BIG HERO 6 is Disney’s latest addition to their animated canon, and is perhaps the ultimate example of a film which would have been far better received if it came out ten years ago. Nobody seems to outright dislike the movie, but the genres it mashes up are “superhero team” and “a boy and his robot”, both of which are all over the place.
We’ve been spoiled for emotionally-charged animated films lately too. If box office figures are any indication, there must be a significant number of people who don’t go to the cinema for anything except superhero films. With so many being produced for mass consumption, the dust is quickly spreading on their conventions and clichés.
As a superhero film, Big Hero 6 couldn’t have a more generic storyline. Both the hero and villain (who I won’t identify here, but you’ll likely guess long before the reveal) have familiar origin stories, based on avenging a tragically lost loved one. On the other hand, the children in the film’s target audience may be too young for the influx of Marvel movies of which this is sort-of-kind-of an instalment, and Big Hero 6 may well be the first superhero film many kids ever see. For that reason, I can forgive the conventionality.
The emphasis in this film, as an origin story, is more on character progression than plot or action. The action scenes are well-paced and exciting but nothing really new, and there’s no superpower here you haven’t seen before. There is, however, a refreshing adherence to plausible science – there are no mutants or demigods in this team, unlike the comic it was based on. In the case of the five human members, their limitations are immediate and obvious.
The sixth member is the reason this film soars above mediocrity: Baymax (Scott Adsit). Baymax is a new kind of robot; a huggable, soft-spoken medical assistant. Not only is it endearing that his creator, a student named Tadashi (Daniel Henney), worked so hard on his project with the sole purpose of helping and healing people, but they couldn’t have nailed the design and mannerisms of this character any more. Everything about Baymax works.
Disney set out to make a different robot from any we’ve seen, and Baymax is a total success. His simple monochrome look allows for impeccable detail to his animation. His inflatable skin moves and reacts naturally to everything he touches, and every line of dialogue and every movement he makes feels exactly like how he would actually be programmed to behave. I can’t see anyone not falling in love with Baymax, and wanting a Baymax all of their own.
Hiro (Ryan Potter), Tadashi’s younger genius brother, is handled well as a plausible teenager; likeable but flawed, he acts irrationally and even violently at times. This willingness by Disney to let their protagonist be so imperfect is a sign of their post-Pixar progress. Early Disney films would have their scary moments, but there was a clear black-and-white morality to them; in Big Hero 6, the most intense scene depicts its protagonist acting immorally while still inviting us to empathise. More than once, I had to remind myself that this was a Disney film. Aside from Up, I’ve never seen grief and depression depicted so realistically and candidly in any children’s film.
The supporting cast are charming and diverse, though they lack individual screentime and sadly end up a little too archetypal. The other four members of the Big Hero 6 are; Fred the enthusiastic stoner (T.J. Miller, who is most likely inspired by Shaggy, but there’s a nod or two to Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman), Wasabi the neurotic teddy bear type (Damon Wayans, Jr.), Go-Go the female bad-ass (Jamie Chung) and Honey Lemon the female sweetheart (Génesis Rodriguez).
While my descriptions seem reductive, I will emphasise that there are tons of subtle touches to these characters, and their humorous interactions bring out their real potential. These four are the main reason why this film would warrant a sequel, or a TV spin-off. They share a pretty typical team dynamic, but some things are classic for a reason.
Technically the film is another skilful and consistent effort by Disney. It’s a real shame that the merchandise, the cheap TV shows and the irritating teen pop stars often distract from how much expertise and detail go into their cinematic films. This film is as beautiful as any other Disney effort, and it’s striking to think that CGI animation is still in its relative infancy. We’re barely a decade past the point when Pixar finally managed to animate human characters organically, and now it’s something we can take as a given.
Based on other reviews, it seems nobody dislikes Big Hero 6, but there is a divide between those who thought it was exceptional and those who thought it was unremarkable. If you want a complex, innovative plot you won’t get one. If you want some great action, you’ll be satisfied but not blown away. If you want a child-friendly but also mature, witty and heartfelt tone with a sprinkling of Disney whimsy, then that is exactly what you’ll get.
As for myself, going in without any high expectations, I absolutely adored this film and was swept up in the emotional journey. I wasn’t personally bothered by the generic storyline and predictable twists, because there are younger and less savvy children who need to follow it and it was done competently enough. I highly recommend Big Hero 6, especially for the wonderful character of Baymax who steals the show. Even if you don’t love the film as much as I do, you will certainly be satisfied. Bring on the sequel, I say!
Side Note: Big Hero 6 is preceded by a short film named Feast, about a Boston Terrier named Winston and his life in food. While focusing on the contents of his bowl, Winston is a passive witness to a touching love story between his owner and his girlfriend. The film, like the wonderful Paperman, uses an innovative combination of 2D and 3D animation named “Meander”.
I’d welcome an entire film in this style, especially now that we’ve seen it used in colour as well as in monochrome. It’s sweet, heartfelt and vintage Disney. The return to releasing shorts alongside their feature films only makes them even more appealing to see in cinemas. Many have said they enjoyed Feast even more than Big Hero 6, and I can see why. You’ll especially enjoy it if you’re a dog lover, and appreciate their obsession with sharing your dinner.