Taking non-human characters and imbuing them with empathy has been one of the keys to the success of Walt Disney Animation since 1928, and Big Hero 6’s Baymax is another great example. The first official feature crossover collaboration between Marvel and Disney takes what the House of Mouse and the House of Ideas do best and combines them into a warm, funny, heartfelt, and riveting adventure film.
Hiro Hamada is your typical rebellious fourteen year-old, except he’s already graduated high school and is using his robotics genius to hustle the world of underground robot fights. His older brother, Tadashi, decides Hiro needs to focus his genius and introduces Hiro to his lab at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. Impressed by Tadashi’s classmates Wasabi, Gogo, and Honey Lemon and most of all Tadashi’s experiment, the medical robot Baymax. Hiro of course decides to join the school.
When an accident curtails Hiro’s attempts to join the school, he sets out on a mission to find the mysterious man in a kabuki mask who he thinks caused the accident, but before he can stop this new super-villain, his robot, and his new friends from the school need some upgrades to turn them into superheroes. That, in a carbon fiber armor shell, is the simplest spoiler free synopsis I can give you.
While the story is both fun and engaging, it is not the strength of the movie. In a way, it is your typical coming of age storyline akin to Spider-Man grasping “with great power,” but in other ways it’s so much more than that. We don’t just watch Hiro struggle as a teenager to define the man he wants to be, we see Baymax develop from a robotic nurse to a full sentient being and it is their relationship growth that drives their maturity and the story.
The movie is also visually stunning in its design. The Japanese-American crossover of San Fransokyo is simply a place I would love to visit. Modern skyscrapers dotted with traditional Japanese imagery and the Golden Gate Bridge topped with torii gates provide a unique and eye-catching background for the action. The armor of the eponymous team reflects a more manga style than Marvel’s traditional heroes wear. Oh, and being a Marvel movie, watch for the excellent Stan Lee cameo.
The biggest weakness of the film is in the development of the secondary characters. The team is rounded out by Gogo, Wasabi, & Honey Lemon, who have technological powers fueled by their own inventions, and Fred is the school’s mascot and science enthusiast. None of them really change at all, aside from the obligatory “we need to be a team” type moment these films inevitably have. I don’t even remember if we get the character’s real names, just the nicknames Fred has given them. However, this is really nit-picking the plot as they are all decent and likable characters from the start. The actors embody the characters enough to keep them realistic.
The comedy of the piece maybe what drives the heart. It ranges from slap stick, to fish-out-of-water, to just plain awkward and beyond. However, it’s not just played for laughs. The laughs fuel the relationship between Baymax and Hiro and allow them to grow together and individually. They work on levels for adults and kids, and in the typical Disney way without having to rely on double entendres .
Filled with exciting and moving set pieces, easy to empathize with characters, beautiful backdrops, and gut busting moments, Disney has another hit on its hands with Big Hero 6. It won’t outperform Frozen, but it’s likely nothing will for a long time. Wreck-It Ralph will be more of an apt comparison, with a similar feel and demographic target.
I have been fortunate enough to see two preview screenings of Big Hero 6, including the first showing to anyone outside the studio at New York Comic Con. The writers directors and actors were in attendance, and it was a unique pleasure to watch the looks on their faces as they rose to a standing ovation from their first audience. I wish them all the success this film can muster, and I encourage all of you to see it in theaters.