I’ve been waiting for Big Hero 6 since the early sneak previews of the art. Admittedly, there was little more to my eagerness than thinking the world looked great and that Hiro was an incredibly cute-looking character. This was also the first time a Marvel property went through the Disney filter, so I was curious to see how that turned out.
I was only familiar in passing with Big Hero 6...largely because someone online had asked why Hiro Hamada wasn’t included in Reed Richard’s Future Foundation – which I followed out of love for Alex Power. Not that he came out of his membership of that little team very well. Anyway, I read the comics, including the utterly terrible original run centred on the Silver Samurai and Sunspot, and while there were a few cringe-inducing elements to the depiction of Japanese people, I was glad the property at least existed. The subsequent mini-serials were rather better, but the main problem was that Hiro was simply not at all likeable.
Thus I was quite glad that Disney were clearly going in a completely different direction, essentially retaining only the names of major characters, plus Hiro being a child genius with a robotic manservant of sorts named Baymax. But Disney’s Baymax is a very, very different Baymax – and that is a blessing, and what makes this film.
The Disneyfied version is set in a hybrid world of Japano-American fantasy, with the city of ‘San Fransokyo’. It’s a little bit of a shame that they didn’t feel they could simply set the film in
, presumably because that
would make it less commercially viable in their home territory. But there’s
also a charm to the mixed aesthetic. In this technologically advanced city,
young Hiro is a bit of a rebel. He has great skill with technology, but uses it
to take part in illegal backstreet Robot Wars technological cock-fights.
As these are shady affairs, he gets in trouble, and it’s up to his gentle,
kind-hearted big brother Tadashi to save him. He gets some very abrupt
character development when he sees his brother’s research lab – including the cute
inflatable healthcare robot Baymax – and is inspired. He creates what are
essentially the cliche of what nanobots can do in sci-fi, only on a macro
scale, and impresses the scientific community. Tokyo
However, at the event at which he is presenting these, there is a catastrophic explosion. His brother goes into the burning building to try to rescue his mentor, and doesn’t make it out. After a period of mourning, Hiro’s one remaining mini robot tries to reunite with all the others – leading him to realize that the explosion was no accident. It’s up to Hiro, along with Baymax and Tadashi’s old workmates, to investigate.
There’s a lot in common with How to Train YourDragon here – including the young boy bonding with a large, powerful, rather goofy non-human companion. And the film admirably manages to hit similar emotional notes. Hiro experiences loss, determination, the dark desire for revenge, and also the exhilaration of flight. The plot moves with just the right amount of exposition, character development, action and resolution.
I do have some plot-related problems. The fact is that the last thing Hiro should have learned from his brother is that someone has to help the needy. In fact, Tadashi should have trusted his mentor could look after himself rather than recklessly putting himself in danger. Then there’s the fact that even though his actions likely make his daughter hate him, the big winner is actually the bad guy – who without his dastardly plan would have never been able to get his loved one back. So while he ended up looking sad in the back of a police car, in fact crime paid for this villain – far beyond his wildest hopes, as all he had sought was petty revenge.
I also have to confess I felt a bit manipulated by the film’s emotional moments. Hiro is already a tragic orphan, but ends up losing his brother too, and then a sacrifice must be made at the end, too – even if perhaps not a lasting one. While Hiro is utterly adorable and I did enjoy seeing him go through a wide range of emotions, at times the losses didn’t ring true and it felt like artificial plucking of heart-strings. His transition from rebel who looks down on ‘nerds’ to science buff also seemed a bit hollow. Did he have no friends at all from his robot-fighting days? No links that lasted into his later life at all? Really?
The tech was a bit much – Hiro’s invention in particular should have revolutionised all science at once. It also rankled just a little that Hiro doesn’t even think to mass-produce Baymaxes as, y’know, the healthcare robot Tadashi intended him to be.
Ultimately, though, I loved the film – just not unreservedly. It was utterly beautiful, especially the animation for water and sky and various types of energy. Hiro was an endlessly loveable little guy, and Baymax’s non-threatening personality was hilarious put into the various perilous situations we saw. The twists were obvious but compelling, and the jokes were genuinely funny. Disney is still in a very good place, and this is one of their better films since embracing CG, very much worthy of Wreck-It Ralph (and the little background references to old Disney films, like the Stitch cushions, were a nice touch). Definitely one I’ll enjoy watching again.