With the release of Lightyear, the new Disney Pixar movie has already managed to break some Toy Story traditions, but it should no doubt still deliver a heartfelt story that resonates deeply with its audience. Even without Pixar’s contribution, Disney is responsible for some of the most touching and heartbreaking movies in cinema history.
With a huge catalog of tearjerkers, Ranker put the question of which is the best to its film buffs who voted in the thousands. Although some of the most infamous heartbreakers came up, the results also contain some surprises.
Note: Ranker lists are live and continue to accrue votes, so some rankings may have changed after this publishing.
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10 Brother Bear (2003)
Although Brother Bear didn’t receive the huge success of some of Disney’s other animated features, the emotional weight of its story meant it left a lasting impression on a lot of those who gave it a chance. The movie tells the story of an Alaskan native boy who is turned into a bear as punishment by the Spirits for killing one after blaming it for his brother’s death.
The boy, Kenai, is forced to go on a long and dangerous journey to a distant mountain where the Northern lights touch the earth, but the movie doesn’t even need 20 minutes to make fans weep. The tragedy that leads Kenai to his revenge plot is a heartbreaking moment that stuck with a lot of viewers.
9 WALL-E (2008)
One of the most iconic Pixar films, WALL-E’s post-apocalyptic story of a solitary gentle robot who is left cleaning up a deserted and uninhabitable earth managed to balance social commentary with some genuinely emotional character moments. This is an impressive feat, given that the central character is a voiceless machine.
Interestingly, some of the most heartwarming moments of the movie occurred between WALL-E and EVE, the robot characters somehow managing to be the most human of anyone. Critically acclaimed when it was released, the emotion at the heart of WALL-E is timeless whilst its environmental message only hits home more for fans over time.
8 Inside Out (2015)
Bringing the conflicting emotions of a girl named Riley to life as she navigates the challenge of adjusting to the dramatic changes caused by her family moving to San Francisco, Inside Out does a great job of dealing with serious issues in a nuanced way despite the simplicity of its premise.
Of course, seeing Riley and her personified emotions dealing with these issues isn’t easy, and that alone meant it made a lot of fans of the movie emotional. However, its message that emphasizes the importance of not dealing with problems alone is also a part of what makes it special for Disney fans.
7 Coco (2017)
A Day of the Dead-inspired movie set in Mexico, Coco openly broaches a topic that most family movies avoid at all costs. After 12-year-old aspiring-musician Miguel is accidentally transported to the Land of the Dead, his journey to return home and get his family to lift their ban on playing music openly discusses what happens after death and how people process it.
Naturally, this is a subject with a lot of emotion surrounding it, but instead of exploiting the heartbreak and grief that can accompany it, the movie instead approaches it in a sweet and spirited way as Miguel’s journey of self-discovery leads him to some important conclusions. A highly successful movie, even by Pixar standards, its tear-jerking moments won it plenty of votes from fans on Ranker.
6 Old Yeller (1957)
Amidst the animated icons of Disney’s past and present, it’s a surprise to see a live-action Disney movie from the 50s appear as one of the studio’s most popular sad movies. Old Yeller is unique in a lot of ways, though. In its story of an old dog that proves to be a powerful ally to two rural brothers, there is a feel of old-fashioned adventure to Old Yeller.
Of course, Disney movies from this era with lovable animal sidekicks tend to result in tragedy, and Old Yeller is no exception. Even though it’s less well-known than a lot of Disney’s animated movies and even their live-action ones, its heartbreaking ending is one that stayed with the fans who have seen it.
5 Dumbo (1941)
The story of a circus elephant who is mocked for his oversized ears until he discovers that he can use them to fly, Dumbo may have some fun and even some scary moments, but it’s the sad parts that it’s most remembered for. Though it’s only short, the animated movie manages to pack a lot of impact into scenes, like when Dumbo’s mother is taken and locked in a cage.
However, just as likely to cause tears after seeing Dumbo in such sad circumstances is his subsequent rise, and there is a sense of relief that the young elephant becomes a success in the end. There aren’t many Disney fans that don’t have fond memories of Dumbo’s tale of tragedy and success.
4 The Lion King (1994)
Though its 2019 remake isn’t one of the best live-action remakes of animated films, the original The Lion King is still a timeless classic in its own right. The story of Simba being exiled from his own pride after Scar usurps his father, the king Mufasa, before triumphantly returning to take back the throne is one of the most well-known in Disney history, but that doesn’t mean its twists don’t still hold plenty of weight.
Although the movie isn’t defined by any one scene, the moment when Simba sees his father descend from the cliffs above, having been dislodged by Scar, takes The Lion King to emotional heights that almost no other Disney movie visits. A fan favorite in general, it’s no surprise to see The Lion King amongst the most beloved Disney tearjerkers.
3 Bambi (1942)
Perhaps the most infamously sad Disney film, Bambi’s lovingly crafted story of a deer growing up to be the prince of the forest is a true classic. Whilst not all of the movie is dedicated to fear and loss, with plenty of moments of silliness to keep the viewer going in between, when it does have its darker moments, it makes them completely unforgettable.
It’s almost impossible to go into Bambi without knowing what to expect but, with one of the most tragic deaths in animated movie history, it still hits just as hard anyway. Its reputation may have helped it to win votes in the matter of saddest Disney movie, but the incredible quality of the film means it still holds up today.
2 The Fox And The Hound (1981)
Coming many years after the classic era of Disney animated movies but some time before the revival, The Fox and the Hound is a surprising gem about two close friends forced to become enemies. Though the young animals quickly become best pals when they meet, since Tod is a fox and Copper is training to be a hunting dog, it seems they’re destined to be pulled apart or worse.
With a dramatic climax that forces the two to realize what’s really important, The Fox and the Hound is as liable to cause tears of joy as much as tears of sadness. Considering its place in Disney’s history as well as the fact it’s not as well-known, its popularity as one of the studio’s best sad movies proves that it’s a gem worth revisiting.
1 Up (2009)
It’s not often that the very opening of a movie can get the audience in tears, but Up is a special movie, even by Pixar standards. Managing to encompass the joys and heartbreaks of an entire life in just 5 minutes, the opening to Up sets up a movie full of heart and lovable yet very real characters.
Considering not every kids’ movie that opens with a death scene manages to keep up the same emotional weight throughout, Up’s achievement is not to be sniffed at. However, ultimately it is that opening sequence that sticks with viewers the most and created so many loyal fans of the Pixar classic.
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About The Author
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Jordan Woods is a freelance list writer based in the UK. An English and Creative Writing graduate, he has had his writing featured in local magazines but now focuses on all things film, TV, and video game-related for Screen Rant. Since he began in 2021, Jordan has already written well over 100 pieces for the site. As well as freelance writing, he also continues to write for fun in his free time.
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