Big Hero 6 and the Four Stages of Grief

You’ve probably heard of the five stages of grief under the Kubler-Ross model: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. You see it everywhere: it’s how grieving people deal with the loss of a loved one, right?

Not exactly.

See, Kubler-Ross developed the model while working with terminally ill patients. The model was actually originally meant to show the stages of DYING, not grieving. But since the model could also apply to the loved ones watching the patient dying, it became misrepresented to show how all people deal with grief. It’s also worth noting that the model has been criticized and not consistent with further research.

There is actually an earlier, less known model of grief: the FOUR stages of grief, developed by Parkes and Bowlby–Shock and Numbness, Yearning, Disorganization and Despair, and Reorganization and Recovery (and these stages can overlap).

When I learned about this model, I immediately remembered Big Hero 6 and how it dealt with grief. And I got to say, the filmmakers definitely did a lot of research into this aspect because the Parkes-Bowlby model is definitely present in the film.

Shock and Numbness: When Hiro realizes that Tadashi is dead, the world becomes hazy. All he can do is scream his brother’s name. In a deleted shot from the film (that’s present in the Japanese teaser trailer), this is his face during the funeral:


You can tell he looks sad, but also numb. He can’t fully comprehend what’s happening or know how to react. (In the scenes that are present in the film, you don’t see his face at all, and all he can do is stay away from the wake.)

Yearning: He becomes extremely withdrawn, not wanting to eat or go to school, and is always thinking of Tadashi. He does not touch Tadashi’s part of the room, leaving his hat carefully on the bed, and becomes preoccupied with avenging Tadashi’s death (at this point, remembering Tadashi isn’t enough).

Disorganization and Despair: This overlaps with the yearning stage (loss of appetite, restlessness over avenging Tadashi, becoming more withdrawn), but it becomes especially apparent when Hiro finds out who killed Tadashi. He is unable to think rationally, pushing away his friends and trying to kill Callaghan. When he and Baymax retreat, Hiro starts to break down, stating that he doesn’t know if Callaghan’s death will make him feel better but that he has to do something, and when Baymax points out that this isn’t what Tadashi wanted, Hiro loses it. “Tadashi’s…gone.” “Tadashi is here.” “No…he’s not here.”

Reorganization and Recovery: With the help of his friends, Hiro does get better. He is able to go to school, becomes closer to his aunt and human friends, rebuilds his beloved robot friend (and Tadashi’s last invention), and places Tadashi’s hat in his new office. He decides to go out to do good things in his brother’s name.

This is a beautiful movie that gracefully and accurately portrays the death of a loved one and dealing with it; a lot of people have confessed that this movie actually did help them deal with the passings of their loved ones. It is one of the most important Disney movies and I hope it does become a true classic and it will continue to help people for years to come.


Author: Laura Alexander

My name is Laura, I use they/them pronouns, and I'm a recent graduate of the Social Service Worker Program at Sheridan College. I'm on the autism spectrum (Asperger's) and I have a passion for film and animation, social issues, and helping others, all of which will be featured on The Flying Red Robot blog. Please read the about page before commenting or following. "Big Hero 6" is my favourite movie.