‘It’s time to use those big brains of yours and look for a different angle!’- Hiro
Last weekend my family and I got to see the new Disney feature that everyone’s been talking about. The hype did not disappoint– Big Hero 6 is absolutely triumphant. Brilliant animation, huggable robots, science, science, SCIENCE and Marvel superheroes? How do you seriously go wrong? It’s currently the number 1 movie in the Philippines, and RIGHTEOUSLY SO. You’re gonna come out of theaters grinning like an idiot and wondering ‘what is Frozen?’
Spoilers after the jump! *knuckle touch* ‘blalalalalala’
STORY: Big Hero 6 has a fairly simple, Avengers-ish plot, but it’s executed quite uniquely. Set in San Fransokyo, an alternate universe/futuristic version of San Francisco fused with Tokyo, the heart of the story is Hiro Hamada, a genius 14 year old boy. Hiro would have wasted his remarkable engineering savvy on participating in underground robot fights if not for his (hella good-looking) older brother Tadashi, who studies at San Fransokyo University of Technology and encourages his younger bro to do the same, using his talent to make innovations that will benefit people. A brief trip to his brother’s ‘nerd school’ familiarizes Hiro and the audience to the four characters (Honey Lemon, Wasabi, Gogo and school mascot Fred) who will later make up most of the titular team, as well as their mentor Prof. Callaghan. We also meet Baymax, Tadashi’s robot invention, for the first time, and immediately fall in love with his non-threatening, huggable design.
^ this guy, Bae-to-the-Max
To get accepted into the school, Hiro creates multi-purpose microbots that totally stun the crowd at an expo and earns the attention of one Mr. Krei, who’s kind of like the Justin Hammer of this movie (or is he? Huehuehuehue.) Hiro refuses to sell his invention to him and gets accepted into university by Professor Callaghan– but mere hours after their triumph the expo gets blown up, taking the good professor, Hiro’s microbots AND Tadashi with it. That leaves Hiro all by himself with their aunt– and Baymax, who insists on elevating Hiro’s dopamine levels as per his programming to treat the sick and injured. The pair soon discover that the microbots haven’t been destroyed at all, and someone’s been making more– a super villain in a kabuki mask who uses them to attack the boy and his robot. To catch the villain, Hiro upgrades Baymax into a badass battle droid. Tadashi’s friends catch on and, believing the masked man to be Mr. Krei and responsible for the explosion, combine their tech savvy to become the Big Hero 6. Also, there’s stuff about a portal, which makes the latter half of the movie look hella lot like The Avengers.
I was impressed at this movie’s solid storytelling– there were no loopholes, no flimsy excuses for why something happens the way it happens, and surprisingly, no unnecessary romance angle! It also does a good job at fooling you with the villain’s secret identity– if you don’t catch a supposedly throwaway line during the exposition, you’ll definitely be led on. And the story may be all the way up there with its high tech, colorful design and outrageous premise (these crazy fool kids all turnt up tryna be superheroes…) but at the end it really loops back on the simple themes of dealing with grief and how easily technology can be used for either good or evil.
^ from left to right: Wasabi, Gogo, Honey Lemon, Fred, Hiro, Baymax, Aunt Cass, Tadashi, Prof. Callaghan, Kabuki Mask Man (Yokai, according to Disney Wiki)
CHARACTERS: One of the gems I found about this film was how positively it portrays college life– as something fun and exciting, with students working long hours, giving each other crazy nicknames and getting around town all squished together in a beat-up car. There’s a Big Hero 6 character for just about every college kid out there: Wasabi is the neat-freak, by-the-book sort of guy, Honey Lemon is your all-hopped-up-on-caffeine, one-Selfie-every-hour hipster girl, Gogo’s the tough perfectionist and Fred is…well, Fred’s not actually a student, but he does appreciate free food, and you will meet people like that in college. It was refreshing to have all these colorful characters but focus, development-wise, on Hiro, who they immediately include into their group after his brother dies.
Aaaaaand of course, Baymax deserves his own paragraph. I would like to state, not for the last time, that everybody needs a Baymax in their lives. From his first appearance, the character’s number 1 imperative is to provide healthcare to anyone who needs it, and he’s damn persistent about this programming throughout the whole movie. He puts Hiro before himself in every situation, especially at the end, when he sacrifices himself to send the boy out of a collapsing portal. He’s a lovable and good robot, and interestingly enough, the way Hiro overrides his purpose turning him into a battle-bot echoes the way their villain uses the microbots– initially created for good– to further his evil plans.
