Though we’re still reeling from Frozen-fever (Or Frozen-fatigue), Disney has followed up its infamous musical hit with a superhero adaptation of a pretty obscure Marvel title: Big Hero 6. 2014 has been actually pretty good run for all things Marvel, with The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy winning plenty of praise. Still, it seems we’ve been saturated with superhero flicks as of late; many critics have complained about the audacity of Disney to release yet another superhero origin story.
But does Big Hero 6 simply fall into tried-and-true origin story tropes, or does it perhaps succeed in packing just enough punch, just enough heart, to make it a fun animated film?
Adapted loosely from a Marvel property of the same name, Big Hero 6 follows the journey of teen-genius, Hiro Hamada, from cocky underground robot pit-fighter to superhero status. Though first involved in the seedy underbelly of robot pit-fighting and gambling, he is soon inspired by his older brother, Tadashi, to put his “big brain” to good use with a surprise visit to a prestigious robotics university. There he meets Tadashi’s best friends—an eclectic mix of geeks and science-fiction enthusiasts with a thing for food-themed nicknames—though more importantly, Hiro is introduced to their science projects. From GoGo’s high-speed cycle, Wasabi’s precise lasers, Honey Lemon’s chemical expertise, and Tadashi’s intuitive personal healthcare robot, Baymax, Hiro finds himself in a techy paradise that he needs to attend, too.
However, as soon as Hiro’s world begins to open up to the possibility of something more with a shiny new acceptance letter and a potential college degree, tragedy strikes, and he tries to seclude himself to deal with his grief. Thankfully, Baymax is equipped to not only care for physical hurts, but is able to tackle emotional pain and offer comfort as best as possible. Though trying to solve a mystery while also going toe-to-toe with a super villain might not be a proper prescription for grief, Baymax and Hiro are on the case to save the day and mend a broken heart.
Alright, I’ll be pretty frank when I preface the rest of this review with this very subjective opinion: Big Hero 6 is fun, but it is not quite like Pixar’s superhero classic, The Incredibles, in examining and deconstructing our ideas of “heroism” and “purpose”. In fact, it follows the familiar path of the “origin story”, to a pretty predictable tee, which hasn’t won Big Hero 6 many favors in the “originality” department. But what Big Hero 6 does excel at is in handling the sensitivity of its hard subject matter: grief, loss and the healing process, the power of camaraderie and how it is okay to rely on others, and that perhaps getting even isn’t as satisfying as we’d think.
It also does a pretty fair balance between fighting, comedy, and some serious discussion about feelings, so there’s no fear about seat-squirming, especially during some of the “heavier” bits.
And who better to work through these tough life lessons with Hiro than Baymax? More than just a walking marshmallow, Scott Adsitt brings Baymax to charming life with his voice talents, lending a touch of humor and wit delivered in equal measure and the familiar deadpan of robotic voices. Baymax’s cuddly, but strong, feeling is further enhanced by the top-notch animation employed by Disney. We get a strong sense of Baymax not only by looks (And we got to applause all the soft lighting to get him nice and fluffy), but by his movements. In fact, while some gags might not go over so well, everyone is sure to crack a smile with Adsitt’s lines and Baymax’s big form hampered by itty bitty little feet; it’s really too cute for words.
While Baymax does steal the show, the cast is pretty well-rounded, especially with their punchy one-liners that certainly appeal to the nerd culture crowd that inevitably packs in Disney movie seats. Hiro is the sort of scrappy little hero that gains his footing—eventually—but is endearing with his snark and his general wonder for all things Science. Similarly, the supporting cast of his big brother, Tadashi, and their friends continue to celebrate the love of all things STEM and all things collaboration and innovation. Though, the film does suffer a bit from Hobbit syndrome, with its charming cast of characters with their own quirks that could have been fleshed out or developed further—but hey, we need to play catch up with the main plot so uh, no time for really getting a look at what motivates everyone else beyond a few establishing quirks and visual character design cues.
Speaking of visuals—Big Hero 6 certainly delivers, creating stunning cityscapes that are visually interesting and perhaps some of the best to date. Big Hero 6’s city of “San Fransokyo” combines the sweeping, layered landscape of the San Francisco Bay with architectural touches that would be right at home in Japan. Although I do wonder about this decision (If they wanted the Japanese aesthetic, why not set this adaptation in Japan?), it does look very pretty.
Of course, we cannot talk about Big Hero 6 without noting how it deviates form the original Marvel material pretty far off the mark. In fact, Disney’s choice to change what was an all Japanese super spy team to the eclectic mix of nerds found in Big Hero 6 has earned the Mouse several strong critiques. After all, why did they need to change the cast? Why did they need to change the setting from an actual Japanese team based in Tokyo?
After all, representation matters, and it is a loss that an opportunity for a film that did so well–remember, it beat Interstellar at the Box Office–that could have had an all Asian cast did not make that cut. A very informative post about the changes and why some fans are disappointed with them can be found here for further reading.
I personally walked into Big Hero 6 with some knowledge of the original material–which I honestly found a bit problematic in its own way, too. However, I am also firmly in the camp that will celebrate diversity wins, and though it has not satisfied everyone’s vision for this film, Big Hero 6 does deliver on the feel-good family fun, with homage to nerdom and a profound love for science thrown into the mix, too.
It might not be the best superhero film, but it has the heart that makes it a fun movie to round off a year chock full of superhero flicks.
– Beautiful visuals and animation
– Well-done discussion of a sensitive topic
– Baymax: finally, a mascot character that just isn’t around to push more products but that really steals the show. Also pay attention to the effects used to make Baymax so fluffy and soft like a marshmallow and the sound effects as he walks.
– Feast: Be sure to arrive early for the animated short that plays before the main event–much like Wreck-it Ralph’s Paperman, Feast is a character-driven, lovely short that will leave you smiling (and maybe a little hungry)
– Predictable plot–terribly so, laughably so at some points
– Lost opportunity for a box office hit that could have featured an all Asian cast