21 animated movie moments guaranteed to make you weep like Bambi

Trust us—these heartbreaking cartoon scenes will have you reaching for the Kleenex. (Warning: contains spoilers and traumatic events)

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  • Up (2009)

    The opening journey through elderly Carl’s long, rich life

    The animators at Pixar know how to play with our emotions in smart ways, and at the beginning of Up they spend a mere five minutes running through the whole life of 78-year-old Carl, from small boy and happy husband to grieving widower. Just when you’re enjoying the laughs, joy and love in his life, they throw a shadow over Carl and his wife Ellie’s story and you’ll be sobbing your heart out as you realize Pixar has managed to condense the essence of life’s ups and downs into one tiny chapter of an animated movie.—Dave Calhoun

    Read Up review

    Up (2009)
  • Transformers: The Movie (1986)

    When Optimus Prime meets a rusty end

    We’re already weeping just thinking about Optimus Prime’s final moments in this 1980s animated spin on the Transformers toys—from the moment the sublime soft-rock strains of Sam Bush’s “The Touch” surge manfully as Optimus declares “Megatron must be stopped…no matter the cost!” to the moment Optimus’s paint job inexplicably goes black and white as he dies after an act of self-sacrificing generosity. What a guy. Robotic, but still: What. A. Guy.—Andrzej Lukowski

    Read The Transformers: The Movie review

    Transformers: The Movie (1986)
  • Finding Nemo (2003)

    Right at the start, when Marlin loses his entire family

    From its first splash, Finding Nemo convinces you that life really is better down where it’s wetter. Under the sea lies a colorful paradise full of fun for fishy families. And then, before the credits even roll, Marlin’s clan is destroyed in one fell swoop of sharp-toothed-barracuda doom. His wife is gone. Their hundreds of kids-to-be have been swept away to their would-be death, and he is left with one egg: Nemo. And we all know where that’s headed. It’s an emotional log flume, and everyone’s getting drenched.—Ashleigh Arnott

    Read Finding Nemo review

    Finding Nemo (2003)
  • Dumbo (1941)

    When Dumbo visits his mother in her cage at night

    Poor old Dumbo. Not only does he have big flappy ears but his mom’s chained up and there’s a sign saying “Mad elephant” hanging outside her cage. When Dumbo visits, he can only see her trunk, and as they rub noses together, the lullaby “Baby Mine” plays on the soundtrack and we see other animals—monkeys, lions—snuggling with their kids in bed. Hang on, there’s something in my eye.—Dave Calhoun

    Read Dumbo review

    Dumbo (1941)
  • The Fox and the Hound (1981)

    When Widow Tweed decides it’s time for Tod to stand on his own four feet

    You know it’s no normal day out when sad-faced Widow Tweed drives peppy young fox Tod into the forest in her shaky old car. He’s all grown up and it’s time for Tweed to leave the orphan to fend for himself in the wild. As Tod makes loving eyes at Tweed, she forces herself to look in the other direction. It’s only when she drives away—alone—that we see a tear rolling down her cheek. No wonder kids find this traumatic to watch. You can almost hear their thoughts. Could this happen to me? (Could it? Tell me no!)—Dave Calhoun

    Read The Fox and the Hound review

    The Fox and the Hound (1981)
  • Toy Story 3 (2010)

    When it all ends in tears

    For all its catchphrase-spouting, cultural-referencing tomfoolery, the Toy Story trilogy is ultimately about growing up, and at no point is this clearer than at the very end of the series. Andy hands Buzz, Woody and Co. over to Bonnie and drives off to college knowing he’s on his way to becoming a man. And then the camera pans up to the clouds—the exact same clouds from the first shot of the first Toy Story. The circle is complete, the Kleenex soaking wet.—David Clack

    Read Toy Story 3 review

    Toy Story 3 (2010)
  • Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

    When Setsuko comes face-to-face with the Grim Reaper

    The Japanese wartime memoir is one of the most harrowing of all animated movies (yes, even worse than Watership Down). But in a film overflowing with despair, sickness, grief, horror and desperation, one scene stands alone: the death of little Setsuko from malnutrition, coughing and hallucinating through her final hours. Tough stuff.—Tom Huddleston

