Thinking through hero’s journey and story archetypes (newbie here!) and was watching the recent Pixar movie Moana. My question is, what do you see as the function of or reason for a story to choose a relatively inanimate/neutral sidekick like Heihei (Moana’s chicken, that, though providing some minor key plot points, does not have a perspective, personality, “stake in the game,” etc.) or Wilson (the volleyball) from Castaway?
These are both ocean-journey stories, where the hero(ine) needs uninterrupted deep personal reflection. Maybe that’s enough of a reason? It seems unusual, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Hey Liz, thanks for writing in!
As far as I can tell from reading behind-the-scenes info, the reason for Heihei’s existence is that he was originally supposed to be a completely different character with lines and personality, similar to Mushu from Mulan. During story revisions, it became increasingly clear that this character didn’t work, and the plan was to cut Heihei entirely, but by then the production crew had gotten super attached to him, so they wanted to keep him in the movie in any way they could.
I haven’t seen Castaway, but my understanding is that Wilson primarily exists to give Tom Hanks someone to talk to. There are other reasons, no doubt, like showing how Hanks copes with extreme isolation, but those are secondary. Stories do this a lot, especially stories in a visual medium, because it’s important for a character to be isolated, but the story also needs dialogue in order to be entertaining. Avatar: The Last Airbender pulls a similar trick on several occasions, with the flying lemur Momo serving as a sounding board when a human character needs to go off on their own. Heihei stands out a bit because Moana actually had plenty of other options for characters she could talk to, and he mostly seems to have been included because the creators couldn’t bear to cut him.
I don’t believe this character has a classification within the Hero’s Journey, but they are commonly referred to as animal companions, even when they aren’t animals. They aren’t usually characters in their own right; instead, they exist to provide reflection for the protagonist. Their exact nature will change based on the needs of the story, from a clever flying lemur to an inanimate volleyball, but their core function remains the same.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck!