Set in the Asian-influenced, techno-punk universe of San Fransokyo (fascinatingly enough, an alternate universe version of San Fransico that was rebuilt by Japanese immigrants after the Earthquake of 1906), “Big Hero 6” is a superhero film and the ultimate nerd fantasy movie. It’s one of those superhero flicks where science is a superpower, and the incredible intelligence of the leads, along with their hearts, plays a large part in saving the day.
It seems like I should enjoy this movie, but despite liking several elements of it, I don’t really like “Big Hero 6” as a whole. It’s taken me a while to pinpoint why, but I’m pretty sure it’s because outside of Hiro, Tadashi and Baymax, I’m really not feeling the characters in this movie. They feel less like characters and more like archetypes painted in broad strokes. You’ve got the conceited child prodigy who’s secretly sensitive; the cool, hardworking older brother who wants to save his little brother from becoming a jailbird; the cool tough girl; the bubbly nerdy girl; the obnoxious rad dude; the jittery OCD guy; the blunt, oblivious robot mascot; the loud, naive and high-strung aunt; the slimy, untrustworthy businessman; the professor mentor with a secret. These are all very stock character types (and some of them they can get pretty annoying at times).
The title, “Big Hero 6”, is also pretty misleading: it makes it seem like the movie is about the superhero team-up (which doesn’t occur until an hour in). The focus is actually kept firmly on Hiro, Baymax and Tadashi, and the other heroes – Gogo, Honey Lemon, Fred and Wasabi – are just along for the ride. They’re primarily there so they can back up Hiro and act as his support system. Perhaps as a consequence of there being so many characters in this movie, we never learn much about them beyond their surface personalities, and they feel pretty two-dimensional. While the film is already long enough as it is, they feel like they could have been fleshed out more. The other reason I’m not too keen on this movie is because I feel like the quality of the writing steadily declines after the villain, Yokai, is unmasked as Callaghan and the film slips from being a formulaic but otherwise interesting story to a giant ball of cliches (but I’ll talk about that more when I dive into the characters).
Hiro (who has a blunt but nonetheless appropriate name) is a fourteen year old child prodigy who specializes in robotics. Hiro is established very early on to be crafty, capable of hustling professional criminals, but not so good with foresight – not anticipating what the criminals would do or how he would escape after they realized they’d been conned. Hiro is initially very cocky and arrogant, content to coast by on his above-average intelligence and game robot fights for years, while pretending to be uninterested in his brother’s ‘nerd stuff’ (one wonders what Hiro initially considers himself to be, if not also a nerd). Still, his brother manages to steer him away from a life of crime and convince him to pursue a higher education – using his gifts for the sake of discovery.
Underneath an aloof and sardonic exterior, there is an anxious and excitable young boy who relies a lot on his older brother for guidance and support and it’s good the movie never forgets how young he is supposed to be. When Tadashi is killed in a fire early in the film, Hiro is crushed by his loss, and spends most of the film drawing away from his friends and family, and going through the various stages of grief. When Hiro suspects foul-play is involved in his brother’s death, he becomes obsessed with tracking down the man responsible, to give himself a purpose and receive some closure. Throughout the movie, Hiro is presented as needing his friends, both old and new, to ground him and help him with his depression, even if he doesn’t want them around.
Hiro’s most engaging moment is during the film’s wham scene, because every Disney movie in the 2010’s tends to have a wham scene where either the protagonist’s character arc reaches a pivotal turning point, or something dark and uncomfortable is revealed about them that had been somewhat obscured before – like Ralph wrecking Vanellope’s cart, or Hans showing his true colors to Anna, or Judy Hopps’ prejudices coming to light during her press conference.
When Hiro discovers Professor Callaghan is a godawful person and that his brother died for nothing, he tries to kill him, and this is an excellent example of a protagonist doing something super messed-up that the audience doesn’t approve of, but at the same time understands why he would do it. Because one, Callaghan is the one who wanted Hiro to attend his school; two, he stole his invention for his own twisted scheme; three, he straight-up told him to his face that he couldn’t give a fuck that he got his brother blown up; and four, despite complaining about how Krei’s carelessness got his daughter killed, Callaghan had zero problems trying to straight-up murder his own young students over five times and counting as soon as they inconvenienced him. Forget about siccing Baymax on him, if I were Hiro, I’d be trying to maul his ass myself.
