Big Hero 6 is supposed to be a superhero movie. The fact you probably don’t realize this until around at least halfway in says all you need to know. Disney’s first foray into the world of Marvel Comics has funny characters and quirky designs, but it lacks the depth and feeling to go beyond a vague, general desire to be cool and flashy. It throws in all the requisite pieces of comedy, sci-fi, nerdiness and action, only to create a final, chaotic mixture just too generic to be memorable.
Big Hero 6 whisks us off to a futuristic combination of San Francisco and Tokyo called San Fransokyo, where peach blossom trees adorn cable-car lines and advanced technology can apparently do just about anything. Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a whiz kid who graduated from high school at 13 and spends his free time winning money in illegal “robot fights.” He finds new purpose, however, when his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) takes him to visit his research lab at the prestigious San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. Now inspired to put his talents to good use, Hiro spends months designing and building “microbots,” a bunch of tiny robots that can be commanded via neurotransmitters to do whatever the owner wants. His invention is so amazing that he gets accepted to college without having to write a single 650-word essay. The same night he learns of his success, however, a large fire destroys his invention and kills his brother. Abruptly stranded from everything he loves, Hiro has to reboot with the company of Baymax (Scott Adsit), a robotic doctor Tadashi was working on before his untimely demise.
The part of Big Hero 6 you’re most likely to remember is undeniably Baymax. Large, rotund, and robotic to a fault, Baymax is adorable, comical, and absolutely lovable. He’s a cute, comfy teddy bear-like companion who also knows a thing or two that immature, human Hiro doesn’t about emotions, love and duty. The world around the two of them is just as interesting, a peculiar mixture of future and past, Occident and Orient, urban and natural that somehow manages to synthesize the good in each to work its charms. The animation and effects are techy and chic in a way that perfectly complement the crazy, wayy-out-there things Hiro and his gang of science geeks end up doing.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t seem to know what to do with all the wonders it’s created. It starts out as a vaguely futuristic sci-fi drama about a boy’s coming of age and encounter with tragedy, only to quickly U-turn into a somewhat simplistic whodunit. Halfway through, it abruptly resolves said mystery and morphs into a tale of personal revenge and rivalry, eventually concluding with an unexceptional “Hiro Saves the Day” action sequence of suits and weapons galore. The story ricochets from drama to drama about Tadashi, Mr. Callaghan, Hiro, and Baymax, never finding the emotional center and focus it needs to control all the elements it introduces. It’s almost like a game of musical chairs where a new plot-line takes the center chair every 20 or so minutes. And the occasional plot twist we encounter on the way invariably feels designed just so the movie-makers can say, “Gotcha!”
Moreover, all of the characters are depressingly one-dimensional. Hiro is the angsty child prodigy, brilliant but clouded by the emotional trauma of his past. Tadashi is the inspirational role model, a perfect big brother who always knows what to do and how to act. Mr. Callaghan is the genius scientist tormented by a burning desire for revenge. Hiro’s four superhero sidekicks are variously a girly girl, an un-girly girl, the dude with all the funny one-liners, and the dude with all the stupid one-liners. When you think about it, even Baymax isn’t much more than a cute robot, although he’s cute enough that we don’t care. None of these characters requires more than a mere sentence for description, a fact that only goes to show just how limited and preset their roles are. It’s as if they’re all robots like Baymax, pre-programmed to react and behave as they’re stereotypically expected.
The last big animated superhero movie was 2004’s The Incredibles, which made something remarkable and memorable out of deceptively familiar material. As a successor, Hiro and his friends barely have what it takes to even stand in the shadow of the Parr family. Their story is confusing and uninspired, their personalities boring and superficial, and the action just short of being filler. Disney clearly forgot the cardinal rule of superhero movies: a cool suit and cool effects do not a meaningful movie make. Baymax may have won over the kids, but in the long run, this film, unlike Pixar’s, is bound to end up a forgettable also-ran.
Big Hero 6 (2014)
Starring: Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, Scott Adsit
Running Time: 90 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
Produced by: Roy Conli, Kristina Reed
Directed by: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Written by: Daniel Gerson, Jordan Roberts, Robert L. Baird
Based on the Marvel Comics series of the same name.