Some spoilers for Pixar movies here, needless to say.
Finding the right note to end a movie is hard, and doing so for a family film is harder. When an unambiguously happy ending is mandatory, the understandable temptation is to trend toward the hokey and the maudlin. Even Disney in its animated-feature heyday had trouble with this: I'll grant you The Lion King, with its wonderful "Circle of Life" callback, but who really remembers the final minutes of the era's other classics? As best I can recall, they mostly involved characters getting married and everyone else being really happy for them.
Since Pixar is better than everyone at everything, it figures that they're better at ending their films, too. No movie illustrates this better than Toy Story 3, whose astonishing coda turned me into a puddle on the theater floor. It's a happy ending, but one executed with incomparable elegance, speaking eloquently to kids about the inevitable need to let go of the things and the people you love. (I disagree with esteemed colleague Elisabeth Rappe that this is part of Pixar's quest to make growing up feel rotten – I think Toy Story 3 is beautifully gentle and comforting, suggesting that these life transitions come with the promise of finding joy elsewhere, in the new and unfamiliar.) It's the best scene in the best movie of the year.
Not every Pixar movie ending has been a home run. For example, I thought Wall-E was wonderful, but that the "tearful" reunion between Wall-E and Eve in the last scenes was a little cutesy, and out of place in the otherwise heady, mature film. Cars was generally sub-par (yes, I know -- compared to what?), and the standard-issue celebratory denoument didn't make it any better. Finding Nemo's fairly predictable wrap-up didn't do much for me either.
When they get it right, though, they get it right. The curmudgeonly Ego's about-face in Ratatouille was indelible. The action-packed conclusion of The Incredibles wasn't an emotional powerhouse, but seemed exactly right for the movie that preceded it. And it took me two viewings to appreciate that shot of Carl's house next to Paradise Falls in Up – the capper to a beautiful life and a dream fulfilled – but the second (and third) time, I cried like a baby.
But, oh jeez, I get all choked up even thinking about my very favorite Pixar ending, which comes at the end of my very favorite Pixar film. The final shot of Monsters, Inc., with Sulley peeking through Boo's reconstituted door years later and grinning at the sound of Boo's delighted "Kitty!," is one of the all-time great movie moments, period. Graceful, lovely, sincere, upbeat without being sappy, it basically epitomizes the studio at its best.
What's your favorite ending in a Pixar flick?