At the same time, you’re glad the others stop him because one, they did not sign up for a ride on-board the murder train to become Hiro’s accomplices; two, he betrayed Baymax’s trust in him and defiled the purpose of his brother’s dream project; and three, Hiro himself would regret crossing that moral line when he cooled off. With his character arc having peaked in this scene, Hiro receives a pep talk from Tadashi from beyond the grave, and decides to bring Callaghan in the proper way, working through the rest of his grief in the process.
Hiro’s sidekick and eventual best friend, Baymax, is a robotic nurse meticulously created by his brother, Tadashi, before his death. Baymax is chubby, fluffy and marshmallow-like, and his appearance reminds me a lot of the Michelin Man. Naturally, he’s cute, really cute. If Tadashi intended for Baymax to become a nurse though, he probably should have taught him more about a patient’s consent, because Baymax’s lack of boundaries is a lawsuit just waiting to happen. Baymax has a very blunt, honest and observant personality, and his character trope of being the oblivious, socially awkward robot is one the audience ought to be very familiar with, so a lot of the humor around him doesn’t really land in my opinion (though he does have a great, blink-and-you-miss-it joke about his defibrillators).
Baymax fares a lot a better in the moments that are meant to be profound and heartfelt, shared between him and Hiro. Baymax is determined to care for Hiro and understand human emotions, and as the film progresses Hiro stops seeing him as just a tool or a remnant of his brother and starts viewing him as a friend, teaching him to have fun and developing a bromance. Baymax also has something of an arc over the course of the film – he starts off indulging Hiro’s every whim out of naivety and a desire to please, but as he comes to know him better, he learns to set boundaries, employ logic and reason and pick their battles wisely. I think the scene where Hiro has to leave him behind in the void is supposed to be the culmination of their friendship, but honestly it feels hollow and tacked-on. Hiro has already overcome most of his issues at this point without this bit of emotional manipulation, and the audience doesn’t believe for a second that this scene will stick because Disney doesn’t have the guts to kill off a co-protagonist. The fact that it’s reversed only three minutes later only serves to make it feel even more pointless.
Like Baymax, the other heroes in Hiro’s team start out as friends and classmates to his late brother, and Hiro has a connection to them through him, but he goes on to befriend them as well during their first big mystery. Gogo is an abrasive and hotblooded punk girl. She knows all about mechanics, has a need for speed and serves as the team’s designated driver during their car chases. While Gogo is a classic tomboy, the tall blonde Honey Lemon is more traditionally feminine. Honey Lemon is a bubbly, outgoing chemist who is very nonviolent and acts as the heart of the team. While her suit helps to increase her endurance and stamina, Honey Lemon likes to rely on her knowledge of chemistry to help her in battle and incapacitate her foes.
Wasabi is the team’s offense. Ironically, Wasabi is very neurotic, admittedly has OCD and is something of a bundle of nerves. After getting dragged into the Yokai mystery, Wasabi has to face his fears and find his inner strength to help the team. Wasabi is probably the most entertaining member of the group, since his character pleasantly goes against the usual stereotypes for black guys and is very goofy at times. Fred is the odd man out in the group. He’s the only member of the team who wasn’t a super genius beforehand, being the university’s mascot, and is a giant comic book, superhero fantasy fanboy. Fred has a very laidback and at times obnoxious personality, rarely taking anything seriously and giving off the radical dude, slacker vibe. Later on, Fred is revealed to have a wealthy background and rich parents, which allows the team to use his mansion as a base of operations.