But who IS the villain anyway? It’s none other than Prof. Callaghan, who happens to have survived the fire. Turns out the accident was just that– an accident, albeit one that allowed him the opportunity to exact revenge on Mr. Krei. When we first meet him, the professor briefly mentions his daughter, and his daughter is later revealed to be a test pilot who apparently dies while testing one of Krei’s new inventions (the aforementioned portal.) Like almost every effective good vs. evil story, the villain experiences what the hero experiences; only he chooses to act on it in an immoral way. (Whoa, man, deep!) And that makes the mysterious Callaghan one of Disney’s most fascinating bad guys to date.
And our hero, the aptly named Hiro, reminds me of myself at age 14 complete with the mood swings, big dreams and aversion to convention. Disney really hit home with his development as a character, which felt totally natural all the way through, and his interactions with Baymax are the shining moments of the whole movie. He’s what makes the story a Bildungsroman in its own right, and the way the movie is composed shows how much he’s changed– from scenes of him isolating himself after losing Tadashi at the beginning to scenes of him going to school and hanging out with his friends after losing Baymax at the end, and eventually rebuilding the robot using his brother’s programming. I tell you, it’s flawless.
(Also I have reason to believe that Hiro’s Tony Stark’s illegitimate son. I’m not even kidding.)
SCREENPLAY: What can I say? It’s Disney, so when it had its funny parts, it was hilarious, and when it got all feelsy, there was nothing but the feels. It had great references to actual science and nifty name-dropping, plus one great and epic cameo at the end. And I am very much a sucker for superhero training montages set to sick beats.
MUSIC: The score was great, really fit the mood, was alternately epic and urban, yada yada. No, what REALLY stands out in this film’s soundtrack is Fall Out Boy’s song ‘Immortals,’ written especially for Big Hero 6. It should win an award, it really should.
AND OF COURSE, ANIMATION: Bright colors and sleek rendering brings the city of San Fransokyo to life as a melting pot of Eastern and Western cultures. The team’s design draws from the original comics but also puts a realistic, funky spin on it that’s somewhere between Tron and Pacific Rim. Every frame is brimming with detail (specifically the boys’ room and the bot-fighting arena in the first scene) and you’ll always find something distinctly Japanese here and there. In addition, major props to whoever designed Gogo and Honey because the more you look at them, the more you’ll find they’re distinctly different from any typical, petite and childlike Disney girl design. Honey’s as tall as both Fred and Wasabi and Gogo actually has a biker chick’s build. It’s great that we have this especially after people were complaining that Elsa, Anna AND Rapunzel all look alike!
ANYTHING ELSE?: One thing I very much appreciated was the brotherly relationship that’s a big part of the story, and it sort of felt unfair that the girls of Frozen weren’t allowed to have that kind of interaction for most of their movie. I also loved how the team operates very differently from other superhero teams– where you’ve usually got one token genius making everybody’s tech for everybody, this is a team comprised of geniuses with only one guy whose IQ is relatively average. But Fred definitely makes up for it with his enthusiasm and geekiness, proving that a thorough knowledge of comic books can actually help you in life!
A minor grumble is Hiro’s family situation. Like Spider-Man and a lot of other superheroes, he’s an orphan; he and Tadashi were raised by their aunt. By now, it’s a cliche, and not even necessary in this film’s narrative. We could have easily filled in a single parent for this aunt, and not much would’ve changed– in fact, it would probably have added some more depth to the story. And really, just take it into perspective– Hiro’s parents are dead, then his brother dies, then at the end he loses his robot. Okay, so he manages to rebuild the robot. But STILL. That’s too much to take from one character in a family movie! There’s a limit, Disney!
Finally, my last observation is the quirky Avengers parallels– probably not intentional, but recognizable to someone who’s seen the movie no less than 10 times. Science everywhere! Someone dies and people assemble to avenge him! ‘Oh no, the bad guy’s using my tech against me!’ Portals! Genius makes a trip into a portal! NDE in the portal! And finally, the news goes crazy with reports of a superhero team while everybody gets on with their lives and starts over.
Yeah, definitely the Avengers. But also, distinctly, preciously, remarkably unique in its own way. Big Hero 6 pushes the boundaries of what is defined as ‘just a kid’s movie’ and brings up some really mature themes that honestly aren’t too early to learn, especially in a generation defined by technology. (Plus it gets kids hyped up for college.) And it FEELS SO GOOD TO GET ASIAN REPRESENTATION IN AN ANIMATED MOVIE!
The end doesn’t set up a sequel, and the story’s fine the way it is– but if they come up with a second one, well…you know who’ll be in cinemas nibbling a lollipop. Disney and Marvel, you’ve done it again– and I am 100% satisfied with your care.
YOUR MOVE, DC CINEMATIC UNIVERSE!
‘It’s like spooning a giant marshmallow.’
‘Haaaaaiiiiry baby…hairy baby…’