    Read Grave of the Fireflies review

    Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
  • Animal Farm (1954)

    When Boxer the horse meets his maker

    This British-made adaptation of George Orwell’s satire on the Soviet state was partially funded by the CIA, so it’s hardly surprising they went all-out to ramp up the emotional content. The old workhorse Boxer stands in for the proletariat in Orwell’s story, and when he goes hooves-up and gets carted off to the glue factory by scheming pig Napoleon, there’s nary a dry eye in the stable.—Tom Huddleston

    Read Animal Farm review

    Animal Farm (1954)
  • When the Wind Blows (1986)

    When an elderly couple falls afoul of nuclear weapons

    A corrective to the British government’s ludicrous late-’70s “Protect and Survive” campaign advising citizens how to outlive a nuclear war, this adaptation of Raymond Briggs’s graphic novel was precision-built for jerking tears. It’s the story of a fusty, lovable old couple dealing with the aftermath of a nuclear fallout, going about their everyday routine as their taps run black, their hair falls out and their glands clog up. The ending is inevitable, but still shocking.—Tom Huddleston

    Read When the Wind Blows review

    When the Wind Blows (1986)
  • South Park (1999)

    When Satan finally kicks his Saddam Hussein habit

    Satan sheds tears of triumph as he shakes off the shackles of his abusive sexual relationship with Saddam Hussein and casts the dictator back to hell. It’s grotesque—but entirely fitting—that Satan should prove the most complex, conflicted and lovable character in the South Park movie, and when he finally takes control of his destiny, we can’t help but give him a rousing cheer.—Tom Huddleston

    Read South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut review

    South Park (1999)
  • WALL-E (2008)

    When Wall-E tries to wake up Eve

    Second only to Up in the tearjerkers-of-Pixar canon, the near-silent WALL-E uses the oldest trick in the cartoon book—great big Disney eyes—to provoke an emotional reaction. But manipulative or not, the scene where our cybernetic hero tries to shake his dormant lover Eve out of her snooze-function stupor by dragging her around his favorite haunts is beautiful and heartbreaking.—Tom Huddleston

    Read WALL-E review

    WALL-E (2008)
  • The Snowman (1982)

    When the Snowman starts to feel all warm inside

    That sweet snowman in the 1982 adaptation of Raymond Briggs’s children’s book isn’t just made of snow, you know: He’s childhood, innocence, fun, imagination and the spirit of Christmas, all packed tightly together with a battered old hat on top. His tragic, puddly end is a powerful metaphor for growing up. But however much we rationalize it, it still hits us right in the chest whenever it’s shown on TV at Christmas. (Sob.)—James Manning

    The Snowman (1982)
  • Watership Down (1978)

    When the rabbit Hazel finally stops getting lucky

    The “Bright Eyes” scene in Watership Down—a tale of biblical proportions starring jerkily drawn rabbits—is burned into the emotional psyche of anyone who watched it as a kid. After surviving near extermination and leading his intrepid band of bunnies across the danger-filled rolling English countryside, our intrepid hero Hazel finally loses his life. Cue the ethereal voice of Art Garfunkel, searing strings and a realization that Hazel is no more. Kids (big and small) will be blubbering like the first time they fell off a bike.—Mark O’Donnell

    Read Watership Down review

    Watership Down (1978)
  • Lady and the Tramp (1955)

    When Trusty the dog has a run-in with a truck

    Throughout most of Lady and the Tramp, posh pooches Jock the Scottish terrier and Trusty the bloodhound treat stray mutt Tramp with lofty disdain. But the film’s weepy climax comes when they realize their mistake (he’s actually a hero!) and run off to save Tramp from the dogcatcher. It all gets a little overwhelming when Trusty’s sense of smell miraculously returns and he stops the dogcatcher’s truck—only for it to run him over. The sequence’s final shot has Jock howling over Trusty’s limp body in the pouring rain. We all think the worst has happened.—Daisy Bowie-Sell

    Read Lady and the Tramp review

    Lady and the Tramp (1955)
  • Bambi (1942)

    When a shotgun blast rings out

    The death of Bambi’s mother may have become the stock answer to the question “What’s the most traumatic moment in a kids’ movie?,” but there’s a reason for that. Facing up to the idea that your parents may not be around forever is a huge leap for any kid, and few films have managed to capture that nerve-shattering sense of loss more keenly, or with greater impact.—Tom Huddleston