The villain, Yokai, is an enigma. An implacable, shadowy masked man who stalks the city and has corrupted Hiro’s invention for his own selfish ends (there are some parallels between Hiro and Yokai). It turns out he’s actually Tadashi’s former professor, Callaghan, who’s furious with slimy businessman Krei for accidentally getting his daughter killed, and is willing to murder anyone who gets in his way and potentially destroy the city to get his revenge (to say this isn’t a normal reaction to losing someone would be an understatement). I really hate this character, and not in a ‘love to hate’ kind of way either. There’s nothing interesting, engaging or thought-provoking about him, he’s just an enormous hypocrite – an unashamedly terrible person who tries to portray himself as a victim of someone else (kind of like Rose’s mom from “Titanic”).
The narrative hardly ever calls out his blatant hypocrisy, and he gets off way too easily by the end of it for my liking (Disney doesn’t kill off their villains as often as they used to, but I think this one needed a good death scene as a consequence of refusing to give up his dangerous obsession). Right before he’s carted away by the police, the movie portrays it as a tragedy that he got so caught up in his hatred and vengeance towards Krei that he cost himself his chance to be with his daughter again when she was actually recovered and rescued, but honestly I could not care less about him. I feel sorry for his daughter. When she gets out of the hospital, she’s going to have to learn that her daddy is a murderous psychopath who got himself thrown in prison for trying to murder his students and destroy the city, and after everything she’s already experienced in the void, that’s gonna hurt.
Speaking of Callaghan’s daughter, I really think it would have been better if Abigail had remained dead, not only because her last minute plot twist feels like a cop-out that retroactively defangs most of Callaghan’s arc, but also because a major problem “Big Hero 6” has is a lack of substantial consequences. Professor Callaghan is revealed to have faked his death the whole time, his daughter was only lost in the void and never really died, Baymax is left to die in the void but that gets reversed only three minutes later. Despite the main theme of this movie being grief and loss, ironically the only one who dies and actually stays dead is Tadashi (who apparently had terrible luck compared to everyone else), which takes a good bit away from it.
While we’re on the subject of him, Tadashi is Hiro’s older brother and a college man. Like Hiro, Tadashi is a robotics genius, who pours most of his time, effort and intelligence into his pet project, Baymax. He’s characterized as goofy and fun-loving, but just as equally dedicated, hard-working and morally sound. Tadashi, naturally, wants to look out for his younger brother and keep him on the straight and narrow, even if he has to needle him or trick him to do so. Like most siblings, they fight and it’s implied Hiro somewhat takes him for granted early on, since he’s always been there for him, but it’s quickly clear that Tadashi is the greatest role model figure Hiro has in the absence of his deceased parents. Ironically, Tadash’s most noble trait is what gets him killed – he’s altruistic to a fault. Running into a burning building to try to save his professor gets him blown up and killed, which is why civilians are advised not to try to take on the role of firefighters outside of movies. Tadashi’s death is the driving force for most of Hiro’s actions throughout the film until the last act, when he learns not to let his anger compromise his moral convictions or his brother’s memory.
As you would expect for a Disney film produced in the 2010’s, the computer-generated animation is amazingly detailed and rendered near-perfectly, with some solid direction from Don Hall and Chris Williams. While the shockwave of the explosion that claims Tadashi will catch you off guard with just how palatable it is, the first noticeable jump in animation quality is during Gogo’s exciting, high-octane car chase through the city. But this is only a precursor for the real highlight of the movie, Hiro and Baymax’s first flight around San Fransokyo, in which both the animation and the direction soar. It’s easily my favorite sequence of the movie, and a nice reminder that even in some of their weaker films, Disney has still come a long way in mastering the art of 3-D animation since they started in the 2000’s.
The second most visually striking scene in the film is Hiro and Baymax’s journey into the void – a giant, purple, wormhole-like expanse with colors dancing everywhere like a supernova. I might not like this scene that much, but there’s no denying it is beautiful. San Fransokyo is a visually enticing if underdeveloped environment that I wouldn’t have minded learning more about; one of the better aspects of this movie is how real the world Hiro and Baymax live in always feels. Henry Jackman’s pulsing, electronic score is a good fit for the emphasis on technology in this movie, and the Fallout Boy single “Immortals” is just the right song to get one pumped up for a training montage.
