A few weeks ago I watched Disney’s latest film Big Hero 6, which is based off of a lesser known Marvel Comic series. The film follows a boy named Hiro Hamada and his inflatable nurse robot named Baymax on their journey to become the most unlikely superheroes in the city of San Fransokyo. What I expected was a fun popcorn romp with your usual Disney fluff. What I didn’t expect was the touch of seriousness this movie would go in their dealings with death, loss, and the grieving process. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t wish to be spoiled, go and watch the movie and then return to this article. The movie is worth watching.
Baymax is the creation of Hiro’s older brother Tadashi. Baymax is programmed with just about every single illness and diagnosis to better assist and treat his patients. His large and inflatable body is meant to be a non-threatening but approachable presence for whoever has Baymax as their personal nurse. Ever the optimist, Tadashi’s vision and reason behind creating Baymax is to enable the robot to help so many people.
When a tragic fire at the university Tadashi attends claims his life, Hiro is left devastated and coping with the loss of his older brother, who believed Hiro can do so much more with his life than waste his time and energy on bot fighting. The only thing that remains of Hiro’s brother is Baymax. The rest of the film turns into a mission for Hiro to find the one responsible for Tadashi’s death when he realizes that the fire wasn’t an accident as he had originally thought. This in turn leads to Hiro transforming Baymax and a group of robotics geeks from the university into crime fighters, utilizing their strengths and expertise.
The film hits the usual notes for a Disney movie with its humor and lightheartedness, mainly through the hijinks and adorableness that is Baymax, but the film also doesn’t shy away from the heavy hitting topics, such as death and grief. The movie treats these topics in a sensitive and gentle manner. It doesn’t sweep the topics under the rug but confronts it. It shows kids that death is a part of life, but it doesn’t mean that the person you love is gone forever. What will always remain are the memories you have of that person.
One of the most poignant and emotionally charged scenes in the film involves Hiro unleashing all the pent up anger and sadness he feels over losing Tadashi on Baymax. When Baymax firmly insists that “Tadashi is here,” he then proceeds to show Hiro a video recording of Tadashi’s video logs during the time he was still building and fine tuning Baymax. The logs show a ton of missteps and work still to be done to get Baymax fully operational, but Tadashi tells Baymax, “I’m not giving up on you,” a sentiment even Tadashi has told his own brother. Watching the video logs help Hiro finally come to terms with his brother’s death and to honor his brother’s memory by using Baymax exactly how his brother would have intended––a force for doing good in this world. I like how Baymax represents the legacy Tadashi has left behind. It’s as if a piece of Tadashi still lives within Baymax and in a way it does.
I’m not usually accustomed to Disney films trying to handle serious topics (and do it well), like death and loss, amidst all the singing and lighter moments. And I’m not talking about a more traumatizing moment, like watching Bambi’s mother get shot to death by hunters and Bambi becoming an orphan soon after. Let’s face it, Disney may have been more in your face about death in Bambi, but it did little to really understand it. Just as quickly as the fire had been shot at Bambi’s mom, the moment is soon forgotten about to be replaced with a scene of Bambi making friends with other cute animals like him. There hasn’t been a single moment when Bambi actually had time to grieve his mom. None! Sure, he cried about it but he got over it much too quickly. You just lost your mom. How can you forget such a tragic thing like that? I know I wouldn’t get over it as quickly even if you waved all the ice cream in the world in my face.
To take the time to really address death and loss in Big Hero 6 really speaks volumes about Disney trying to make more films that are smartly written and don’t spend so much time shielding children from every bad thing that’s out there in the world. We can’t protect children from everything, but we can help them understand and be better equipped at handling life’s hard knocks when they do grow up. Everyone dies at some point, but you also learn to eventually accept, heal, and move forward with your life.
If the trend in Disney films is to not constantly shield kids from serious topics or present cliched and flawed love stories, like Big Hero 6 and Frozen are taking steps to do, then I welcome this trend. It’s possible to make good movies that don’t unrealistically present the world as easy, simple, and one giant happily ever after. Life won’t always be perfect or be without pain, but it does get better and you persevere in spite of it all.