ways. However, his squeaky high pitched voice, without most people realising it, extenuates his fear factor. It amplifies his features and creates a bigger, more ‘in your face’ impact.
Same thing as when Toy Story 4 got us grown ups crying at a regular boy donating his toys before going to college. That final look at Woody before Andy says goodbye to his childhood had us all in tears as we subtly are reminded about of the first time he showed them to the wold in all glory.
Again same with with Finding Dory. Completely separate film to Finding Nemo but that mirror of sadness and accompanying music brings back subtle memories of the last time that music was played and brings out the same emotions.
We take the journey with the characters and the music is their emotion. And we are connected through memory. See, it’s science!