Following the latest wave of animated and superhero films comes the hybrid we’ve all dreamed of: Disney’s Big Hero 6. With the animated superhero genre eclipsed by Pixar’s The Incredibles, and with a robot starring as a main character, you can’t help but draw comparisons to another Pixar favorite, WALL-E. So, my question going into the film was, how does this film define itself? This is a question I can only answer by looking at the film as a whole.
In terms of story, Big Hero 6 is not entirely original; it’s a very simplified adaptation of the comic of the same name by Marvel. When I say simplified, I mean just a few characters and concepts remain. A third of the original team that makes up the comic group Big Hero 6 are replaced, probably due to funny copyright laws pertaining to the Silver Samurai and Sunfire who exist in Sony’s X-Men universe. This change is actually pretty minimal compared to the more drastic ones, which honestly vastly improve the story. Rather than being a rag tag group of Japanese nationals that the government puts together, the Big Hero 6 we see on film is composed of a diverse cast of characters with distinct personalities that anyone can appreciate.
In terms of story, the film starts strong with the main character, 14 year old child prodigy Hiro Hamada, voiced by Ryan Potter, showing off his skills in underground robot fights. His older brother and mentor Tadashi then convinces him to apply to his university to advance his learning, and shows off his medical robot, Baymax, voiced by Scott Adsit. Inspired by this event, Hiro shows off his new inventions, mind controlled nanobots, at a function at the college in order to be recognized as a potential student. His invention blows away the crowd, but unfortunately, a fire consumes the building, killing Tadashi and leading Hiro to believe his nanobots are destroyed. The crux of the film rests on the villain Yokkai who wears a kabuki mask and uses what appears to be Hiro’s nanobots for nefarious purposes. Along with Baymax and his new companions made up of Tadashi’s classmates that creates a team of heroes to stop Yokkai.
As far as superhero stories go, this one seems to be pretty much run of the mill; traumatic death leads to boy attempting to find killer, slowly becomes wiser/gets more super friends, stops big baddy and continues super hero-ing. What really sets this story apart from others is the immersive world Disney created. The film takes place in San Fransokyo, San Francisco with a distinctive Japanese flair. This can be seen throughout the film, such as traditional Japanese building styles being blended into the iconic Bay Area hills including many Japanizations of San Francisco sites, like the Golden Gate Bridge made to look like two huge torii. My favorite scene of the movie is when two of the main characters fly through a cluster of beautifully painted airborne wind turbines. This movie is certainly Disney’s most visually stunning production, with a complete city created from a great reference, but with incredible cohesion, and a blended aesthetic that I never imagined.
Something else I found difficult to believe was a standout, original, robot character like Baymax. From inception, in both the production of the film and in the actual story, Baymax is meant to be a goofy and “huggable” robot. There are no hanging wires or sharp edges; Baymax is basically just a big balloon, which makes his transition to robot hero even better. His inner conflict of being a creation meant to aid, and then having to fight is something, I found incredibly compelling. He’s a charming character, and the perfect antithesis to Hiro’s rash and selfish attitude at times.
Overall, I don’t know if Big Hero 6 stands side to side with the likes of The Incredibles or Wall-E; the film has flaws in terms of story that just left me bored during parts of the movie when I should be thrilled, sad, or in any way empathizing with Hiro, which I just couldn’t do. It’s somewhat predictable and formulaic, but what raises it up from mediocrity is its standout visuals and main character Baymax. While Disney Animation may not have created something entirely different, its inspired use of comic and Japanese concepts and art raised my opinion of the piece in a huge way.