Big Hero 6 is a movie we had been waiting on for most of this year. With Disney and Marvel coming off of huge successes from Frozen, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy in the last year, we had high hopes that this would be an equal success. After all, both Marvel and Disney seem to have hit their stride in storytelling – combining forces should be a slam-dunk, right?
For the most part, yes. Big Hero 6 gave us much of what we wanted. It’s a superhero film through a Disney lens, perfect for kids while also still engaging and entertaining for adults. It also carefully balances the audience it’s aiming for to appeal to both boys and girls, with a subtle message that geniuses – and heroes – come in all shapes, sizes, and skin colors.
Here’s our full review of Big Hero 6:
From Walt Disney Animation Studios, the team behind Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, comes Big Hero 6, an action-packed comedy-adventure about the special bond that develops between Baymax, a plus-sized inflatable robot, and prodigy Hiro Hamada. When a devastating event befalls the city of San Fransokyo and catapults Hiro into the midst of danger, he turns to Baymax and his close friends; adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago, neatnik Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred. Determined to uncover the mystery, Hiro transforms his friends into a band of high-tech heroes called Big Hero 6.
Big Hero 6 is an interesting mix of being a classic superhero story and a fairly traditional Disney film. We have the Disney protagonist – young, orphaned, ready to go off and have their adventure – but we also have a very typical superhero origin story that could have been taken from the script for Iron Man: genius inventor finds that his technology is being used by an evil mastermind, uses technology left by his deceased family member and his own developed super suit to do battle against his own tech. It’s really almost a Disney version of Iron Man, without the drinking and playboy shenanigans. (But still the gambling.)
This makes for a film that is both extremely satisfying from the point of view of action and spectacle. The scenes of Baymax and Hiro flying through the skies of San Fransokyo are right up there with those of Stark flying in his Iron Man armor, and the battles between the team and Yokai are easily as well done as those of the Avengers facing against the Chitauri. But it also giving us plenty of time to explore the family dynamics and relationship between Hiro and his brother Tadashi (and then later, Baymax).
The team of heroes, aside from Hiro and Baymax, include Honey Lemon, Wasabi, Go Go and Fred. They round the cast out nicely, with each character having enough personality to be distinct, and their various super suits are varied enough to keep the heroes from being redundant. Other members of the cast have certainly enough personality to keep them interesting and make them more than just background, and they’re all fairly consistently developed, which is certainly a plus.
On the downside, one of the glaring missteps that we noticed was that the friendship between Hiro and the rest of the gang is almost completely left off-screen. We have it clearly established that they were all very good friends (and classmates) with Tadashi, and it is implied that Tadashi told them all about his genius-prodigy-younger-brother-who-has-been-wasting-his-time-with-bot-fights. There is a montage that has the potential to establish that Hiro has begun forging friendships with the rest of the gang, but their appearance in that montage is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short.
Similarly, they’re present at the memorial for Tadashi, but we don’t really see them interacting with Hiro, yet by the time we get to the second act, we’re supposed to just accept that they are all the closest of friends, and that the idea of putting on super suits and fighting Yokai is something they will all just go along with.
A lot of this is simply a result of an unbalanced script. While establishing the relationship between Hiro and Tadashi is vital, a bit too much time is paid to it, and therefore not enough time is left to create the bonds between Hiro and Go Go, Honey Lemon, Wasabi and Fred. In fact, for all that they are each developed a bit, and the characters have distinct personalities and interests, we don’t see a lot of time given to any member of the team.
It’s a tough thing to balance, and certainly something that creators of other ensemble superhero films have struggled with. But one only needs to look at The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy to see where it works well. Big Hero 6 falls just a little short on that regard.
But what balances this misstep and makes the film delightful is Hiro and Baymax. Baymax is, perhaps, Disney’s most successful “cute sidekick” creation of the past two decades. He’s adorable and cute, but is also absent of the more annoying traits of the cute sidekick. Although ignorant of many things, Baymax is never dumb. His voice is calm and soothing instead of loud and grating. (The one thing I didn’t like as much about Olaf in Frozen.) And he absolutely is vital to the plot, in a way that cute sidekicks never are.
