In Too Deep Into Disney #54: How Big Hero 6 Is A Rare Contemporary Disney Film
Hello and welcome to In Too Deep Into Disney, where I over-analyse each Disney animated film over the course of… Well, for as long as this blog goes on for, I suppose.
Big Hero 6 is about six months old by now, which means it’s perfect to look back on it without knee-jerk feelings getting in the way (is the excuse I use to weakly justify why I never bothered to write it earlier). But while there are many things I can talk about when it comes to Big Hero 6, the biggest one is perhaps the least obvious: It’s a Disney film set in the modern day using a modern source material and reflecting modern trends. Confused? Well let me elaborate.
First, lets break down this into two separate categories. First, all the canon Disney animated films that take place roughly within the time period that they were made. We have:
The Three Caballeros
One Hundred and One Dalmatians
Oliver and Company
Lilo and Stitch
Meet the Robinsons (or at least part of it)
So that’s seven going on eight films out of fifty-four in total. Roughly an eighth.
Now, what about films based on books (or other adapted material) that came out roughly the same time the movie did. Now for fairness sake I’m going to give about ten years, i.e. there was a ten year gap between the original coming out and the Disney adaptation being made. This time we have:
Dumbo (book 1939, film 1941)
Little Bear Bongo from Fun and Fancy Free (story 1936, film 1947)
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (book 1956, film 1961)
The Great Mouse Detective (books 1958-82, film 1986)
So that’s, by estimation, four or so films that were directly adapted from one thing and turned into a feature film within ten years of it being published. Even then, if we argue that Bongo was only half a film, we can also argue that Wreck-It Ralph half counts and call it even. But only four times has Disney adapted something fairly recent. Now what’s the common thread between these two?
Well, One Hundred and One Dalmatians is the only film to not only be a fairly recent adaptation, but set in the same time it was created. As far as I remember anyway, someone may come along to correct me. But it was, until 2014, the only time Disney had made something that actually reflected the time in which it was being made without it also being an original idea. But then Big Hero 6 came along, the first Disney animated feature film to be directly adapted from a comic book series. Granted it takes place in an alternate universe, but there’s no reason to think that this place isn’t 2014, despite the different level of technology. So Big Hero 6 and One Hundred and One Dalmatians are two peas in a pod when it comes to this. But there is one thing that makes Big Hero 6 stand out more than its competitor.
Like it or not, we’re heading to an age where film (if not fiction in general) is getting more diverse in terms of race and gender, with minorities getting roles that would normally be given automatically to white people. This is great of course, and is a trend for what will hopefully become the norm in the future, but this film really captures onto it for all it’s worth. Here we have a refreshingly multi-cultural cast. We have a black guy, a white guy, a Hispanic girl, an Asian girl, Hiro (who is half Asian/half white) and Baymax, doing his best to represent good robots in a vastly underused demographic. But this film really pushes to be culturally diverse, more so than perhaps any Disney film that had come before it. It’s really taking what is important in terms of current pop culture and capitalizing on it. But aside from that part, it’s also capitalizing on a much bigger and more obvious trend.
(And to sidetrack for a quick moment: It’s also capitalizing on the trend of not making the female character the automatic love interest, and actually has several female characters that have no romantic story in sight. It’s a small thing, but it’s nice to see a film that isn’t weighed down with an unnecessary romantic plot tumour).
Like it or not, we’re living in the age of the superhero. There’s really no way to avoid it at this point, superheroes are the biggest thing right now and everyone is trying to cash in on it. Marvel’s riding a wave of success that is at this point too big to fail, DC’s desperately trying to put some of the planet’s most beloved characters to good use, various other studios are releasing superhero films either based on other people’s creations or their own original ideas. Superheroes are the it thing right now, coming just as we perfect CGI to the point where we can pull off all the crazy stuff that we see regularly in comics. Plus, given the somewhat darken age we live in, we need superheroes as much as we need the spy genre in the 60s (to feel like we were doing something to combat the evils of the Soviet Union) and the Western of the 50s (so America could remember fondly on the good old days). We need the idealistic nature of the superhero to keep us feeling good about the current state of things. We need heroes badly in our current society. The fact that superheroes are so popular probably says a lot about us (the same way the princess/royalty craze of the 90s probably spoke to the desires of the day). But this is Disney tapping into that cultural popularity unlike it ever has before. More often than not it tries to set the trends, or at least tries to guess what’s popular. Here is an unabashed embrace of what is happening right now. No doubt in forty to fifty years time this film will seem like a time capsule of sorts, the same way we can look upon One Hundred and One Dalmatians is a time capsule. I can’t say for certain if that film reflects the time period flawlessly (since, you know, it was just under forty years from when I was born, and right between when my parents were born), but there’s a chance that it does. Nevertheless, come 2060 odd, if I’m still rocking about, I’ll no doubt be looking back on this film and reflect how it summed up a time period so perfectly.
So there you have it. A look at Big Hero 6 and its unusual placement within history. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.