Hair Love is a beautiful story set in an urban contemporary world. The wild success of this heartwarming short film can be attributed to many of its outstanding qualities (storytelling, animation, community engagement, star support, studio backing) but there is one quality that stands out to me the most: It is the classic hero's journey.
Why above all things does this stand out to me? It's because the hero's journey is a well-known and highly-regarded guide to storytelling and yet, so many independent filmmakers seem to want to leave it behind. Over the years, the hero's journey seems to have gained a certain stigma as being a cookie-cutter formula that doesn't make for great films but instead makes for great mass appeal. This is hard for me to swallow.
In my view, the hero's journey is to great films what the skeleton is to humans. It is not the thing that makes us who we are, but it is the structure upon which every move we make is based. Our individuality can be found in how we chose to use that structure and in how we layer upon it with muscle, skin, clothing, and other adornments to make it uniquely ours. This is no different in film.
Hair Love tells the classic tale of a hero who leaves the ordinary world to go on adventure that transforms him into something new. Let's break it down (SPOILER ALERT!):
The Ordinary World: Our hero has a daughter whose hair is out of control and he doesn't know how to help her.
The Call to Adventure: Our hero's daughter needs her hair done because today is a special day.
Refusal of the Call: After a few failed attempts to fix her hair, he gives up.
Meeting with the Mentor: Our hero is introduced to a familiar who can help him solve his problem.
Crossing the Threshold: Our hero takes on the challenge of listening to the mentor and employing her advice.
Tests, Allies, and Enemies: Our hero's resolve is tested as he completes each step.
The Reward: Our hero did it! His daughter's hair is just as she wanted it.
Return with the Elixir: Our hero now has the confidence to do his daughter's hair and does so time and time again.
Now, what's so wrong with that? It's a beautiful new story told with a classic model. It is far from cookie-cutter and has won the hearts of millions who have streamed it on YouTube (36 million to be exact).
Matthew A. Cherry, Everett Downing Jr., and Bruce W. Smith did an amazing job at bringing this story to life and I would hope that they now serve as an example of the power of good bones. If you haven't seen their hero's journey, I invite you to watch their Oscar-winning short film entitled Hair Love.
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