50 greatest Pixar moments

41. Title decider

The moment: The tiebreaker in the Piston Cup at the end of Cars becomes a three-way duel between Lightning McQueen, Strip Weathers and Chick Hicks, with the latter in no mood to play fair. Cue serious racetrack drama.

Why it's great: Pixar is so good at story it's sometimes a shock to remember they can do spectacle, too. This immersive, incredibly detailed set-piece is one of cinema's most thrilling races.

Pixar say: John Lasseter on his love of cars - "My father was a parts manager for a Chevrolet dealership all my life, and I grew up going to the dealership to look at all the latest new cars, and I got my love of cars from that. And also I live in Sonoma California, which is a kind of wine region of northern California, but we do have a raceway there in the town, a road course, and all the big race circuits come there so I’ve really grown to have a love of racing as well."

40. Pow!

The moment: On the run from Syndrome's henchmen in The Incredibles, Dash and Violet discover hitherto hidden powers, from running on water to generating an "IncrediBall" force-shield. Then, joined by their parents, they combine powers for the first time in their lives.

Why it's great: The sheer delight of the characters at finally being able to act like the superheroes they've never been allowed to be makes for one of Pixar's most exhilarating set-pieces.

Pixar say: Brad Bird on the family's awakening - "You have a husband and wife who had used their abilities and to sublimate them, and then you have kids who were never encouraged to use them. So, what would it be like for those kids to finally unleash them? And then you have the story of a guy who’s living in the past, and a mom that’s so living in the present that she’s cut off a certain part of herself that is still alive. It should come through that Helen gets a little bit reawakened as well. But she thinks that she’s not missing anything, but it turns out that she is a little bit."

39. Barracuda attack

The moment: The tragic opening of Finding Nemo sees clownfish Marlin's life torn apart when a barracuda kills wife Coral and all but one of their offspring.

Why it's great: Earlier films had hinted at Pixar's willingness to go to dark places; Finding Nemo makes it unignorable, establishing an emotional resonance that carries through the film.

Pixar say: Andrew Stanton on finding the theme - "And then at the end of A Bug's Life I was very, very busy, and I wasn't seeing my family much. I felt like I needed to spend some special time with my son, who was five at the time, and just take a walk to the park. During that walk to the park I spent the whole time going, Don't touch that! Watch out for cars! You're going to poke your eye out! You don't know where that's been! I just sort of stopped myself and realised that I was so afraid of something bad happening that I was eclipsing any chance to connect with him in the moment."

38. Put that thing back

The moment: Caught in the act of trying to take Boo out of Monsters, Inc., Mike Wazowski hastily improvises the excuse that he and Sully are rehearsing a play. Brilliantly, we see the result ("Put That Thing Back Where It Came From Or So Help Me") during the end credits.

Why it's great: Monsters, Inc. thrives on the interplay between Billy Crystal and John Goodman, who were allowed to share a mic while recording the film - and this scene captures their comedic interplay at its best.

Pixar say: Billy Crystal on his dynamic with John Goodman - "I love playing this guy, and playing him with John is phenomenal because we work together in the studio and we can act together. We’re not just reading line. We’re performing them and playing them, and we feel them. I think that’s why their relationship, on screen, is really great. It’s a real thing."

37. Weather forecast

The moment: Partly Cloudy, the short that accompanied Up in cinemas, sees a long-suffering stork find his peace with the baby-creating cloud that keeps giving him violent newborn animals to deliver.

Why it's great: A smart blend of light and dark (the various injuries inflicted on the stork are very funny), this also doubles - like so much of the studio's output - as a metaphor on its emphasis on teamwork.

Pixar say: Director Peter Sohn on the film's genesis - "I had grown up in New York and from Korean parents and they spoke very broken English and there were always miscommunications between my mother or father and me. So, from the very beginning, it was: How do these two guys work, a bird and a cloud?"

36. Game over

The moment: The action-packed opening to Toy Story 2 follows Buzz Lightyear on his latest mission, only to see the space ranger blasted in half by his nemesis Emperor Zurg. Alas, it's just a video game that Rex is playing.

Why it's great: Pixar effortlessly calmed sequel anxiety - while hinting at growing ambition - with a bold, witty statement of intent. And then they did it again with Toy Story 3's Wild West opener.

Pixar say: John Lasseter on the film's straight-to-video origins - "The story was strong, we all started looking at it and saying, ‘why don’t we make this for theatres? It doesn’t make any sense to go direct to video.’ So collectively we made the decision, about October 1997 to make it a theatrical release, and we then started ramping-up to make a theatrical movie, instead of trying to scale down the budget."

35. Bows and arrows

The moment: Are any of Merida's suitors going to prove good enough to win her hand in Brave's archery tournament? Not if she has anything to do with, scoring three bullseye against the objections of her parents.

Why it's great: Much was made of Pixar making a "Disney princess" movie, but Merida is very much a Pixar heroine, as bold and talented as Jesse, EVE or Mrs Incredible.

Pixar say: Producer Katherine Sarafian on Merida - "I don't think you'll see a single piece of marketing that says, 'It's Pixar's first female!' We started on this character so long ago, and yeah, it is interesting timing that she ends up coming into the marketplace at the same time as Katniss and Snow White, but there's going to be more and more of these moments of convergence in the future."

34. Spark of life

The moment: EVE repairs and reactivates a severely damaged Wall-E, only to find he's reverted to factory settings and doesn't recognise him. So she gives him a kiss and the spark of electricity restores his memory circuits.

Why it's great: It's a lovely, literal expression of the film's themes.

Pixar say: Andrew Stanton on the film's theme - "I realised that what I was pushing with these two programmed robots was their desire to try and figure out what the point of living was and it took these really irrational acts of love to sort of discover them against how they were built. And I said, 'That’s it, that’s my theme, ‘irrational love defeats life’s programming.’"

33. Supply and demand

The moment: Driving around Al's Toy Barn in Toy Story 2, Barbie points out the Buzz Lightyear aisle to the gang. "Back in 1995, short-sighted retailers did not order enough dolls to meet demand."

Why it's great: Pixar's finest in-joke refers to the real-life situation that emerged when Toy Story became a hit, only for kids to discover that they couldn't get a Buzz Lightyear for Christmas.

Pixar say: John Lasseter on the toy debacle - "Most of the big retailers passed on selling it. Albert [Chan, the toymaker] only sold about 60,000 Buzz Lightyears in all of North America. But by this stage he had faith, so he invested his own money and made another quarter of a million. He’s been making them ever since."

32. Hay un amigo en mi

The moment: During Toy Story 3's daring escape from Sunnyside, the gang accidentally resets Buzz to Spanish mode - as if things couldn't get any more complicated.

Why it's great: It's proof of Pixar's inability to settle for easy solutions. In narrative terms, the only important thing is restore Buzz from being a 'baddie,' but by creating Spanish Buzz the filmmakers set up a whole new running gag.

Pixar say: Lee Unkrich on Spanish Buzz - "We knew that we were going to have Buzz switched into a mode where he wasn’t acting like himself, where he was going to become a prison guard, and we had to get him back out of that in a fun way. So we were brainstorming one day and somebody came up with the notion of him accidentally getting into a mode where he could only speak Spanish. We ran with that idea and decided to have his whole physicality and personality changed into a Latin lover."