I’m gonna be honest: I really didn’t want to like Big Hero 6, but I was persuaded. I was never that familiar with the original comic series (and from what I hear, they’re an endangered breed), but the sheer concept of Disney independently producing a Marvel property was enough to make every nerd atom in my body gnaw its fingernails. I also knew that the original 6 were supposed to be Japanese. In Disney’s configuration, the Japanese population has shrunk to one, and that’s only if you combine two brothers who are each a half. If the other human heroes had all been zapped to white, that would be a whole ‘nother can of worms, but now they’re white, black, and Hispanic, and there’s one other Asian but she’s Korean now because why not. So I’m only slightly miffed there.
TOKEN SQUAD GOOOOO
My biggest gripe was the gleeful advertising barrage of “Hairy baby!” and the weary gag of Baymax’s deflating arms. The last time I saw jokes in ads repeatedly knocked into folks’ heads was Year One, in which it turned out those were the only remotely funny jokes. So basically I was fully prepared for Big Hero 6 to suck…but I still barreled into the theater on opening day in the childlike hope that it would be frickin’ cool. Turns out it was.
Stop. Sit in the corner and think about what you did.
For those who haven’t been deluged by trailers, Big Hero 6 follows Hiro Hamada, a precocious tech genius in his early teens. He’s all set to study robotics at university just like his big brother Tadashi, but he loses sight of his dream and falls into a funk after Tadashi dies in a fiery “accident”. Hiro finds a new purpose after reactivating Baymax, Tadashi’s healthcare-oriented robotic magnum opus. Baymax is designed to heal any type of injury, so Hiro convinces him that all his emotional wounds will heal if Baymax helps him avenge Tadashi’s death. Along the way, Hiro recruits four of his friends, also Tadashi’s lab partners. The six of them design new gizmos and gadgets to go after the mysterious supervillain Yokai, who may have killed Tadashi to orchestrate a grander scheme.
The vigilante equivalent of “No Billy, Mario Kart is not a replacement for drivers’ ed.”
What really sets Big Hero 6 apart from most family-oriented movies is its focus on loss and the futility of revenge. In a Disney movie. Hoo boy. All the goofy anime-style sci-fi trappings are cute, but there’s no denying that at the core it’s about how to cope with losing a loved one. It’s tempting to lash out and pass the blame around, but it’s better to keep their memory alive by doing what they would have wanted. It kind of struck me as the angry little boy alternative to Frozen, what with the answer to big scary questions about the world being the love between siblings. We’ve even got another puffy white creature as comic relief. However, Big Hero 6 tackles the issue of guilt much more realistically. With laser karate and fire-breathing rubber suits. I said more realistically, okay?
I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING WHO’S CRYING
The plot is little more than a series of fetch quests, but the movie tries to compensate with its characters. Hiro’s mostly your average gap-toothed snarky wunderkind, but he’s balanced out with charm and a raw stubborn streak. Baymax could have been a one note fat joke or a prop, but I was shocked by how much I loved the big galoot. He’s earnest and empathetic, friendly without being obnoxiously chipper. Tadashi is an encouraging role model, ribbing Hiro to realize his potential to help the world, so his death in act one is genuinely upsetting. Fred struck me as a fleshy Olaf and I wasn’t especially fond of him, but Wasabi, GoGo, and Honey Lemon are a lot of fun. I’ve heard a lot of complaints that they were underutilized, and I completely agree. Kudos to the writers for crafting characters I’m dying to know more about, but boo for not giving us more of them. Most people are already sure of Yokai’s true identity going into the movie, but I promise it’s a little sneakier than that. Then again, it’ll take adult viewers a maximum 30-45 minutes to figure out the real answer. You take what you can get. The characters’ interactions are really touching, and it’s a lot of fun to watch them run around together.
It’s official, I want one.
The technobabble and action are nice, but nothing special. Don’t expect anything akin to How to Train Your Dragon for the flight sequences; they’re a cute touch, not a centerpiece. The chases and fights are choreographed more for laughs than for enthralled gasps, and I think they hit that mark. The animation of the microbots is super cool, and made me sufficiently jealous that I didn’t have any. There’s also some downright gorgeous scenery near the end, which made some mathematicians start drooling. The character designs are simplistic and follow through with Disney’s recent big-eyed waif style, although everyone screaming about how “HONEY LEMON IS A COPYPASTA OF RAPUNZEL AND ELSA!!!!!1!!!one” needs to sit down. Besides, have you ever seen a Miyazaki movie? The man’s a cartoon legend, but I swear you could swap all his heroines’ faces and none would be the wiser. For me, that’s small potatoes.
I’m onto you, Hayao.
Big Hero 6 doesn’t actually go big on any front, but it’s refreshing in an odd way. There’s no megalomaniacal psycho trying to destroy the universe or the world or even the city, and our heroes aren’t the sacred Chosen Ones. It’s just a vengeful kid and his friends versus another vengeful guy in a mask, both parties trying to make things right the only way they know how. Against the wild ambitions of Interstellar and Birdman, Big Hero 6 will hardly go down in history, but it’s a great melding of tough emotional and psychological troubles and silly robots and explosions. I definitely recommend it.