Screenshot: How Pixar Uses Music

Back in May of 1986, when Billy Ocean topped the American pop charts with “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry),” it’s very unlikely that he was envisioning the eventual rise of Pixar as a force within the movie industry. The animation studio had just been founded a few months earlier and had yet to produce any of the tear-jerking classics for which it has now become famous, such as Up and Finding Nemo. Nevertheless, just as Ocean predicted three decades ago, music has been a key weapon in Pixar’s diabolical ongoing mission to reduce the world’s moviegoers, young and old alike, to blubbering masses of jelly in their theater seats. The studio routinely gets people emotionally invested in the stories of toys, talking animals, monsters, and other unlikely protagonists. But how exactly does music help Pixar do this? Is it just a matter of layering sad, minor-key music over equally sad scenes? Nope. At least not according to a video essay called “How Pixar Uses Music To Make You Cry.” If it were that easy, everybody would be doing it. Besides, what makes music sound “sad” is far from universal. The answer is a little more complicated.

The key to how Pixar uses music, according to this video, is having the soundtrack contrast in some meaningful way with what’s happening on screen. In some cases, this might even mean playing music that sounds happy during moments of melancholy or regret. It also helps to associate certain pieces of music or even certain chords with characters, so that those musical sounds resonate with audiences when they are reused in other parts of the movie. The score for the ending of Toy Story 3, for instance, features echoes of “You’ve Got A Friend In Me.” To illustrate just how well Pixar uses music, the essay even takes a scene from the non-Pixar title Big Hero 6 and re-scores it with a selection from Finding Nemo.


This video essay was produced by Sideways, a still-young, music-themed YouTube channel that has been posting interesting, provocative pop-culture content over the last few months, including “How To Win An Argument About Pop Music” and “Why Your Nostalgic Reboot Musically Sucks.”

[via Laughing Squid]