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Yearning: He becomes extremely withdrawn, not wanting to eat or go to school, and is always thinking of Tadashi.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and Despair: This overlaps with the yearning stage (loss of appetite, restlessness over avenging Tadashi, becoming more withdrawn), but it becomes especially apparent when Hiro finds out who killed Tadashi.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.


Love and Death with The Book of Life and Big Hero 6

If you’ve been following me, you know that my fave movie is Big Hero 6. You may or may not also know that one of my fave animated movies is The Book of Life. While I have some problems with Maria’s design (the huge head, hair, and eyes on a really skinny body are really distracting) and I cringe at an Aztec-coded character routinely being called a savage, The Book of Life is still a beautiful film with amazing visuals (some of the best for a low budget animated film not made by Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks), an exciting story, great songs, and I just admire how much love and pride the makers have in their country and culture.

What I find interesting is that both movies came out not too far apart from each other (BH6 was released on November 7, 2014; TBOL was released on October 17, 2014) and they both have one similar, recurring theme: they both deal with death.

I recommend you watch both movies before reading this post in order for you to fully understand this post, but basically, BH6 is about dealing with loss and grief after the death of a loved one, whilst TBOL revolves around Day of the Dead and touches on loss and grief a little bit, but mostly focuses on a man who has died but needs to come back to life in order to save his town. (It’s…not an easy plot for me to describe. Again, please go see the movie. It’s really good.)

What I find interesting is that TBOL offers a rather religious/spiritual view of dealing with death, but BH6 offers an atheistic view of such.

In TBOL, there’s no question. Those who are dead are not gone at all; their spirits are very real. Their presence is felt very strongly on Day of the Dead. Those who are remembered live in a lush, wonderful, festive land, while those who are forgotten are stuck in a frozen, barren wasteland. They even show up in the world of the living for a single day! The movie is deeply rooted in Mexican culture and spirituality, with its own version of heaven, hell, and resurrection. BH6 takes a different approach. We never see Tadashi’s ghost, or where he is in death, or any talk of how his spirit is watching over them or if his presence can be felt. What’s more, in TBOL remembering dead loved ones is very important, but in BH6, simply remembering Tadashi isn’t enough.

What I find interesting is that both main characters (Hiro and Manolo) don’t fully know how to deal with the death of their loved ones initially and move past it in their own way.

For Hiro, he becomes depressed and withdrawn, and later vengeful. But with the help and love of his friends, he learns violence is not the answer, that Tadashi will always be in his heart, and he will do good things in his name. For Manolo, we don’t see him get as upset, and he is able to deal with the deaths of his family members very well, but is unable to handle the supposed death of his love interest, Maria (who was just in a trance). Wracked with guilt, he decides to commit suicide in order to be with her, but realizes that it was in vain. On his quest to go back to the living, he learns the value of life, and when it looks like he’s going to die for real, he also learns the value of remembering loved ones and tells Maria to do the same. He survives, and lives happily ever after.

Both movies offer their own idea on how to deal with death. BH6 tells the audience to reach out to people, to seek help and comfort, and to do what the loved one would have wanted along with your own pursuits and that they’ll always be with them, even if you don’t know what happened to their spirit in death. As an atheist, that resonates with me pretty strongly. TBOL, with the help of Mexican spirituality, tells the audience to remember and cherish your loved ones, but to also live life to the fullest while you can (in other words, don’t kill yourself in order to be with your loved ones before your time), which is something I can still admire and appreciate. Both movies, ultimately, tell the audience that those who are gone aren’t really gone, and how precious life is.

I just find it nice how, after so many animated movies that sort of brush aside the death of loved ones, having the main character get over it quickly or not truly deal with it properly, or even have a “oh you thought they were dead well THEY’RE NOT” moment, it’s nice to see not one but two animated movies to come out in such a short amount of time that actually take the subject matter seriously and respectfully. I also like how it gives people who are dealing with the passings of their own loved ones different ways of processing the grief.

In short, BH6 and TBOL are both wonderful movies that will reinvigorate your lust for life and bring you closer to your friends and those you love, living or dead.