Disney’s latest superhero action comedy film has a heart as big as its central character, the unforgettable ‘personal healthcare robot’ Baymax, and a soul as warming as the heat produced by its technological core.
Ok, so this is Disney, and such praises have all been heard before. If anything we take the quality of their films for granted, and this is part of the reason Big Hero 6 doesn’t quite feel as original as it should. It feels familiar, audiences having just been treated to last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, with which this film shares some thematic and character components. If you’re looking for more of the same ‘superhero fare’ with an emotional backstory, albeit with a larger dollop of child-like innocence and refreshing lack of toilet humour, you can’t go wrong here.
Of course, innocence does not necessarily equal naivety, and the last thing this film wants to do is talk down to its young demographic. It goes beyond the usual theme of self-sacrifice and focuses also on the emotional effects of loss at a young age, not once but twice at significant points in the story. This is the film’s true strength underneath its visually striking, light-hearted surface.
That surface is so impeccably polished and detailed that you find yourself more than willing to take its unique world and characters seriously. Set in the fictional city of San Fransokyo, the film follows 14-year-old Hiro Hamada, who is a robotics genius spending his time hustling back-alley ‘robot fights’. His older brother becomes frustrated at Hiro’s lack of ambition or drive to use his talents for good, and introduces him to both his ‘nerd school’ (seemingly full of fellow engineering prodigies) and his pet project Baymax, with whom Hiro forms a strong bond over the course of the film.
The film’s meshing of Western and Eastern culture goes deeper than the naming of its city and characters (Hiro and the rest of the main cast are visibly and audibly American despite their Japanese names). The original comic series on which this film is based was set in Japan; the lack of proportion in certain parts of its animation also recalls the Japanese style.
Likewise, there is an interesting juxtaposition between retro and advanced technology in its world (inside the doors of the school you’re seeing impossibly complicated tech act in impossibly complicated ways; while outside, trams and bicycles remain the primary modes of transport through the city), which somehow creates an organic fictional environment that feels as tremendously creative as it does oddly believable. It’s hard not to be blown away by the sheer level of detail on display in the early parts of the movie.
Having said that, it is Baymax who is truly the central star, providing the films best comic moments and a comforting presence amidst the story’s more tragic arcs. Despite his appearance, Baymax is both the most original and ultimately most human of the main cast. Only at one point did the act threaten to become stale for me – when he begins acting drunk due to running low on battery – though in a child’s eye this will probably not be the case.
On the whole, I can’t deny that I loved Big Hero 6. I absolutely loved it; I found it not only hilarious, but more touching than most other movies I’ve seen recently, more psychologically illuminating than most other ‘mature’ films that think themselves better suited to dealing with the themes dealt with here.
Young kids can often deal with more than we give them credit for. Some parents may be concerned at the potentially heavy emotional overload that could come from a film that deals with loss and sorrow so overtly; I’d say in most cases there’d be no need to worry. Big Hero 6 may not be the most original film Disney’s ever produced, but from the perspective of a young audience member, it could just turn out to be one of their early defining memories of the power of cinema – and they could do much worse.
9 / 10