WARNING: SPOILERS for Big Hero 6 ahead!
Last Friday at lunch, I sat across from a friend talking about Disney’s princess films and which ones seemed to influence little girls the most. I admitted then, as I have in an earlier post on this blog, my deep-rooted admiration for Mulan and its influence on my own life, from the way I approach real-life situations to the way I think about storytelling, characterization, and art. I probably wasn’t thinking of those things, exactly, during the moment I decided to cut off a chunk of my own hair a-la Mulan-preparing-to-run-away-to-the-army when I was five years old, but something had obviously gotten to me after coming back from that movie theatre in 1998.
My friend’s mouth gaped, flabbergasted and confused that an animated film like Mulan had inspired a separation from my hair. She thinks I must be a stranger sort of person than most, but I honestly believe that everybody at some point in their lives must, in the face of art that is meaningful to them, try and tap into something bigger than themselves.
Maybe I thought, at five years old, that cutting my hair in solidarity with a hero would help me stay in that moment—help me live out the fierce beauty of Mulan and bring that fiction into a living, breathing part of reality. To help me stay brave, intelligent, and self-sacrificing. Perhaps it worked, because even now, I tend to linger in a half-world in which, no matter what mundane task I happen to perform, I am always still fighting the Hun army (or something similar), still saving the life of a comrade (or someone similar), still surrounded by a musical score and sweeping camera movements.
I owe my love of storytelling and art and music almost wholeheartedly to my experience with animated films like Mulan or Tarzan or The Iron Giant. And even now, as an adult, to How to Train Your Dragon or Ratatoille or Finding Nemo. In some respects these films are avoided my many adults under the impression that they may be childish, silly, and insufficiently realistic, but in my personal experience, few things have helped me grow up half as well as the animation I watched as a kid.
The day after seeing Big Hero 6 in theatres with my seven-year-old sister, we found ourselves sitting down and talking about it again. My sister mentioned the end of the film, when Baymax sacrifices his life to save Hiro. Shortly after that scene, Hiro discovers a very important item clutched in the severed fist that propelled him to safety at the expense of Baymax’s body—the data card designed by Hiro’s late brother, Tadashi, and scrawled over with his handwritten name. With it, Hiro is able to reconstruct a new Baymax, finally reinserting Tadashi’s card into the reincarnated body. And my little sister understood.
“So it’s like the card was Baymax’s soul. Like Baymax gave Hiro his soul,” she said. “So that even when it looked like he died, he would really live on forever. Just like how Tadashi lives on forever in Hiro’s heart.”
She seemed especially moved by a previous moment in which Baymax insists that Tadashi is somehow still present, to which Hiro responds, distraught, “No, Tadashi is gone.” But Baymax starts to load a video onto the screen on his belly, saying one more time, “Tadashi is here.” Then, Hiro gets the chance to watch Tadashi’s test videos left over in Baymax’s system, in which Hiro gets a final sense of his brother’s love for him and the final, endlessly meaningful expression, “I am satisfied with my care.”
“It’s like Tadashi saying he’ll never be gone,” said my sister. “That everything is okay… man, I want to see that movie again!”
Few things beside an animated film—a world wholly existing in the realm of imagination, and yet accessible to everyone—can bring on a real-world reaction like that in a kid, I think.
And even if, like critics may say, the final product isn’t perfect, it still works. It really, really works.