Another Disney-Marvel venture that comes from the pages of a comic book, Big Hero 6 was already set to combine our favorite sci-fi buzz words—superheroes, robots, alternate realities—and deliver something fun for the whole family. But the movie supersedes those expectations to ruminate on invention, family, and how grief transforms us all… for better or for worse.
Spoiler-light review below.
Just, bring tissues. Even before the film, there’s an adorable short called “Feast” about a dog, that’s bound to make you teary. Don’t miss it.
It’s really hard to discuss this movie without getting into the details because the film has major emotional beats and a plot that turns on trauma and grief. I do feel it’s important for the parents reading to know: the movie has a character death in it. Every kid has different mileage where this is concerned, and there were a few in my theater who were sobbing. (I couldn’t exactly blame them because, as I said, I was among their number.)
At first glance, the film is about Hiro Hamada, a boy living in the alternate city of San Fransokyo (that’s right, a sort of hybrid-future version of San Francisco and Tokyo). He’s a 14-year-old genius who lost his parents when he was a tyke, but he’s got an over-zealous aunt and a darling older brother who worry about his hobby of illegal robot fighting. Tadashi (that’s the older brother) really wants to get Hiro to join him at his fancy university, where the kid can develop his considerable talents. He introduces little bro to his fellow students/friends, and the project he’s working on—a robotic nurse named Baymax. Hiro starts edging down the “nerd” path, and applies to the university.
Later on, some more… drastic actions are required, and the whole team of kids become a band of comic-book-like heroes. After Baymax gets a few upgrades, that is.
But what happens in-between is pretty hard to stomach. Dealing with loss in a family film is always a balancing act, and Big Hero 6 goes its own road with it; this isn’t the same as Bambi, or Finding Nemo, or even Up. Hiro’s journey is about the adoption of heroics as a way of working through tragedy. More like Spider-Man, you might say, but this is not a lonely cowboy sort of jam. Hiro has to learn to accept help and love and criticism. It’s not about keeping secrets and living double lives, which puts him on opposite ends of the pole to a character like Peter Parker.
His crew of new genius friends are an impressive lot, and perhaps Disney’s most diverse cast to date, in animation at least. They get major points for having more than one female hero (not much to brag about, but the Avengers only started with one, so that’s a step up), zero “obligatory” romance arcs, and use of the phrase “woman up” to replace “man up.” It’s exciting to meet characters like Honey Lemon, who is cuter than cute, loves pink and high heels, and also happens to be an incredible scientist. Just to make sure all the stereotypes get trounced. In fact, most of the film’s characters seem keen on that front, which is makes it a great inspiration for kids.
I maintain that movies like these are only as good as their robots, however. Baymax delivers on that front better than most movie robots of the past decade. He’s funny and squishy and over-concerned and allows for the same sort of secretive wonder kids got out of E.T. a few decades back. You will want ten of him. You will also likely walk out of the film thinking that robots covered in inflated vinyl are a good idea.
There are a couple scripting choices that will likely rankle more mature members of the audience, places where corners were shaved a little too much. I would like to have a conversation about the villains choice of attire as well, as it needs some dissecting. The world-building is a tad thin too, though it’s likely that Disney is saving a lot of that work with the hope of sequels on the horizon. I can’t say I’d be against more of this team either—while audiences might claim superhero fatigue, Big Hero 6 has some new angles on offer. There’s a lot more joy to go around, a sense of unbridled excitement that a lot of origin stories are missing.
When you form your super team as a team, you aren’t just hammering together a mega-bot to slay the super-dragon—you’re creating a family. That’s what Big Hero 6 is all about. That and a cuddly marshmallow robot. Do you see where I’m going with this? There is literally nothing better than the phrase “cuddly marshmallow robot.”