Character tropes and stereotypes! Supporting characters, especially those on a "team", are so often flat and one-dimensional, fulfilling a single role: the token black guy, the scientist, the moral compass, whatever.
A writer's first instinct when dealing with a possible trope is to try and flip it to the opposite. You can, but that's still one-dimesional. To give them more dimension, you add other elements that have nothing to do with the trope/stereotype. That's what one-dimensional vs. three-dimensional means! If they're one-dimensional, they only have one thing, one dimension, that defines their characters. You can look at them and yell out a trope, and they pretty much fit it to a T. If they're three-dimensional, they have multiple dimensions, multiple things that shape their personality and give them agency. They don't fit in a single category.
Let's look at the phenomenal job Big Hero 6 did with the supporting characters:
Fred is the rich kid. The stereotype would be he's snobbish and arrogant. Fred is the opposite, really laid back and dresses like a hobo. BUT he spends his money on geeky superhero paraphernilia. His superhero outfit is a comical fire-breathing lizard thing. You don't normally associate rich kids as comic book lovers.
Gogo's stereotype would be the badass asian chick who kicks butt like Natasha Romanov, but she does no butt-kicking (she does have mad driving skills). Instead she bikes and designs bikes with electromagnetic suspension. Biking and designing bikes has nothing to do with the "badass asian chick" stereotype. Her superhero outfit is an analog of superspeed rollerblading.
Honey's perceived trope is the nerdy white scientist chick. The opposite would be some beautiful fashionista. Honey is not only into the color pink and fashion, she also retains her geeky personality. The highlight of her superhero outfit is a purse that creates chemical explosives. So she has both the trope and its opposite coexisting! Very cool to see.
The opposite of Wasabi's "thug black guy" trope would be that he never breaks the law. This is true of him (he stopped at a red light during a car chase), but he also is a neatfreak and freaks out when someone takes one of his carefully-arranged tools. Have you ever associated "thug black guy" or "good black guy" with "neatfreak"? No.
AND on top of all these, the characters are genius robotics scientists and inventors.
And another layer: when Hiro's brother, their best friend, dies, they call up Hiro to check up on him because they already love him and are so concerned and want to be there for him. I have never been heartwarmed by the "supporting team" characters before (actually, I cried multiple times in this movie. so you all better watch it if you haven't yet).
None of them fit into any one category. No one is just "the smart scientist", "the badass asian chick" "the nerdy white scientist". They're all people with their own hobbies, interests, and goals. With MULTIPLE hobbies, might I add. The key to breaking tropes and stereotypes isn't simply giving them the opposite trait of the strereotype. Give them other traits completely unrelated to their stereotype to build their character in multiple dimensions.
Note: not all tropes and stereotypes are bad! A lot of the ones you find on TVtropes are actually valid forms of characterization/develop plot. The harmful tropes are the ones that advocate offensive stereotypes. They're built around racist and sexist concepts, such as "thug black guy", "badass asian chick", or "beautiful seductress".
So what did you think of the characterization in Big Hero 6? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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