Big Hero 6 does something that was inevitable: It mashes elements of the Marvel movie writing formula and the Disney movie writing formula to create a product that is rather predictable and all too familiar to anyone who’s seen their share of Marvel super heroes or Disney animated films. Big Hero 6 just won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (congratulations to directors Don Hall and Chris Williams), although most animation fans will tell you the race wasn’t fair since the wildly popular and inventive The Lego Movie failed to get nominated. Lego aside, I don’t believe that Big Hero 6 was the best of the nominees. How to Train Your Dragon 2 delivered more punch and the surprise at the end had a better emotional payoff than Big Hero 6. But that’s just me.
Awards are not why this film was made, though, nor the opinions of 45-year-old pseudo film critics. It was to entertain and excite young boys and girls. I’ve seen the film twice now, both times with my super hero/animation fanatic 13-year-old son. He all loved it. In the end, that’s all that matters. Whether or not I could see the big reveal of the villain’s identity from a mile away doesn’t matter. Whether or not I believe that the screenplay manipulates you into caring about the main character doesn’t matter. Whether or not I felt that every single supporting character came out of the stock supporting character handbook doesn’t matter. What matters is that he and millions of kids loved it and understood the filmmakers’ message.
Set in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo, Hiro (Ryan Potter ), is a 14-year-old boy living with his Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) and older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney). Their parents are dead. Hiro is a genius ad can build robots. He chooses to spend his time participating in illegal back alley robot fights. While he’s able to make a lot of cash, he’s wasting his potential, as Tadashi tells him.
Tadashi studies at the local university, and he works in the robotics lab. He takes Hiro to the lab one day and introduces him to his rag-tag group of science friends: GoGo (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr._ and Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), as well as a science groupie, Fred, played by TJ Miller. Tedashi wants Hiro to meet the personal healthcare robot that he’s built. This is Baymax (wonderfully played by Scott Adsit). Hiro also meets Tedahsi’s mentor, Callaghan, (James Cromwell), who offers Hiro a place at the university if he wants (apparently 14-year-olds don’t attend high school in the distant future). Hiro applies, gets in and it looks like the future is very bright.
Alas, no hero’s journey is complete without a tragedy to propel him forward, and that’s what happens when Tedashi rushes into a fire to rescue Callaghan and both die. Grief stricken, Hiro reprograms Baymax to help track down their killer. The one and only suspect is Alistair Krei (Disney regular Alan Tudyk), an entrepreneur who was enemies with Callaghan. Krei is rich and powerful, and Hiro is no match for him, so he recruits the science gang to form a super hero team to take on and take down Krei.
If you’ve seen one super hero movie, you’ll sit through Big Hero 6 and be able to spot the roadmap the writers followed in coming up with the Big Hero 6 script. What’s left to admire are the technical aspects of the film. It’s beautiful movie to watch and the production design is inventive. The acting isn’t cloying and the character arcs, though derivative, stick to their formula. The biggest plus is Baymax, the inflatable robot that becomes the Hiro’s best friend and surrogate brother. The innocence of Baymax is reminiscent of The Iron Giant, an infinitely better film about a boy struggling to deal with loss and finding companionship in a mechanical creature. Baymax’s role is to teach Hiro to believe in himself and become the hero he always had inside of himself. As a parent I love this message and applaud any movie that tries to teach that to children.
As a fan of animation, I know that twice through Big Hero 6 was enough for me.
The Blu-ray is filled with many extras, including The Origin Story of “Big Hero 6”: Hiro’s Journey, Big Animator 6: The Characters Behind the Characters, and Deleted Scenes. It also includes the animated short, Feast, which also won an Academy Award this year. It also comes with a DVD and digital copy of the film.