    Read Bambi review

    Bambi (1942)
  • Toy Story 2 (1999)

    When Jessie the cowgirl sings about being dumped

    Love and loss run right through the Toy Story series, as the characters confront the idea of being thrown away—tossed aside because their beloved owner has no room for playthings in their new, grown-up life. And how many of us haven’t faced similar, deep-seated fears? The clearest expression of this theme comes halfway through Toy Story 2, as Jessie the cowgirl recounts the heartbreaking tale of how she was quite literally dumped by the one she loved most—in a cardboard box by the side of the road.—Tom Huddleston

    Read Toy Story 2 review

    Toy Story 2 (1999)
  • The Lion King (1994)

    When Scar kills Mufasa

    Mufasa, king of the lions, is hanging by his claws from a cliff edge above a stampede of wildebeest. Fear not. His brother Scar is here to save the day. Or maybe not. Disney traumatized ’90s kids by getting all Shakespearean in The Lion King. How many kids have shed a tear watching this scene while looking suspiciously across the room at their smirking younger sibling?—Cath Clarke

    Read The Lion King review

    The Lion King (1994)
  • The Jungle Book (1967)

    When Baloo falls victim to Shere Khan

    All in all, The Jungle Book is a pretty light affair—give or take the odd sly snake and grumpy vulture—so it’s a bit of a downer when good-time bear Baloo gets into a scrap with the fierce tiger Shere Khan and is left lying facedown and motionless in the dirt. Mowgli is heartbroken. Even the sober-faced panther Bagheera is welling up. And we’re left weeping, knowing that every good party has to end sometime. Or does it?—Dave Calhoun

    Read The Jungle Book review

    The Jungle Book (1967)
  • Snow White (1937)

    When the dwarfs mourn Snow White

    Not the poison apple! Oh well, too late: Snow White bites into the apple given to her by the wicked witch and the next thing you know she’s slipped off this mortal coil (or so it seems). Snow White’s demise is itself pretty heartbreaking. But what really exercises the tear ducts is the sight of everyone else in the film mourning her death. The dwarfs are sobbing and hugging each other. The animals in the forest are distraught, and even the weather seems to be upset. We can’t help but join in.—Dave Calhoun

    Read Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs review

    Snow White (1937)
  • My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

    When the magic fades and maturity beckons

    Children’s fables often end with the characters moving on to a new chapter in their lives: Christopher Robin leaves the 100 Acre Wood and Mowgli joins the Men Folk. In the Japanese classic My Neighbor Totoro, the same shift happens when the kid characters suddenly decide to engage with children their own age, meaning there’s no room left in their lives for their old magical forest playmates. Could it happen to me? Could my friends abandon me? No! Wail!—Tom Huddleston

    Read My Neighbor Totoro review

    My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
  • The Land Before Time (1988)

    When Littlefoot’s mother dies

    Parents die. Some children learned this in Bambi, some learned it in The Land Before Time, in a scene that also involves an earthquake and a deathbed speech: “Let your heart guide you. It whispers, so listen carefully.” Gulp.—Cath Clarke

    Read The Land Before Time review

    The Land Before Time (1988)

Up (2009)

The opening journey through elderly Carl’s long, rich life

The animators at Pixar know how to play with our emotions in smart ways, and at the beginning of Up they spend a mere five minutes running through the whole life of 78-year-old Carl, from small boy and happy husband to grieving widower. Just when you’re enjoying the laughs, joy and love in his life, they throw a shadow over Carl and his wife Ellie’s story and you’ll be sobbing your heart out as you realize Pixar has managed to condense the essence of life’s ups and downs into one tiny chapter of an animated movie.—Dave Calhoun

Read Up review

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Users say

3 comments
Matthew T
Matthew T

No mention of Kooky, never any mention of Kooky. Sigh...

nellblockwell
nellblockwell

Great list but Hazel doesn't die in the "Bright Eyes" moment in Watership Down. Fiver sets off to look for him and finds he's been shot. Hazel pegs it at the very end of the film. Still a tearjerker though!

Where's the "SU-PER-MAN" scene in The Iron Giant?