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I’m not sure exactly how I missed reviewing this movie when it came out. I remember thinking about reviewing it after I saw it, but things just got in the way. Big Hero 6 is a little bit outside the purview of this blog—it’s “Mostly MCU Reviews,” after all, and Big Hero 6 is not part of the MCU—but it is based on an intellectual property from Marvel Comics, so it’s still within the “orbit” of my blog. Hence I’m reviewing it now, alongside “Retro-Reviews” of the MCU movies.
Big Hero 6 is based on a Marvel Comics superhero team from Japan, but the movie version bears very little resemblance to the original comic book team. Where the comic book team is the Japanese counterpart to the Avengers, based in Tokyo and comprising the official heroes of Japan, the movie version is a group of college kids who decide to stop a super-villain in “San Fransokyo” (an Asian-fusion amalgam of Tokyo and San Francisco). All of the heroes in the movie version have essentially the same simplified origin—their powers are exclusively technological in nature.
Before going further, I should point out that this movie is directed toward kids, so it makes sense that so much of the story gets simplified. Giving all of the powers a technological origin (and the same specific origin) does make it easier for young children to get into the story. At the same time, I do think that this age group would be able to understand more complex storytelling than Big Hero 6 offers.
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The protagonist is Hiro Hamada, a brilliant 16-year-old genius who is struggling to find a purpose for his intelligence. He begins with bot fighting, but quickly realizes that he can do far more with his life by going to the San Fransokyo Institute of Tecnology. He creates micro-bots which can be controlled by the mind to get into the university, but his micro-bots are stolen when the exhibition hall catches fire. The fire kills Hiro’s older brother Tadashi, sending Hiro spiraling into depression.
Hiro’s character is easily the best part of the movie. At first I thought he was too “good”—the brilliant, misunderstood wunderkind with the cool older brother who introduces him to a whole group of cool older friends. However, Hiro is actually a better-developed character than that. His struggle coping with grief provides an excellent center for the rest of the story as he experiences all the classic stages of grief (though denial is kind of skipped). We largely know the other characters through Hiro’s eyes, and that actually works pretty well. He is the brains of the team, which makes some degree of sense, but considering that all the human team members (except Fred) are supposed to be geniuses in their own right, I do wish they had more of a hand in designing their own equipment.
The other character that gets real character development is Baymax, the health care companion robot that Tadashi created. Baymax can best be described as if you put the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, Data from Star Trek, and a medical tricorder in a blender. He is a soft and squishy robot that has the ability to diagnose (and theoretically treat) just about any illness, up to and including depression and puberty. At first Baymax is largely without character, but over time he really develops his own character, particularly with his reaction to news of Tadashi’s death. I think Baymax’s best moment in the movie comes when Hiro removes his “health care chip,” leaving his fighting chip in control, and Baymax goes all Terminator on the villain before the rest of the team stops him. Baymax then countermands Hiro’s orders by refusing to allow Hiro to remove the chip again and instead shows Hiro footage of Tadashi working to get Baymax operational. This is shown to be exactly what Hiro needs to help him with his grief, and resolving that point enables Hiro and the rest of the team to take care of business with the villain.
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The rest of the cast, unfortunately, is largely forgettable. Fred is a stereotype of every rich kid ever who goes to college and becomes a slacker because he doesn’t quite have the brains to cut it. At the same time, Fred subverts that type by being shown as a huge “science fan” and comic book nerd—he’s the one who applies all the superhero tropes to the team and the movie. Wasabi specializes in lasers and has a very compulsive/neurotic personality. GoGo is the stereotypical tough girl who specializes in electromagnets because they help reduce friction for the wheels on her bike. Honey Lemon is a valley girl and works with chemistry. However, that is pretty much all we know about any of these characters after this movie. They are “cool” and fun, but that’s about all you can say about them. Any personality comes as a direct result of their stereotype. Hopefully if there is a sequel the writers will focus more on the rest of the team and a little less on Hiro.
The movie’s villain is Professor Callaghan, the team’s professor at the university, who was thought to have been killed in the explosion. He faked his death in order to steal Hiro’s micro-bots and use them to take revenge on Alistair Krei, a tech billionaire whose last experiment was responsible for the loss of Callaghan’s daughter in an alternate dimension. This does give Callaghan a touching and emotional reason for doing what he does, a motivation which parallels Hiro’s own motivations for his actions. Just as Hiro blames the “man in the kabuki mask” for Tadashi’s death and equips Baymax to fight him, Callaghan blames Krei for his daughter’s death, and becomes a super-villain in order to make Krei suffer the way Callaghan has. You could even say that Callaghan is a sympathetic villain, although he does try to kill the heroes on multiple occasions.
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The movie includes some incredible visuals, from the cityscape to the alternate dimension to the fight sequences. Everything about the movie looks amazing, which we should expect from a Disney animated movie. The fight sequences in particular use a lot of good visuals. I also really enjoy all the training montages when first Baymax and then the rest of the team receive their upgrades and puts the new equipment to use.
There are a lot of positives about this movie, and I think it’s time to talk about the biggest one. At the end of the movie, Baymax detects Callaghan’s daughter’s vital signs inside the alternate dimension, so he and Hiro go in to save her. However, Baymax’ suit gets damaged so that his thrusters no longer work. In order to get Hiro and the daughter out safely, Baymax must use his rocket fist to propel them out, meaning that he himself will be left behind. This is an incredibly powerful and emotional sacrifice as Hiro must let go of the one thing he has remaining of his brother and let Baymax be left behind. I absolutely loved that sacrifice…
which made it all the more disappointing when Hiro rebuilds Baymax within about 1 minute of screentime after returning to San Fransokyo. And even that would have been acceptable if they had not made the new Baymax exactly identical to the one. But they did. And Baymax even somehow managed to send his personality chip back with Hiro, so this is exactly the same Baymax as made the sacrifice in the first place. Ultimately, that negates the value of the sacrifice itself.
Overall this is a very good movie, even though it was made for kids. Hiro and Baymax are very compelling characters, Callaghan is a surprisingly-sympathetic villain (even if he could have used his plan to actually save his daughter instead of just using it to try to kill the billionaire. The movie is overall a lot of fun, definitely worth checking out, particularly if you have kids.
What is your favorite part of Big Hero 6? Do you think this movie underestimates the maturity level of children? Do you want to see a sequel to this movie? Let me know in the comments!