The way I see the pitch meeting going for Big Hero 6 is that directors Don Hall and Chris Williams went to Disney and said: “You know how great The Incredibles and Iron Giant were. And you know how people flipped for the theme of loss in Up. And you know how hot Marvel is because of course you own the brand. Well howsabout we mash-up all of that into one film?”
And I imagine Disney slapping their heads in a ‘no duh!’ kind of way and handing over a large sack with a green dollar sign on the front. And they were right to do so.
Big Hero 6 is the perfect introduction to Superheroes for young children. It tells of Hiro Hamada, a promising young science whizz following in his robotics expert older brother’s footsteps. As we start the film Hiro is all about creating something cool, with the power to destroy and little forethought for the good of humanity. Tadashi (his brother) is the opposite, he sees his destiny in helping the human race; using his superior intellect for good. That’s not to say they are enemies, just that Hiro is young and has some growing up to do. Over the next hundred or so minutes that’s exactly what he does.
In terms of plot it’s hard to talk too much about where it really leads. It’s kind of a Scooby Doo style mystery; a masked villain appears in the brothers’ home town of San Fransokyo (yes it’s a hybrid of San Francisco and Tokyo, and yes it’s as incredible as that sounds), and the story centres as much on the hidden identity of the bad guy as it does his maniacal plot to destroy everything.
But more important than the story devices are the characters. In grand Disney tradition this latest film from the now back on full form Disney Animation Studios, features a character both iconic and perfectly emotive despite lacking a face capable of expression. Baymax, a white inflatable rubbery healthcare robot, becomes the crux on which the success or failure of the film hangs. Created by Tadashi, Baymax represents all that is good in Hiro’s older brother. He is the teacher, the moral underpinning and the comedy relief all in one. Thankfully he is executed with stunning grace on the part of the animators, and given a soul through the pitch perfect voice casting of Scott Adsit.
Baymax is also the physical being around which Hiro’s arc takes place. Hiro sees Baymax as an opportunity to create a weaponised aggressor, his young mind seeing this as the only way to stave off danger. But after a near catastrophic decision that almost leads to a fatality, Hiro comes to realise that this squishy white symbol of his brother’s best attributes draws most strength and protective ability from his compassion, rather than his brute power.
Given the crucial nature of the relationship between Hiro and Baymax, it is kind of understandable that the supporting cast rarely step out of the background. And though the film’s trailers would have you believe that the team of 6 are on an equal footing, the truth is that the other four ‘heroes’ in the group are little more than swiftly introduced foils, whose handy breadth of abilities allow them to hurt the enemy at a crucial moment in the third act climax.
This doesn’t warrant too harsh a criticism though. The filmmakers recognised the important themes of the film as Hiro’s personal journey, his right of passage and his coping with a deep loss in his life, and they bring these to the fore, eschewing less crucial aspects to make the heart of the film shine through. And it does. In fact in the screening I attended there were even more sniffling adults than children as the film veered heartbreakingly close to Guardians of the Galaxy’s “We are Groot” moment.
This is a great Disney film, a great Superhero film and a sure fire contender for a sequel in the not too distant future. I WANT MORE BAYMAX!