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Death has been a part of Disney movies for nearly as long as the company has been producing animation. Classic princesses like Cinderella and Snow White were orphaned after both of their parents passed away, and Bambi's mother died onscreen after being hunted by Man. Disney producer Roy Conli has been working at the company for several decades, working on projects like Big Hero 6, Tangled and Born in China, and during that time, he's seen a lot of beloved characters pass on. Some might think those losses are a bad thing or difficult for children to handle, but he thinks it's an important part of Disney movies. When he was completing Born In China, he spoke to Disney about how to handle death in the documentary, telling CinemaBlend ahead of the Blu-ray release,
Listen, we spent a lot of time discussing that. There was a lot of fear and at the same time, I had just finished Big Hero 6. And Tadashi died. The concern was, are children going to be heartbroken, and I said, 'I think we underestimate children and what their perception of life and death is. And how they fit within the world.' And I would venture to say, anything they see on television on a nightly basis is probably worse than what this is. If anything, this is more educational and more inspirational and will hopefully bring them to understand the wonder and importance, the majesty of these creatures.
Including death in Disney movies clearly isn't a new trope, but it was especially harrowing in Big Hero 6, as Hiro had already lost both of his parents and lived with his Aunt Cass and Tadashi at the time of the latter's death. Tadashi had invented Baymax before dying in a mysterious fire, and it was that fire that led Hiro and his new pals to investigate what really happened, setting up the events in the movie. Without Tadashi's death, there would be no Big Hero 6. The scene is sad, but it is necessary to the plot.
Spoilers from here on out if you haven't seen Born in China, yet.
As for Born in China, the argument came up a second time, as the documentary features a plotline incorporating death. Roy Conli told CinemaBlend that he and director Chuan Lu went to great lengths to make sure the death was a part of the narrative, for one good reason.
Fortunately, Chuan [Lu] and I won the argument and I think that it gives kind-of really the thematic core of the story and the importance of nature.
Roy Conli also told us that it was "devastating" to see the snow leopard's death in the film, as everyone involved with the documentary really invested in the animals that were being followed. But clearly it was important to include what really happened, and luckily the Disney executives agreed.