Little kids will want a plush Baymax to cuddle. Older kids will want an armored-up Baymax to play with and to fight alongside the Avengers and Justice League and Incredibles. And parents will wish they had a Baymax to send out in to the world alongside their children.
We have great action, inspired character design, and a really touching story about two brothers. Add in a villain with a complex motivation, and some great moral lessons and Disney delivers again. One positive is the diversity in the film. Of the five main (human) heroes, we have a mix of ethnicities, and two of five are female.
And while Honey Lemon is animated in a more exaggerated “eyes bigger than her knees” way, Go Go is a more solidly built woman. It might seem like a minor detail, but having thighs that would naturally be larger due to muscle development for a female character is significant to me, and having the two female heroes drawn with such different proportions sends the message that female heroes can come in different shapes and sizes.
Insufficient time is given to four members out of the six heroes to make them fully-realized characters. They’re great sketches, but that’s all they are. More time spent forming the core friendship and unifying force of the team would have resulted in a more cohesive story. There were moments where the team felt like background players for Hiro and Baymax.
There are also some moments in the film that might be a little hard for younger kids. While Hiro and Tadashi’s parents are long gone when the movie starts, Tadashi’s death doesn’t come until we’ve already grown to like him and see how much he means to Hiro. His death is sudden and jarring, which could upset some kids.
Equally sad is a moment near the end that left Mira in tears. I don’t want to give away the details, but if you see the film and reach that point (and you’ll know it when it happens) with an upset kid, just know that the very end isn’t as tragic as this moment seems and it will get better. As a parent who often has to get advance peeks at films so I know when I’ll need to reassure my sensitive child, I promise it still ends on a happy note for the characters involved in that moment.
I also can’t understand why they decided to have Hiro and Tadashi raised by their aunt. Some might say the alternate family arrangement is a sign of diversity, but Disney already has a long track record of dead parents. The story would have worked equally as well if one parent was always traveling for business and the other was busy trying to keep up the bakery at home. Or a divorced parent scenario, perhaps.
If you’re a big fan of the appearances of the Big Hero 6 from Marvel Comics, then this movie is not for you. Their names and powers are (mostly) the same, but the characters couldn’t be much more different.
Also, something I wasn’t aware of until after I saw the film, several people were upset by the choice to make Fred a white guy. In the comics he was a member of the Ainu, a group of indigenous people on a Japanese island who historically were oppressed and discriminated against. I can see why Disney made the choice, since few Americans would know anything about the Ainu and it would be difficult to work into a movie designed for kids, but I also understand why it upset people.
Again, Big Hero 6 is not a perfect movie, and it would be very easy to fall prey to letting this movie become a victim of over-expectations. Which would be a shame, because what Big Hero 6 is, is a lot of fun. There’s a good heart-warming story at the film’s core, accompanied by some great action, incredible visuals, solid voice acting, and lovable characters.
Don’t overthink it. Sit back, relax and enjoy the film, and I think you’ll find Big Hero 6 to be a worthwhile experience. We really enjoyed the advanced screening we attended (the girls even said that they thought it was better than Frozen, which I had to disagree with them on), and have since gone to see it again and enjoyed it equally a second time.
Also, don’t forget that this is a Marvel movie. Look for the requisite Stan Lee cameo appearance, and be sure to stick around for the post-credits stinger.
Disney has typically included an original short film before their films, and they’ve really been knocking it out of the park with the last few animated releases. Wreck It Ralph featured the exquisite Paperman and Frozen gave us the nostalgic Get a Horse. Big Hero 6 one-ups them with Feast, which is both incredibly funny and heart-breakingly sweet. The story of one man’s life through the dog he adopts – seen entirely from mealtimes. If Feast doesn’t tug on your heartstrings, then you’re made of stone.