In Disney’s Big Hero 6, teenage prodigy Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) lives in San Fransokyo with his Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph), as well as an inflatable “nurse robot” named Baymax (Scott Adsit) that was invented by Hiro’s older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney). When a masked villain steals one of Hiro’s own invention—millions of tiny machines called microbots—Hiro and Baymax set out to get them back. It proves too much for them alone, so they enlist the help of Tadashi’s friends, all geniuses in their own way, to recover the bots and save the day.
If you think that sounds like a superhero origin film, you’d be right. Big Hero 6 is very loosely based on the Marvel comic of the same name, and it’s Disney’s first animated Marvel feature following their acquisition of the legendary comics house. Prior knowledge of Marvel isn’t necessary, though, as Disney has morphed the comic into a much more family-friendly title, and it isn’t part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What it is, instead, is a fun and colorful adventure that only occasionally shows its roots.
The opening scenes, showing Hiro engaged in underground robot battles, are a bit of a tease but nicely set up the tone of the film. East meets West, action meets comedy. There’s a bit of snark, a bit of heart and a lot of movement. The biggest asset to the film is its setting. San Fransokyo isn’t just beautiful to look at it; it’s a fully-realized world unto itself, a world where robots are relatively common and super-geniuses are the cool kids. Imagine the Powerpuff Girls’ Townsville remixed by an anime fan. It’s a world that feels lived in and tactile even if it’s all animation.
Likewise, the characters feel like actual people and not animated code. Everyone has their own mannerisms, quriks and idiosyncrasies, like how Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) constantly over-pronounces Hiro’s name. When you have characters with names like Wasabi and Go Go, that’s not only important, it’s an absolute must. The voice cast is made up of people who did the best work inhabiting the character, not the people who have the biggest Q score.
The main draw of the film, however, is Baymax, and while Baymax is amusing and Scott Adsit’s voice work superb, the white fluffy robot is a relatively low-key center that helps give the film a warmth and (oddly enough) humanity. He doesn’t spout catchphrases, and he doesn’t reference pop culture. He’s honestly a better audience surrogate than Hiro, the ostensible protagonist, because of his constantly neutral expression and matter-of-fact way of expressing things. The rapport between Baymax and Hiro is almost always believable and grows organically instead of being buffeted around by plot points.
The film could have benefitted from a few more plot points just the same. It too often feels like too much origin and not enough story. A power-training montage midway through, while entertaining, goes on a bit too long and starts to rob the film of momentum. Likewise, the motivation of the masked villain comes a little bit out of nowhere. It seems arbitrary and sudden, even while it gives the villain added depth and sympathy.
That’s especially jarring when it appears that the film was narrated by Chekov (the playwright, not the ensign). Nearly everything seen in act one gets used in act three, which is both admirable and a bit predictable. Once you start to realize that there are really no red herrings in the film, the tropes almost leap off the screen. And yes, of course, Hiro’s parents are dead. Because after all, this is still a Disney film.
But every first film in a franchise tends to be a bit rocky—and a post-credits stinger definitely sets a sequel up—so it’s easy to overlook the film’s flaws and just give in to the rush. A family film that doesn’t pander to its audience, a comic book film that is the polar opposite of dark and gritty, and a Disney film without talking animals. Now that definitely IS heroic.
FBOTU Score: 7 out of 10 / B