There’s a fair amount of good things about “Big Hero 6” (like Hiro, Baymax and the animation), and there’s also a fair amount of things I dislike about it. The characters are overly generic, the villain is more annoying than he is interesting, and the last act is way too fangless. As far as Disney films go, I don’t think “Big Hero 6” is a bad movie, but I do think it’s disappointingly average.
* “No one likes a sore loser, little boy” Fails to follow his own advice two minutes later.
* “I spilled Wasabi on my shirt one time, people! One time!”
* “On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your pain?” “Physical or emotional?” *Tadashi’s puppy dog eyes.*
* Fred, you’re really annoying.
* “Sorry Mr. Krei, but they’re not for sell” “Wow, I thought you were smarter than that” Oh snap.
* “Mr. Krei, that’s my brother’s” Nice catch, Tadashi. Never trust shady businessmen in movies.
* There’s a fun alternate universe out there where Hiro and Tadashi attended college together and became nerd-inventor brothers.
* “Hiro, if I could have one superpower right now, it would be the ability to crawl through this camera, and give you a big hug” Hiro doesn’t want your hug, Fred.
* “Diagnosis: Puberty”.
* “You gave me a heart attack!” “My hands are equipped with defibrillators. Clear!”
* Baymax runs out of battery power at just the right time for the skeptical policeman to think Hiro’s a liar, because of course he does.
* Animal abuse (Mochi hates you now, Hiro).
* “You look sick” “I cannot be sick, I am a robot” “It’s just an expression”.
* Hiro, you are way too into this, boy (on that note, who else thinks Hiro’s design wouldn’t look out of place in a “How To Train Your Dragon” movie?).
* “Get ’em Baymax!” Heh.
* “Why have we stopped?!” “The light’s red!” “THERE ARE NO RED LIGHTS IN A CAR CHASE!”
* “Welcome to mi casa, that’s French for ‘front door'” “It’s really not”.
* “Do you feel it? Our origin starts now. We’re gonna be superheroes!”
* I’d like to introduce Baymax 2.0.” “He’s glorious!” He looks like Optimus Prime’s rounder, younger brother.
* “I fail to see how flying makes me a better healthcare companion” “I fail to see how you fail to see that it’s awesome!”
* “Baymax, destroy! Destroy him!”
* There is a very dark alternate universe out there where Honey Lemon was a few seconds too late to stop Baymax from shooting that creep Callaghan, and they all became complicit in Hiro’s revenge murder at far too young an age.
* “I don’t understand. Callaghan was such a good man” Somehow, I really doubt that.
* “I can’t stretch anymore! Wait… it’s a suit”.
* “Our health care program prevents us from harming humans” That’s a shame.
* Comic book legend, Stan Lee, shows up for the end credits gag as Fred’s dad, because why not?
- Nostalgia Critc; Animatedkid; The Animation Commendation I & II; Katejohns619; Silver Petticoat; Disney In Your Day; Tor; Jaysen Headley Writes; All The Disney Movies; Coco Hits NY; Healed1337; Richard’s Blog; Never Felt Better; Writing Through Vet School; Dave Simpson; Daily Geekette; Pages Unbound; Fairbanks On Film; Meganusa’s Personal Blog; J & J Productions; Drogemeister’s Lair; The Film Experience; Eugene Woodbury; Mummy Boon; Geek Of Critique; Animation Fascination; The Entertainment Nut; Projected Realities; A Pondering Moose; My Paper Flowers; Simon Dillon; Brenda Rochelle’s Neverland; Amazingly Crystal; What Is Ann Watching?; So I Pondered; Hypersonic55; Movie Nation; Scott’s Self-Indulgent Movie Review Blog; These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty; Chris At The Pictures; Fade To Zach; Grantland; Film Comment; Articles Of Destroyer; The Rabbite Perspective; The OJ Review; ICRT; The Watchers; The Mad Prophet.
- Finding Hiro by Darkmuse711.