This past weekend I took my son to see the movie Big Hero 6. We were at Disney World recently, and the movie was promoted all over the parks. Needless to say, my son loves anything superhero or robot related, so this was a must see on our list. The movie is about a young boy named Hiro who lives in a futuristic city. Hiro is a 14-year-old robotics genius who spends his time participating in back alley robot fights. His older brother, Tadashi, worried that Hiro is wasting his potential. He takes Hiro to the robotics lab at his university, where Hiro meets Tadashi's friends, and Baymax, a personal healthcare robot Tadashi created. When a devastating event befalls the city of San Fransokyo, Hiro turns to Baymax and transforms his friends into a band of high-tech heroes called "Big Hero 6." The movie centers on the special bond that develops between Baymax and Hiro.
Towards the end of the movie, Hiro goes into his garage and starts tinkering with his tools and computers. On one of the shelves, is a McMaster Carr catalog. The book is shown several times throughout the scene. As I sit there looking at this image, I realize that my son wouldn’t give it a second glance. I, on the other hand, know exactly what this product is. McMaster Carr is one of our distributors and has been for 25 plus years. Every year since 1894, McMaster releases this large yellow catalog. Like most, this product placement has a purpose, a meaning.
At the very heart of this movie is a lesson for our youth about STEM related careers. Careers that made companies like McMaster Carr what it is today. I wanted to find out how this catalog got placement in the movie. There is an organization called “FIRST” which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”. Founded in 1989, their mission is “to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.” Every year they host a robotics competition. It began in a New Hampshire high school’s gym, with only 26 teams, and has grown over the years to over 32,000 teams, and more than 350,000 students.
The FIRST team was given the opportunity to help out the producers and writers of Big Hero 6 and became their technical consultants. The producers wanted to learn the jargon that robot building teenagers use these days. Some of Disney’s writers and producers visited their machine shop and came away with ideas for the movie. The FIRST team also helped inspire product additions to the movie such as the McMaster-Carr catalog making a cameo. It all makes sense. That one scene has a ton of meaning, more than most 8-year olds will realize, but I give the folks at Disney a lot of credit for showcasing the coolness of STEM education. The characters prove that being smart and being a good friend are the keys to being a hero. If 21st century super heroes can also be STEM nerds, then I can’t wait to see what the future holds.