To lose someone you love is to feel a pain like no other. For a child to withstand such pain they must have a companion to walk them through. Hiro Hamada is fortunate to have such a friend in Baymax. If he was a Disney Princess his grieving journey would have taken him down a rather less supportive path. Though some jaunty musical numbers may have borne him along. In
Even Frozen’s groundbreaking heroine Anna was tethered to a tradition that dictates bereaved children remain sweet and optimistic as their lives are tactically blown apart. But time, imagination and clever collaborations have done wonders for The House of Mouse. Just as the visual colour palette has evolved and emboldened, so too has the range of colour in Disney’s emotional spectrum.
Permitted in large part by the articulacy and risk taking of a brand new generation of imagineers. Big Hero 6’s standout colour, in the aftermath of great tragedy, is blue. The distinctive blue of a well-loved baseball cap that will never be worn again…
Introduced in a triumphant explosion of energy and IQ, 14 year old Hiro appears every inch the archetypal teen misfit and trouble-magnet. But he is blessed with one advantage that alters the course of his life – his charismatic big brother Tadashi. In common with the relationship between Gordie and Denny Lachance, Tadashi loves his little brother with an easy acceptance for all his quirks and fallibilities.
He celebrates his precocious gift for robotics and lovingly signposts Hiro to a place where his differences will be welcomed and future assured, his intelligence cheerleaded as enthusiastically as sporting prowess. Denny’s dies before the start of the Stand By Me story but the ghost of his memory lingers to tell us that Gordie’s sole champion is gone. And all too soon in Hiro’s own tale a suspicion that Denny Lachance and Tadashi Hamada share DNA, crystallises into bittersweet certainty.
Rob Reiner’s faultless adaptation of Stephen King’s Stand By Me takes its audience on a singular physical and emotional journey in the wake of 12 year old Gordie’s debilitating loss. The hole left by his brother’s death is a void into which every scrap of love left in his broken household falls. Rendering Gordie irrelevant and invisible. When he and his misfit friends leave the safety of smalltown Castle Rock – on a quest to find the body of a missing boy- they are in search of something more than poor dead Ray Brower.
The chance for Chris, Vern, Teddy and ‘the other’ Lachance boy to solve the mystery is an opportunity for their redemption. To transform from outcasts to heroes. From invisible to infamous. To finally be seen. Hiro initially withdraws from the world. Rejecting his loving aunt and the ministrations of his brother’s friends. But a mystery stirs him into action too.
For Gordie and Hiro, a superior IQ has proven both encumbrance and escape. Gordie writes and populates other worlds in his imagination while Hiro gifts the world with a way to reconfigure itself. The intrusion of death causes each to shut down and they need a guiding hand to find a place for themselves in a world which insists on turning without their brothers by their side.
Big Hero 6 elucidates an alternative to the accidental hero by taking the perspective that intelligence and self-awareness are the ultimate superpowers. And in turn gives Hiro mastery over the powerlessness of loss by allowing his pain to be expressed as the ongoing journey it is. The line between good and evil is cleverly blurred as the motivations of the Kabuki masked villain are revealed and Hiro’s own morals called into question. Fittingly Gordie’s own moment of victory comes in fierce defence of his friends.
Challenging as Hiro’s life in Sanfransokyo may be, it benefits from the fantastical freedoms of its comic book roots. In dropping the hero team’s government-sanctioned backstory and instead settling the origin story on Hiro’s shoulders, the Walt Disney Animation Studios team bring instant accessibility to the story. Each of the five human members have struggled with their idiosyncrasies yet these differences make them the perfect team.
The undeniable parallels with the Stand By Me story prove a nostalgic pleasure and a fitting mirror. Stephen King excels at writing outsiders and the team behind Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen have once again drawn on themes of exclusion and solitude to moving effect. Baymax – the sweetly empathetic vinyl healthcare companion – serves as equivalent to Chris AND the memory of Denny as he clumsily tries to protect, nurture and comfort his bereft charge. He stands as de facto guardian in Tadashi’s stead as he painstakingly leads Hiro through the early days of loss.
As adults we recognise that it can be empowering to have people on your side. As children it is simply essential. The fingerprint of early fraternal love and loyalty remains inscribed on the heart of both boys and shapes the men they will become. Through friendship they explore and evolve a new kind of fraternity. A fraternity which allows the talents of both to come to the fore and their unique quirks of character to find the comfort of acceptance. The superheroics are breathtaking window dressing but the story beneath is a quintessentially human one.
Big Hero 6 may use extraordinary science and an inflatable robot to make points expressed in leech plucking and mom jokes by Stand By Me but still…when that navy hat and easy grin turn to face Hiro for the first time, or appear on a screen for the last, somewhere Ben E. King sings with the same scratchy jukebox refrain.
Big Hero 6 opens across the UK on January 30th 2015