discussion, Disney, movies/tv, review, throwback thursday

Throwback Thursday: Media Representations of Mental Illness – Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 (Hall & Williams, 2014) is an animated superhero film by Walt Disney Pictures, which follows 14-year-old robotics prodigy Hiro as he becomes a superhero and attempts to avenge his older brother Tadashi’s death. The bulk of the movie takes place two weeks after Tadashi’s death, as Hiro becomes convinced that Tadashi’s death was not an accident and tries to track down the masked man who he believes to be responsible, who also stole Hiro microbots. Hiro is helped by Baymax, a robot built by his late brother, along with a group of Tadashi’s friends. The masked man is revealed to be Tadashi’s professor Callaghan, and Hiro removes Baymax’s healthcare chip and tries to order Baymax to kill Callaghan in retaliation for Tadashi’s death. Baymax, and Tadashi’s friends stop Hiro from doing so, citing Tadashi’s legacy and that he wouldn’t want that. It is later revealed that Callaghan’s actions are a result of wanting revenge on the man he blames for his daughter’s presumed death. 

The film never gives Hiro a mental health diagnosis outright, so it doesn’t misdiagnose him either. Technically, it cannot misrepresent a disorder it does not claim to represent, but the film does center on Hiro’s grief and trauma, so a common assumption might be that he has some type of PTSD. PTSD would not be the correct diagnosis, because his symptoms have not been present for more than a month, as it has only been two weeks since his brother’s death. This does not mean he could not have another trauma-and-stressor-disorder though, since witnessing the violent and unexpected death of his brother would classify as a criterion A trauma. There is also an effect of cumulative trauma as we learn that Hiro and his brother live with their aunt due to the fact that their parents died an indeterminate length of time ago. Hiro is shown to lack direction in his life, and he participates in illegal robot fighting and gambling, which troubles Tadashi before his death. The best diagnosis I would say would be Acute Stress Disorder, considering the time frame of two weeks since the traumatic event (which is between the necessary 3 days to one month needed for diagnosis) and the fact that throughout the movie displays instances of at least nine symptoms across the different categories including: reckless behavior, hypervigilance, irritable behavior, persistent negative emotional state, distorted cognitions of the cause of the event, diminished interest in activities, inability to experience positive emotions, exaggerated startle response, etc. 

Though in the movie Hiro’s symptoms are almost played off as a joke, as Baymax does a health scan and is unable to scan for mental health problems, and this diagnoses him with “puberty” to Hiro’s annoyance. 

Professor Callaghan might also have a trauma-and-stressor disorder because of the trauma of the presumed death of his daughter but we don’t see enough of him and his possible symptoms to make that determination. Hiro and Callaghan’s actions are both motivated by avenging the deaths of their loved ones but avenging the death of a loved one is not a recommended treatment option for a trauma disorder and while trauma disorders can make people lash out in the moment – i.e in a moment of panic or during a flashback,  a person with PTSD is not necessarily going to premeditate revenge-murder and to link grief and trauma with violence can be a harmful steroype, especially because it is to often repeated.

Superheroes don’t exist in the real world, and people in the real world rather than a fictional film world aren’t typically driven to vigilante justice, but in a real world analogy, watching the perpetrator of the violent crime against you or your loved one be sentenced to prison, or even to put on death row in a sort of eye-for-an-eye scenario is not a treatment for any trauma-or-stressor related disorder, no matter how much Hollywood loves the “if I kill him my own pain will go away” trope. 


Hall, D., & Williams, C., (2014). Big hero 6. United States; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. 

1 thought on “Throwback Thursday: Media Representations of Mental Illness – Big Hero 6”

  1. If I may add a few things…

    While it is true that Hiro’s symptoms are played off as a joke at first, they’re taken much more seriously once Baymax learns why Hiro’s behaving the way he is. This allows Baymax to diagnose him with bereavement (you might need to pause the film, but it does give that direct diagnose when he’s scanning Hiro for the second time) and tries to give him proper help. I don’t doubt Hiro suffers from trauma at any rate.

    Also, I’m pretty sure the point of the film is that the “eye for an eye” mentality doesn’t work? I’m a little confused by your last two paragraphs so I hope you don’t mind me adding. When Hiro learns about the truth of Tadashi’s death, he tries to kill Callaghan in a fit of rage. This involves him turning the healthcare robot into a monster and nearly hurting his friends in the process. Hiro later has a breakdown, and is clearly confused. “Do you want to terminate Professor Callaghan?” “Yes. N-n-no. I don’t know!” Hiro learns that violence isn’t the answer, and is able to stop Callaghan peacefully. Basically, Hiro learns the importance of seeking help, comfort, and reassurance from friends and family when he needs it, and goes on to help others as a genius superhero.

    I do agree Callaghan’s situation could’ve been handled a lot better. Supplementary material state that Callaghan has a military background, and in another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, Baymax diagnoses him with “Acute stress disorder”. I would’ve liked to see Callaghan go to a mental health facility rather than prison. And while his revenge scheme may not be completely accurate to real life trauma victims, it’s more for narrative purposes/foils. Hiro and Callaghan are both geniuses suffering from trauma, but whereas Hiro uses his genius to help people, Callaghan doesn’t. Obviously some license needs to be taken, but remember, this movie first came out in 2014, and was still a HUGE step forward in mental health discussion/awareness. It could be better, but it’s still important, especially to me (hi).

    Anyways, I hope you don’t mind my thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

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