/Answers: Our Favorite Pixar Characters

Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. Tying in with Coco, this week's edition asks "Who is your favorite Pixar character?"

Matt Donato: Remy

Selecting a favorite character from Pixar's endless rolodex of fantastical icons is no easy task, but twist my arm and all thoughts lead to Ratatouille's Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava's special sewers-to-five-star rodent with a flair for culinary perfection. Pixar takes an unlikely hero and instills a hunger for achievement by chronicling Remy's rise from common pest to revered master chef. If a single rat can overtake France's cutthroat culinary scene, what's stopping any one of us from commanding our own proverbial kitchen (translate into your ambition of choice)?

Most likely, we're connected to on-screen characters by an element or trait that reflects our own personality. In Remy, I understand what it means to follow passion despite being told otherwise. Fellow rats think him crazy to venture into a professional, health-inspected restaurant where vermin don't belong – but that doesn't stop Remy from succeeding. Same as how a would-be film journalist was once told he didn't belong in honors-level English classes by the same teacher of his high school's film studies program – he now with some 900 reviews tallied on Rotten Tomatoes, fueled by a desire to prove such voices wrong.

On a purely cinematic addressing, the character of Remy is a delight to follow. Oswalt's voice is so excitable and curious (food does the same to me), which plays into his avatar's compassionate nature when trying to connect with Auguste Gusteau's staff. From working Alfredo Linguini like a puppet to the smile on his face after dashing a plate with the tiniest sauce-splash aesthetic, Remy gets so much right about what it's like to fight for the life you desire. He works, tastes and pleases his way to the top, never to be stopped or told "no."

This assessment rings true for most Pixar characters who've overcome countless odds to earn their rightful places in countless films, yet Remy's companionship is the one I cherish most. "If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff." Facts of life are so much easier to swallow when they're dealt through foodieisms, especially when coming from an animated rat. Double points for a passionate portrayal of cooking that understands how connected chefs are to dedication, emotion and creative robustness (cooking is passion, food an expression). Cheers to the cute little bugger who crippled a food critic with one homestyle dish – may you all find your "Ratatouille" bite.

Lindsey Romain: Wall-E

I know he's a popular answer, but I can't lie – my heart is and will always be with Wall-E. I have such vivid memories of seeing this film for the first time in theaters. It was the summer after my first year of college, when I was feeling pretty unmoored. I didn't like my school, but I didn't like coming home either, and I spent most of that summer in the air conditioned local movie theater – where I both worked and watched. I have a lifelong thing for cute beep-boop robots (thanks, R2-D2) so I was excited to see the film, but I had no idea what I was in store for. Wall-E – the film and the character – hit me like a ton of bricks. His earnest, lonely obsession with old musicals, his desire for love and companionship, his unflinching dedication to doing what he's supposed to while dreaming of where he'd rather be. It was so lovely and poignant, and felt made for me in that very life moment. To this day, Wall-E is not only my favorite Pixar movie, but one of my favorite movies, period, a heart-wrenching, beautiful little movie about love and loyalty and belonging that makes me smile through the biggest tears.

Ben Pearson: Woody

Though Pixar has crafted some undeniable masterpieces over the years, the original Toy Story will always be special to me. I saw it at the perfect age, and it made an indelible impact; no other Pixar film has come close in terms of rewatchability in my house. But while the ten-year-old me liked the bold and brazen Buzz Lightyear the best, I'm now much more fond of Woody.

As I got older, I realized he's almost a tragic character, full of desperation and inadequacy – feelings I'm sure we call relate to at one point or another. Woody's the old model, worried about being replaced by the flashy new option, and his inadequacy causes him to lash out in a terrible way. And while at first he may be worried about saving his own skin, he's ultimately able to overcome his inferiority complex and do what's best for Andy, his best friend.

It's as complete a transformation as any character undergoes in a Pixar movie, and it's aided tremendously by Tom Hanks' vocal performance, which suppresses the tragedy just enough where you can see it's there but not so much that it weighs down the rest of the movie. I think we all undervalue Hanks as an actor, so next time you watch Toy Story, watch it with an eye toward what he brings to Woody: the character may be a toy, but Hanks (and the company's brilliant animators) go above and beyond to humanize him.

Vanessa Bogart: Helen Parr/Elastigirl

If I had been asked this question ten years ago, I would have never said Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). When I saw The incredibles in 2004, Elastigirl was little more than the wife and mother that wouldn't let anyone have any fun. However, when I watch The Incredibles now, as a wife that hopes to one day be a mother, Elastigirl is a queen. She is the glue to her family. She has her glory days just like her husband, Mr. Incredible, but she has to put those memories on the back burner in order to protect her family and support her increasingly distant, depressed, husband. Every time she releases a defeated sigh or an eye roll, I look over to my very own Mr. Incredible at the other end of the couch with that "Yeah, it's kinda like that" look. Of course my husband just lets out a short laugh, a pat on my leg, and the usual, "but baby...I am incredible."

