By Matthew McKibben | November 7, 2014
Director: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Writers: Don Hall andJordan Roberts (story), Robert Baird, Daniel Gerson, and Jordan Roberts (screenplay), based on the comics by Duncan Rouleau and Steven Seagle
Starring: Scott Adsit (Baymax), Ryan Potter (Hiro), Daniel Henney (Tadashi), T.J. Miller (Fred), Jamie Chung (Go Go), Damon Wayans Jr. (Wasabi), Genesis Rodriguez (Honey Lemon), James Cromwell (Robert Callaghan), Alan Tudyk (Alistair Krei), and Maya Rudolph (Cass)
Pixar has had a rough go of it recently. Cars 2 was a miss of epic proportions, Monsters University was good but forgettable, and Brave could drop off the planet altogether and I don’t think anyone would miss it. With Bolt, Tangled, Wreck-It-Ralph, and Frozen, it could be argued that Walt Disney Animation Studios is on more of a hit streak than their animation cousins across the studio lot. Big Hero 6 is Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest outing and is most definitely worth your time, despite its minor flaws.
At this point, after decades of producing movies that hit far more than they miss, it’s safe to say that the good folks at Disney know what they’re doing. Their entire enterprise is built around giving people quality entertainment experiences. They want your dollars and know that the best way to get them is to make movies that are well made. They want classics, but they’ll settle for good. When the creative juices aren’t flowing well, they’re still capable of producing quality, albeit forgettable movies (see: anything produced between The Lion King and Bolt). When everything is working like a well oiled machine, they’re capable of some pretty amazing movies that will no doubt stand the test of time (see: the number of classic movies between Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Frozen).
Big Hero 6 falls somewhere in the comfortable waters between classic and serviceable-but-forgettable. It has a great heart and sense of humor, but it’s hard to imagine it will be a movie my kids will be telling their kids about 30 years from now. It’s formulaic, ultimately predictable, and largely derivative of a number of different Disney properties, yet I thoroughly enjoyed myself while watching it and can’t wait to take my kids this weekend to see it.
Big Hero 6 tells the story of Hiro (Ryan Potter), a young robotics genius who enjoys conning people out of their money in illegal robot fights in the city of San Fransokyo, a kind of Tokyo/San Francisco hybrid. His older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), another robotics expert and student at a local prestigious Technical Institute, serves as kind of a Jiminy Cricket-like moral compass for the directionless Hiro. Tadashi tries to steer Hiro away from the dangerous world of underground robot fights, thinking he’d be more interesting in the advanced robotics taking place at the Institute down the road.
Tadashi tricks Hiro into checking out the robot lab, and it’s love at first sight for the young Hiro. There, he meets Tadashi’s other genius robot friends Fred, Go Go, Wasabi, and Honey Lemon (Soy Sauce and Sushi must have been on vacation). Tadashi also introduces Hiro to Baymax, the robot he’s currently working on at school. Voiced by a soothingly toned Scott Adsit, Baymax is a big, soft marshmallow of a robot, programmed to serve as a
doctor “nurse,” by diagnosing and treating illnesses based off scanning devices and soothing questions asked.
Once Hiro sees the amazing things taking place at the Institute, he dedicates his life into building something worthy of getting into the school. To that end, he creates a kind of microbot robot technology, which is kind of like a collection of LEGO pieces that can form together into elaborate structures at the will of the person controlling them. A bidding war breaks out between a CEO of a huge robotics firm and the dean of the robotics school for the technology. Choosing the school, the CEO naturally leaves in a huff…CEOs in movies like this are always douches, kind of like real life.
Death is just a part of life, and that’s never more true than in a family friendly Disney film. I don’t know if Walt Disney had some serious family trauma as a kid, or if maybe the liquid that is cryogenically used to keep his body alive is made of the frozen tears of children, but you just know that a character death is right around the corner. Sure enough, there’s a fire at the institute and Tadashi perishes trying to save people trapped in the building.
While death is such a common thing in Disney films, how characters immediately handle death is never completely dealt with in honest ways. In most Disney movies, it’s death, followed by sadness, followed by some kind of happy song a few minutes later. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that beyond all the robotics, Big Hero 6 is actually a story about the 5 stages of grief. It’s not long after Tadashi’s death that Hiro discovers Baymax under Tadashi’s bed. Being the helping robot that he is, he’s activated anytime someone around him says “ouch” and can only deactivate when the person in pain says that they no longer require medical service and that they no longer have anything negative showing up in Baymax’s scan. Seeing that Hiro is in the midst of a kind of crushing sadness, it’s impossible for him to go back to his power dock until Baymax works his way through the different stages of grief.
It’s in this partnership between Hiro and Baymax that Hiro discovers that his microbots weren’t destroyed in the fire and that they’re still active somewhere in the city. He discovers that someone in a Kabuki mask is using the microbots for a nefarious purpose and that the only people who will be able to stop him are Hiro and the other robot nerds at the institute. Hiro outfits Baymax with a kind of Iron Man-like robot suit and then outfits the rest of the robot nerds at the Institute with their own derivative superhero outfits to go fight the Disney villain.
I have to admit that I tend to give animated movies a bit of a pass on certain movie elements that I weigh in more strongly on with non-animated movies. For me, a successful animated movie is one where the visuals are amazing, the story is (at least) serviceable, the comedy works effortlessly, and it’s decently acted. “Classic” animated movies can hold their own next to non-animated movies, but for the most part, animated movies just have to be “good” for me to enjoy them. I place this one in the latter category.
There’s nothing here from a superhero standpoint that you haven’t already seen. That isn’t to say that the action is lackluster or boring, but it is pretty predictable and formulaic once the nerds are all teamed up fighting together. The animation and graphic design of the movie help keep the predictability of what you’re seeing from being too distracting. The action was pretty fun, but I probably got as much aesthetic enjoyment from looking around the frame at the city’s design.
The other robot nerds that team up with Hiro could have been pretty one-note, but I liked that each of them had their own attitude and way of doing things. These were all characters that are nerds first, heroes second, and I liked that that dynamic never really flips. James Cromwell has a great voice for this kind of movie. I’m pretty surprised that more animated movies haven’t utilized his services.
Co-directors Don Hall (the Winnie the Pooh movie) and Chris Williams (Bolt) are relative newcomers. While the movie was well done and didn’t have too many noticeable cracks, the movie did lack a certain amount of magic and connection that ultimately kept it from being a classic. I’m curious where the series could go from here, but I’d almost just prefer this movie be a one-off movie, than yet another superhero series that will demand my attention and my hard earned money.
At the end of the day, I can’t completely fault a movie for not being a classic because not every movie should be a classic. That would be exhausting. I only ask that an animated movie be entertaining and well made, and on both of those fronts, this movie is a success.