TR Review: Big Hero 6 Gives Superheroes Back to Kids
You could look at Big Hero 6 as the sort of thing fans feared all Marvel movies might become when Disney took over.
Then you could look at how Marvel is still doing what they’re doing, while at the same time keeping a consistent in-house style and storyline continuity, and be glad that – as promised a long time ago – they allowed somebody else to take one of their lesser-known properties and put a distinctive authorial stamp on it. That said stamp is of the Disney brand rather than any one auteur (for the record, Winnie the Pooh‘s Don Hall and Bolt‘s Chris Williams are the directors) doesn’t change the fact that a Marvel adventure not beholden to continuity is in many ways a nice change of pace.
That said, this film was not made for me, or if you’re the typical TR reader, for you. Where Marvel Studios aims their movies at comic fans of all ages without dumbing them down, Big Hero 6 is a movie for kids that it’s still okay for adults to like. Just realize that it is, in fact, aimed at kids, complete with “stay in school” message and mostly harmless action. If you are one of the maybe five people out there who’ve been expecting a true-to-the-comic adaptation of Big Hero 6 because it’s your favorite comic ever, you might have some non-paper issues here, as Disney takes quite a few liberties to make things their own.
Our hero is literally named Hiro (Ryan Potter), a genius Asian-American teen who’s not only an orphan, but also deprived of both his big brother and his mentor not half an hour into the film. He’s about to give up on life and college when he discovers his brother’s last great invention: an inflatable healthcare-providing robot named Baymax (his late father’s shape-shifting bodyguard/assistant in the comics) who, like the care-giving robot in Robot and Frank, is easily persuaded that helping Hiro along on some wild adventures will be beneficial for the boy’s mental health, and therefore he must assist. First up: figuring out what the micro-bots Hiro invented to get into college have to do with a Kabuki-masked villain hiding away on a secret island in the Bay Area of “San Fransokyo,” an amalgam city that looks like it popped out of the live-action Speed Racer movie, lacking only an anime-style Tommy Wiseau as its mascot.
Backing up Hiro are his brother’s best friends and lab partners from “nerd school” – kaiju-obsessed skater Fred (TJ Miller), dreadlocked OCD-case Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), ultra-serious GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung) and hyper-happy Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez). Yes, they got stuck with nicknames assigned by Fred, and with Hiro’s help and some inspiration from Fred’s toy collection, they all end up with super-suits: Fred has a wearable fire-breathing monster, GoGo has discs that serve as both Segway wheels and killer Frisbees, Honey Lemon throws blobs that grow into giant foam balls, and Wasabi has laser blades. Hiro’s suit magnetically latches on to Baymax, whom he enables with power armor, launching fists and the ability to fly.
I don’t know if Rob Bricken was the first to accuse DC of failing because Marvel greenlit a Rocket Raccoon movie before WB did Wonder Woman, but he was certainly one of the most notable. It’s not quite the same analogy, but watching Big Hero 6, I couldn’t help but feel that Disney just made a more PG-rated Gen13 movie years after Image should have been able to make the deal for the real thing, back when people still cared. DC/WB should own the rights now, and should maybe pay attention to the fact that Disney doesn’t give two hoots whether anyone knows the Big Hero 6 comic or not. Because it won’t matter. [Yes, I know Gen13 had powers while this Big Hero 6 don’t. Similar team vibe, though.]
The term “Social Justice Warrior” has been tossed around a lot lately – when I hear it, I tend to think of the people who see a new Star Wars cast announced and rather than being thrilled Max von Sydow’s in it, immediately complain that John Boyega is the only black man in the photo. Those folks – and plenty of others – ought to be happy with the diversity here: Asian-American lead, two strong heroines, a black man who’s also OCD, and arguably in Baymax, a hero autistic kids can relate to as they did Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy – he too takes things extremely literally and has trouble understanding tone. Amusingly, Hiro’s name is said aloud in a painstakingly Japanese accent by every character…and is the only word that is. And none of the leads has an unrealistically perfect body, for which I give the filmmakers props.
If you were hoping for the next Incredibles, you’ll have to wait till that sequel actually gets made – this is far more basic and safe, with the kind of heroics that involve totally empty buildings getting smashed, and heroes behaving like kids with new toys, because they basically are. It’s easy to nerdily nitpick from an adult perspective: in one major instance, when the uber-literal Baymax starts to run out of battery power, he begins acting like a drunk person, which makes no logical sense at all given what we know of his programming, and robots in general. To a kid who doesn’t overthink the details of A.I., however, it’s going to be funny. Speaking as a guy who’s been derisively called man-child like so many of you, I do plead guilty to wanting to make a lot of children’s products my own (toys, comics and such). But this one is for them, and I’m just a welcome visitor in that world who shouldn’t think too hard about it.
Make sure you sit through the credits – the very last scene features a special guest and a set-up for a possible sequel. And fear not the animated short beforehand about the cute doggie. SPOILER: it ends happily and the pup does not die.