In the midst of waiting for my baby to arrive (8 more weeks, yikes!) I have found it increasingly difficult to pull together the time to a) watch movies, and b) sit down long enough to write a review I’m actually proud of. We’ll see where this goes.
When I heard Disney had acquired Marvel, my heart sank a little. Not because I don’t like their movies. I actually enjoy their movies quite a lot (Age of Ulton? = awesome!). But no… my heart sank because I KNEW they were going to want the animation studios to do a superhero movie. And, well… I really didn’t know what to think about that. Disney animation and superheroes has never been done, and would it fit into the mold of Disney teaching kids valuable lessons? would it be too violent? would it not transcend into a higher state to be as good if not better than their other animated movies?
My husband and I saw it opening weekend, and, well, it was ok….. I wasn’t floored, I didn’t immediately love it, but I didn’t hate it either. It still made me cry (more than once) but it also had me wondering a lot of things. The most important being… is this movie really appropriate for kids? Would I want my 5-6 year old son going to see this movie? would he even understand it?
I’ll attempt to answer all my questions I’ve posed, but first I do want to give a brief history of the comic series that Lassiter chose for his movie franchise, which goes by the same name, Big Hero 6. In all the research I’ve done trying to figure out exactly what this comic series is about, I haven’t been able to find too much. It was a comic series that was created in 1998, set in Japan about a group of people assembled by the Japanese government to protect their country. Most are secret agents, samurai, or some type of mutant (they exist in the same world as the X-men).
Pretty much NOTHING in this film resembles the comic, except for some of the characters, their names, and (sort of) their abilities. And I’m not going to lie, I think this plays to the films strengths. Lassiter et al took the idea of Big Hero 6 and tinkered with it to make it into something they were proud of.
So what’s their versions origin story? I’ll give a quick recap:
Hiro Hamada is a 14 year old genius that’s already graduated and thinks that nothing is cooler than (ro)bot fighting, seeing as he has incredible intelligence that allows him to create these amazing robots that are undefeatable. His older brother, Tadashi, is just as smart and attempts to show Hiro another way to use his intelligence by showing him the university where he attends and just what’s going on.
Hiro meets Tadashi’s friends who are all working on incredible feats of engineering and technology (I would explain them all but… yeah. I don’t remember the science terms they used in the movie). Hiro also meets Baymax, a healthcare companion robot that Tadashi has been working on. Upon seeing all these amazing things going on and meeting Professor Callaghan, Hiro decides to enter the school’s “science fair” to gain enrollment.
He creates these things called “microbots” – tiny robots that when linked can create any shape or arrangement imaginable, and are controlled by a person’s thought through a special band the person wears around his head.
After being impressed, not only does Callaghan want him to enroll, but a man named Alastair Krei wants to buy them. Hiro declines the sale, and on their way out of the fair, a fire breaks out. Tadashi rushes in to save Professor Callaghan, but both perish in the fire, along with all but one of Hiro’s microbots. (time we cry #1 in this movie)
After weeks of mourning and deciding not to pursue enrollment at the university, Hiro accidentally hurts himself one day and activates Baymax, who was in his brother’s room. After some attitude from Hiro and naiveness from Baymax, Hiro convinces him that his microbot is trying to go somewhere, and follows it for Hiro, thinking it will help stabilize his mood swings.
The two follow it to an abandoned warehouse where he finds out that someone has made tub after tub of them. A man in a kabuki mask rises up and chases the two out of the warehouse. Realizing he has to do something, Hiro uploads a karate chip into Baymax, and the two hunt down the man in the Kabuki mask. While at the docks hunting him down, Tadashi’s friends from the lab (Gogo, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred) show up and he attacks all of them. They flee.
Realizing they have to stop this man and take his nanobots back by stealing the mask (and Hiro believes this will avenge his brother’s death), the 6 of them become superheroes, using the tech they were working on in the lab to become “superhuman.” They track the guy to an island and discover old wreckage of a lab and old footage that show Krei and Callaghan using teleportation technology to send a pilot through that never came back. The man in the Kabuki mask arrives, and they engage, only to discover this man isn’t Krei (who they previously suspected), but Callaghan. Hiro becomes so enraged he takes out Baymax’s healthcare chip, leaving him with just the urge to kill. But Honey reinstalls the chip, Callaghan runs off, and so does Hiro, enraged at his friends’ intervention.
Back at his home, Hiro tries to remove the chip again and go after Callaghan, but Baymax doesn’t let him. Instead, he shows him video of Tadashi during all his start up tests, and consoles Hiro, who eventually calms down and goes and apologizes to his friends, saying they still need to stop Callaghan. They figure out that the test pilot that disappeared during the teleport test was Callaghan’s daughter, Abigail, and that he means to seek revenge on Krei for losing her.
They assemble at Krei tech, where Callaghan is already there. After fighting for a while, the portal opens up and starts pulling everything into it, destabilizing. The team uses this to destroy all of Callaghan’s microbots and save Krei, but the portal won’t close. That’s when Baymax detects a life sign inside. He and Hiro go into the portal and find Abigail in her pod in hyper sleep. They attempt to reach the portal door, but Baymax’s thrusters fail, and he uses the last of his jet power in his glove to propel Abigail and Hiro to safety, leaving him stuck in the portal as it disengages (crying time #2).
