Name the last animated Disney film you’ve seen promoting interracial couples. “The Princess and the Frog” (2009) and the sort-of-historically-based “Pocahontas” (1995) definitely come to mind. And, sure, Disney’s animated films have arguably advocated diverse relationships through extended metaphors, like a woman falling in love with a beast, a mermaid with a man and a woman with a frog. But is that all? Disguised advocacy?
Let’s broaden the search – name an animated Disney film promoting interracial friendships. The comradery between Disney’s Mr. Incredible and Frozone is a fantastic illustration of diverse relationships. However, besides this minor example, Disney’s animated films have seldom featured diversity in relationships – especially without stereotype.
Meet child-prodigy Hiro (Ryan Potter), his personal healthcare robot Baymax (Scott Adsit) and a group of geeky college friends. When an overwhelming turn of events thrusts them into the middle of a dangerous plot, the solution is simple – gear up and become Sanfransokyo’s (yep, you read that right) greatest, high-tech superheroes. By celebrating nerd culture, “Big Hero 6” offers something for everyone: superheroes, villains, action and even a giant marshmallow-gone-Iron-Man robot. The best of what Disney Animation Studios has to offer in the film, however, is its refreshing take on friendships – and diversity.
Without purposefully directing attention to race, Disney brilliantly establishes a group of six interracial friends – Wasabi (Black), GoGo Tomago (Korean), Fred (White), and Honey Lemon (Latina). By far, the most interesting of the bunch is protagonist Hiro (Japanese/White), Disney Animation Studio’s first biracial character.
Although inhuman, Baymax fits snuggly into this diverse equation as well. Thanks to the welcoming and inclusive nature of Hiro and friends, the walking marshmallow immediately finds its place amongst the team. Following suit with the film’s overarching metaphor, even the most unlikely comrade – a robot – is accepted as a friend and adds to the diversity of the group.
Shockingly, not once does the film stereotype a character. By breaking away from clichéd typescripts, I was delightfully surprised and refreshed by how well they attached unique and charming personalities to each character. In a way, I am reminded of the world built in “Sesame Street,” a world where multi-ethnic people and puppets get along without stereotypes for 46 years.
Even the film’s city of Sanfransokyo is allegorical of this cultural harmony.
Not only are they diverse in race and culture – each character is diverse in thought. Diversity’s definition encompasses more than simply race and culture. Beyond the physical surface and ethnic history, diversity delves into varying ideologies, theologies and even sexualities. Likewise, Disney fully realizes these characters by exhibiting charismatic and distinguishable traits among each member – from Wasabi’s precisionist nature to Fred’s laid-back attitude, each character is branded with their own set of quirky yet relatable attributes.
Even while certain personalities appear conflicting – like Honey Lemon’s bubbly personality and Go Go Tomago’s quietude – their personalities are ultimately balanced and serve to complement each other, firstly as an amazing group of friends and secondly as a better team of tech’d-out heroes. These lovable, illustrious characters paired with charming and charismatic chemistry equates for one of film’s most delightful gang of friends.
Understand that diverse relationships is only a subliminal theme of the film. Perhaps it isn’t an intentional theme at all. Regardless, employing characters of color to diversify their world is an undeniably progressive step for Disney Animated Studios, as it is applaudable. These roles not only appeal to audiences because of themes like acceptance, friendship, and teamwork, it positively reinforces the idea that characters of color are intelligent, funny, talented, beautiful – and incredible friends.
Christian Herrera is the Arts and Entertainment editor of The Huntingtonian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.