The film is preceded by a beautiful watercolor-inspired short “Feast,” about a dog named Winston whose appetite grows and wanes in direct proportion to changes in his owners life. Like many opening animated shorts before Disney films, there’s virtually no dialogue, and pure visual language is used to communicate emotions across years. Well done.
Right out of the gate, “Big Hero 6” is a movie with some big shoes to fill; it’s the first Disney animated film based on a Marvel Comics property, though it has no connection to the already well-established Marvel Cinematic Universe. What it has going for it is its identity as an affecting coming-of-age story that also happens to be a gorgeously animated superhero action film in its own right; it’s well-directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, with an excellent voice cast and a sorely needed shot of racial and gender-based diversity in the overcrowded superhero blockbuster scene. Throw in a smart, breezy screenplay and a pro-science/technology angle and Disney/Marvel clearly has another winner on their hands. It’s clear that they’re hoping to turn this one into another franchise, and if the next one is as intelligent, action-packed, and emotionally visceral as this one, then sign me up!
Based very loosely on the Marvel Comic of the same name, originally about a Japanese state-sanctioned hero team, Disney’s “Big Hero 6” follows Hiro Hamada, a 14-year-old scientific prodigy living in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo who’s gifted in the field of robotics; he uses his gifts to get the best of competitors in illegal bot-fighting tournaments. His brother Tadashi brings him to his college with hopes to kickstart his intellect, which leads to Hiro creating millions of microbots that can form themselves into any shape or structure imaginable. It also leads to Hiro meeting Baymax, an inflatable medical robot invented by Tadashi who’s a cross between Siri and a medical bay.
When his brother is killed in an explosion following the unveiling of the microbots and a menacing foe in a Kabuki mask takes control of them for his own purposes, Hiro recruits the newly upgraded warrior Baymax and his brother’s rag tag team of science friends, laser expert Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), speedster GoGo Tomaga (Jamie Chung), chemical engineer Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodriguez), and school mascot/monster enthusiast Fred (T.J. Miller), to help track their new foe down.
One thing that intrigues me the most about the overall setup of “Big Hero 6” is how ingenious the character of Baymax is; he’s a medical robot who’s built to serve whoever needs his medical attention, and his ultra literal AI goes along with Hiro’s questions about his brother’s death and the forming of the team because he feels it will stabilize Hiro’s new pubescent tendencies.The relationship between Baymax and Hiro is the core of the heart of “Big Hero 6,” and their interplay is woven beautifully with real emotional heft. So simple in design and appearance with his stubby little feet but brought to convincing life through the efforts of the Disney animators and an admirable vocal performance from Scott Adsit, Baymax’s functionality and deadpan Siri-esque literalism establish him as a reactionary and convincing portrayal of how AI of the future might actually act, along the lines of 2012’s underseen sci-fi gem “Robot and Frank.”
While the film serves as an emotional origin/healing of sorts for Hiro and Baymax, it’s also very much about the origin of the titular team. The team is refreshingly diverse, a problem that many fans (myself included) have lobbied at Marvel since the release of “The Avengers,” when it comes to race and gender representation, and not in the hackneyed 1980s forced cartoon diversity way, either. The whole team has well-rounded personalities that extend beyond mere stereotypes and their powers actually stem from their scientific interests, from Wayans Jr.’s muscular neat freak laser cutter Wasabi to no-nonsense adrenaline junkie magnetic-wheeled speed demon Gogo, to Honey Lemon’s bubbly chemical engineer with a weaponized purse that re-creates the Periodic Table and the laid-back Fred’s fire-breathing monster suit. I like Gogo’s battle cry of “woman up!,” which she uses regardless of the gender of the person she shouts it at, and T.J. Miller is the most tolerable he’s ever been as professional mascot Fred.
It’s also been a long time since a kids film, Disney or otherwise, has been so enthusiastic about the study of science and technology. Trust me when I say that, the way “Big Hero 6” plays around with elements, chemicals, magnets, robots, and other technical wizardry, will makes kids and science lovers of all ages giddy, and probably foster a newfound interest in science in many others.
If “Big Hero 6” had one problem, it would be that the breeziness of the screenplay, while nice, leaves me wanting more time to spend with the characters. As diverse and varied as the cast may be, Hiro and Baymax’s relationship takes up the bulk of the screentime here, so most of the other characters and their backgrounds get edged out in an effort to consolidate time. If the only complaint you can find about a movie is that there isn’t enough of it to go around, then things are most likely looking up, which they definitely are. With “Frozen” and “Wreck-It Ralph” these past couple of years, Disney’s been on a hot streak with intelligent and heartfelt stories that translate into a new generation of cinematic magic, and “Big Hero 6” is no exception. There’s more gas in the Disney/Marvel tank than we realize.
“Big Hero 6” is in theaters now!