I’m genuinely surprised that it took Disney so many years to make an animated movie out of one of their many Marvel properties. I’m even more surprised that Disney has been actively downplaying the Marvel connection on Big Hero 6 given the lucrative success of their various Avengers movies.
Still the movie has little to do with the original source material, and to be honest, it doesn’t feel like a super hero flick for two-thirds of it. It instead is a simple tale of a boy and his robot, surprisingly, it makes for a far more interesting film. So we follow Hiro Hamada, a 14-year-old robotics genius, who would rather make a quick buck with illegal robot fights rather than help the greater good in San Froyoko, a bizarre cross between San Francisco and Tokyo. That changes when his earnest older brother, Tadashi, inspires him to pursue his passion for robotics at his college along with his friends Fred, Honey Lemon, Wasabi, and Go Go (super Japanese, just roll with it). Course, said passion gets sidelined when Tadashi dies horribly in a freak accident (because this would not be a superhero or Disney flick without at least one death in the family). Hiro is devastated but is comforted by his brother’s invention, Baymax, an inflatable and elastic robot designed to be a health care companion. But it is through Baymax programming to not only cure Hiro of his emotional damage, that Hiro discovers that his brother’s death may not have been an accident, leading him and his friends on colorful adventure that ventures into a dark as hell place.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the main thrust of the story is between Hiro and Baymax. Hiro has the right balance of being a brat and being sympathetic at the same time. Baymax is a master class of character design to show how simplicity can give something a whole new breath of life. Baymax’s defining feature however is his programming to help people in need. See, the movie very wisely does not go down the tired route of introducing a machine and then implying or outright saying it’s developing a “human soul” or some nonsense like it. Instead, Baymax’s interpretation of his own basic programming to be a health care companion meand caring for both physical and mental ailmemts. This desire to help people allows Hiro and the audience to PROJECT humanity on Baymax. It might seem like a small difference, but it makes the emotional payoff at the end that much more satisfying.
The other characters are all amazingly well designed and well acted by the likes of TJ Miller, Jamie Chung, Genesis Rodriguez, and Damon Waynes, Jr. But what I really love is that all five of the humans are three dimensional characters who are all united by by their love of science. Which leads to the creation of their super hero outfits, that are in fact extensions of each of their own scientific disciplines. As with Interstellar, the movie gets brownie points alone for having such an almost fetishism for science; but unlike Interstellar, the emotional connections between characters actually pays off.
If I have a critique of the film, is that the film moves TOO fast. Some might not mind the brisk pace, but I personally dig moments where characters just chill out and shoot the shit to flesh them out a bit and give them an extra bit of humanity. So it’s a bit of a bummer there aren’t more moments where the friends hang out and you get to know them. And like I said, the whole super hero business doesn’t kick in until the last third of the movie. Surprising…given that this has been marketed as a movie about the origin of a super hero team. Regardless, the story that is there is about the relationship between a boy and his robot that is as resonating as The Iron Giant. What’s more is that this is the tale of a boy moving on from the painful loss of a family member to become something greater through the help of the renainder of his family. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie, and while it’s not perfect, I’m giving it a low…
PS: if you take your kids to see the movie, just buy the Baymax toy now. Trust me, your kid will love it and you’re saving yourself a ton of grief during the holiday shopping.