Elastigirl's secret identity, Helen Parr, is just as much a superhero as her spandex-wearing self. When I used to watch The Incredibles, I never thought that I would be like Elastigirl. Everyone wants to be Mr. Incredible. Everyone wants to believe that they would never be able to put away their dream. That they would be the one out there doing secret vigilante work and still trying to save the people. It takes some growing up and some solid life experience, and maybe even finding that person that you want to take care of forever, to really realize how fantastic of a character Elastigirl is. She is so much stronger than I ever gave her credit for as a young adult. Elastigirl is the Pixar character that I need in my adult life. She gets shit done. Picking up her kids from school? Done. Making dinner? Done. Cleaning the house? Done. Rescuing her husband? Done. Saving the world? DONE. What a beast.

Chris Evangelista: Sadness

As a professionally miserable person, I find great comfort in the character of Sadness from Inside Out. As voiced by Phyllis Smith, Sadness is one of the guiding emotions that exist in the mind of a 11-year-old girl named Riley who is trying to come to terms with her new life after her family packs up and moves her across the country. Inside Riley's mind, we get to meet her guiding emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). And, of course, there's Sadness.

Sadness is at first seen as a nuisance – a troublemaker who keeps bringing everyone down while uttering highly relatable dialogue like "Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life's problems." Yet as the film progresses, it shows that, in many ways, Sadness is essential. That human beings as a whole need more emotions than just happiness. It can be hard to accept that sometimes, it's okay to be sad, especially when you're dealing with depression. Anyone who doesn't suffer from depression has a tendency to not understand how it works, and to offer unhelpful advice that amounts to little more than saying, "You should just cheer up!" There's a stigma with depression; a sense, by some, that it's easily controllable – something to be turned off and on like the flip of a switch.

Inside Out stops short of going into the territory of mood disorders, such as clinical depression, because hey — there's only so much you can probably get away with in a colorful Disney movie. And also I don't think Riley's sadness is of the clinical or mood disorder variety. But the implications and some of the signs are there. And more importantly, the acceptance of Sadness is there as well. In the end, it's Sadness, not Joy, who saves the day. Joy, who has spent most of the film trying to tamp Sadness down and act as if she doesn't exist, learns that the emotion can be just as valuable as any other. Also, it's hard to resist a character who gets to say things like, "I'm too sad to walk. Just give me a few...hours."

Hoai-Tran Bui: Jessie

Jessie could have easily grated on the nerves when she was introduced in Toy Story 2. A "spunky" cowgirl who inserted herself into Woody's life and stubbornly espoused life as a collector's item? She has all the elements of being the frustrating character whose sole job is to hinder the protagonist. But then, she becomes the saving grace of the movie.

Toy Story 2's plot initially isolates Woody from everything that makes Toy Story so compelling: the other toys, the Buzz and Woody buddy-comedy, Andy, the bittersweet nostalgia of childhood. The story of Woody being kidnapped by a toy collector felt almost like a one-shot story, something that could have been wrapped up in a Pixar short. But then Jessie enters the picture. At first a stereotypical plucky sidekick and a wary ally, Jessie is slowly revealed to be the warm, beating heart of Toy Story 2. And it's in quick, tragic scene that underscores what Pixar does best: tap into the heady realities of aging and loss. You know the scene I'm talking about: the heartbreaking montage of Jessie's backstory, set to a Sarah Mclachlan song that for once doesn't feel like it's emotionally manipulating you into adopting dogs.

The scene is barely 3 minutes long, but it cements Jessie's importance as a character — and Pixar's own mastery at painting the mundane with a tragic brush. While Jessie goes on to be underutilized in Toy Story 3, her achingly universal scene in Toy Story 2 will always maintain her place in the upper echelon of Pixar's best characters.

Jacob Hall: Carl Fredricksen

We spend a lifetime with Carl in the first 10 minutes of Up and it makes all the difference. Had we met him as a bitter old man on an insane quest to fly his house to the jungle so he can fulfill his final adventure to honor his dead wife and die (Up is one of Pixar's darkest movies at first!), he may have come off as a cartoon character. A wacky old guy who needs to learn a Very Valuable Lesson. Instead, that celebrated opening montage takes us back to his childhood and walks us through his life step-by-step, focusing on his marriage to Ellie, their new home, their realization they can't have children, their happy years together, and her eventual death. Everyone cries at the beginning of Up because it's just plain sad, but it's quietly establishing the groundwork to make Carl function in the brighter, sunnier back half of the film.

Up is ultimately a story about a man making the decision to live again after giving up on everything. Sure, he finds himself making this decision because he meets an adorable boy scout, a talking dog, and a hilarious bird named Kevin who drag him on an Indiana Jones-style adventure that culminates in him doing battle with his childhood hero, but the core of it all is so recognizably human. Carl feels burnt by the world, bitter over what was taken from him, and unable to escape his grief. His journey out of that black pit of despair, via an adventure as fun and funny as anything Pixar has ever made, makes Up one of the most hopeful movies...ever? Carl's second wind, his new lease on life, his willingness to love again after losing so much, is one of the most moving arcs ever projected in a movie theater.

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