Abigail is saved, Callaghan is arrested. Hiro enrolls at school and sets up in Tadashi’s old lab, still holding onto the rocket glove from Baymax. One day he opens it to find Baymax’s healthcare chip inside. He gets to work and soon builds another Baymax. (aww)
As I mentioned, I wasn’t floored by this movie the first time I saw it. I knew it was good, but I didn’t think it was that good. I didn’t see a higher purpose. I couldn’t figure out what Disney was trying to teach us. All I saw were gadgets and robots and fighting…. the same thing that is in so many movies these days. To me, it felt like Superheroes, kids, and Disney didn’t fit. The only thing I came away thinking positively about the movie was “wow, they painted science nerds as really cool people! Maybe this will get more kids interested in pursuing science!” (which is a good thing to do!)
Well, and that Baymax was the best part of the movie.
Then I watched it a second time. And I don’t know what it was, but I caught something. I had an epiphany. This movie is all about how people handle grief. It’s about how you cope with the loss of a loved one, which is something REALLY hard to do in a movie… especially a kids movie. I don’t know that kids would really understand it, but this is a theme that Disney has never done before. It’s something you can only really pick up after watching it more than once, because you know after seeing it that Callaghan is the villain, and you understand his motives for plotting his revenge. You understand the anger behind both he and Hiro in wanting revenge for their loved ones loss. It’s incredibly well done in this movie, but it’s really something for adults or older kids to get. Which is fine! Unless a smaller child has been through this, they wouldn’t get it. They’d be the Baymax in all of this.
Let’s talk about Baymax for a second, because he plays into this whole idea of loss and grief right at its center. He’s meant to be a robot who can help care for those who are ailing. Mental instability is the same, if not more dangerous, than physical, and Baymax reads that, and spends the whole movie trying to “heal” Hiro. However he is an incredibly naive character who plays into Hiro’s ideas, seeing that getting ready to seek revenge actually does heighten his mood. To him, his treatment is working.
And in ways, it does. Although Hiro IS getting revenge on the man who he deems responsible for his brother’s death, he also learns to confide in Baymax, and Baymax in return learns to love Hiro and care for him in a way that a healthcare companion probably shouldn’t. Baymax keeps Hiro in check. His moral code influences him in a positive way and even through the hard parts, helps Hiro get through the loss of his brother. But their relationship is more than that. Hiro also influences him. He becomes more than his healthcare chip and almost becomes a surrogate brother. Hiro makes Baymax more than just his programming, which is apparent when he (unknowingly) takes out his healthcare chip at the end and has it in his glove as he sends them through the portal. I don’t know. I’ve always assumed that means that last talk Baymax gave Hiro was WITHOUT his healthcare chip.
We also have all our other secondary characters to help Hiro, although each of them is probably feeling the loss of their friend Tadashi as well. At one point Baymax contacts them, saying that it is important in times of grief to lean on friends and loved ones for support. That’s what GoGo, Wasabi, Honey, and Fred do the whole movie. They support Hiro, they realize that this man in the Kabuki mask could really be dangerous, and they help him because of that. Not because they are also seeking revenge. In fact, they’re the ones who stop it once it becomes clear this is what Hiro wanted.
Although they don’t get a ton of screen time and character development, they get enough. We learn enough about each of them to appreciate what they bring to the team and how they make themselves stand out. And I have to admit that how Hiro adapts each of their techs into workable “powers” is freaking awesome.
Hiro himself is another really well developed main character as well. He has amazing depth, and they animated him in such a way that you actually do feel what he feels. He’s a great protagonist even as a kid, although he isn’t one of my favorites (although who knows. He grows on me each time I see the movie…). I feel like he’s too selfish and doesn’t think about Baymax or the others and their safety until it’s too late because he’s trained only on getting revenge. I know everything he does in the movie is really influenced by the loss of his brother, so I guess I have to forgive him. It just bugs me.
I’m not going to talk a lot about the villain in Callaghan, or about Krei. Honestly, this is probably one of the places this film is lacking. Yeah, I liked how they had a red herring in Krei, and it was really well done. I also like how we figure out throughout the movie about Callaghan’s daughter and his motivation, but he never really seemed “evil” to me. He’s relatable, so I’ll give you that. But not too relatable. He doesn’t have a ton of screen time before his “death” so you don’t learn to care about this character. Yeah it’s sad he lost a daughter, I understand why he’s pissed, but dude – get over it. I think the only reason we even care about him is because Hiro’s going through the exact same thing. Every time I watch this movie I’m reminded Doc Oc in Spiderman 2. I feel like that villain in that movie is what Callaghan should have been. We cared about him. We cared at the end when he died, and were happy he got redemption. We don’t feel that at all in Callaghan. The only reason I feel sad for him at the end of the movie is because his daughter is rescued and he has to go to jail. See where your actions get you? You can’t see your daughter now!
I do want to mention a few smaller aspects of this movie that I found interesting or really quite beautiful. The animation is top notch. Disney invented a setting in San Fransokyo and I believe they hit it on the nose. I’ve been to both cities (I LOVE both cities) and the animators did an extremely good job at making a futuristic city have elements of both. Really cool and really fun to have a movie set there.
I do think this movie is too violent for small kids, but I have to admit they animate the violence extremely well. It’s interesting, isn’t over the top, and doesn’t last for huge amounts of time. It’s good!
So do Superheroes and Disney fit together? I still honestly don’t have an answer to this question. I will be excited if they make a second Big Hero 6, it’s true. They somehow managed to put a creative spin on something that could have just been another crazy marvel violence filled fighting fest. But they managed to put heart into their work, like Disney always does. It’s still weird to think of Disney making a superhero movie though…
I give Big Hero 6 (2014) a 3.9 out of 5. Decent story, decent characters. I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
Up Next: Get ready for tons of top 10 lists as I round out all my Disney reviews!