A new type of hero?

To begin, we saw Brave a couple of weekends ago.

While having a discussion about boy heroes versus girl heroes and gender appropriateness, I made the comment, “Up is the boy version of Brave…. Only that it’s about an old man and a boy scout instead of a mother and daughter.”

The Hubs stared at me blankly.

So I continued: “both films are about a generational relationship. They both have to understand each other.”

The lightbulb went off and he asked, “Have there been other stories with accidental heroes?”

To which I replied, “Of course. There are the accidental heroes and there are those that are called. What makes these heroes different is that they function as a unit.”

What followed was a list of recent heroes that don’t just work in tandem with a few supporting friends as we see with the traditional hero (i.e. Harry Potter and most other traditional heroes). The traditional hero gets to the end with supporting friends, but still has to face the final confrontation alone. These new heroes must do it together. The Hubs noticed this as a new take on the sidekick motif. The sidekick is now being elevated to a level of equality to the hero. While there are some heroes that come to mind, what is really interesting to note is that almost every single Pixar hero is this unit hero:

Toy Story: Buzz and Woody have to face the nemesis together as equals. The first TS film is about them coming to that realization.
Monsters, Inc.: Mike and Sully aren’t sidekicks. This is must be part of Randy Newman’s formula for friend songs.
Finding Nemo: Surprise! This film is NOT about Nemo. It’s about Dory and Nemo’s dad working together to find Nemo. They have to work together for Marlon to succeed. The generational bit is a MacGuffin.
Wall-E: Wall-E and Eve are constantly working together to save that plant.
Up: Gramps and the kid both have to figure out how to get home and defeat the bad guy.
Meet the Robinsons: current self vs. future self working together.
The Incredibles: it’s a family affair.
Ratatouille: Remy and Linguini work together to make the perfect batch of ratatouille and keep Gusteau’s restaurant alive.
Brave: Merida and her mom have to work together to mend the tapestry.
(I honestly don’t remember A Bug’s Life well enough to comment on it.)

And then there’s Cars. I haven’t seen Cars 2 yet, but in the first Cars, Lightning McQueen seems to be on his own. But, in the end, he needed all of Radiator Springs, especially Doc Hudson, to win the race.

It’s a slow transition, but it seems as though more stories are beginning to drift toward this new hero model, which also suggests that some part of the American psyche is also drifting toward this new hero model. Could this be connected to a slight decrease in individual heroes we idolize in our culture (ex: Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King) and a slight increase in collective heroes (ex: our soldiers)? Or perhaps this is a response to the idea that things are easier when we “get by with a little help from our friends.” It’s no accident that these stories are appearing at the same time as a push for community gardens, farmer’s co-ops, alternative transportation ideas, and even *gasp* government healthcare.

The pro-individualism model can only be sustained so long, and it seems as though we’re nearing the end of it. Speaking generally, of course. But if enough of us get behind this mythic movement, perhaps we can make the paradigm change happen.

Images of USPS Pixar-themed Postage Stamps. These won’t work as real stamps.


In a glorious attempt to postpone working on my Proposal (and grading papers), I’m over at a friend’s house for an all day Pixar Party. They do these kinds of parties from time to time, and it all began with a party to watch the extended editions of Lord of the Rings. That essentially boils down to a 16 hour party that starts at breakfast and ends somewhere long after dinner. They expanded the idea to do other epic parties, such as Harry Potter. So today is Pixar. The line-up includes the three Toy Story movies, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, and Wall-E, and the Pixar shorts when available. There are many other titles that could be on the list, but my friends don’t own them on DVD.

What’s really interesting about watching Pixar movies back to back is that some common themes begin to manifest. Just about all of the stories follow some kind of stereotypical hero story a la Joseph Campbell, but yet they somehow break the mold and enter into an entirely new realm of myth.

One observation is that the hero is always part of a collective. They cannot succeed on their own. Buzz has Woody and friends, Nemo has his friends and Marlin has Dori, Wall-E has Eve. This new collective hero is a fascinating development of the post-Potter era. It’s almost as though we, as a culture, have moved beyond the black-and-white dichotomy of the lone hero, and have realized that we have to rely on a collective to actually accomplish anything, which runs completely counter to the individualism on which we built our country. Of course, our rugged individualism is what got us into the place where we are today. Not everyone can go from rags to riches and sit on the top of their flagpole.

The hero’s quest is ultimately for family. So if it’s true that the family is in danger of falling apart, and if it’s true that the myth creates the history, then this suggests that we are going to see a return of the familial unit in the not to distant future, but it’s not going to be the traditional unit. All of these Pixar movies are about creating family among a diverse group of people, not from biological bondage.

Myth scholarship is beginning to catch up to the discussion, and this new hero is beginning to enter into the conversation.