/Answers: Our Favorite Pixar Characters

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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