Though Marvel has been building its cinematic universe beneath the Disney umbrella, Big Hero 6 is the first time that Disney Animation has poked around the comic company’s catalog for subject matter. Obviously they steered clear of Marvel’s elite super squads, as Big Hero 6 is an obscure title. And though I kind of feel like a dick for saying so, I wouldn’t mind if this movie reached the same level of obscurity at some point. At times it’s one of the most gorgeous animated films I’ve ever seen, but it’s also (within reason) one of the most forgettable superhero movies I’ve ever seen.
Big Hero 6 takes place in the megalopolis hybrid city of San Fransoyko, where 14-year-old high school graduate Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is making money in underground robot fights. See, he’s working with these microbots, guided by a neural transmitter, that work as individual pieces but also come together to do anything the transmitter-wearer wants. Hiro’s brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), wants to set Hiro on a path to greatness by introducing him to mentor Dr. Callaghan (James Cromwell) and getting him enrolled in Callaghan’s specialized robotics university. This is where we meet the gang, who are far better at making quips than they are at actually doing anything superheroic. More on them in a sec.
The Big Event that sets everything in motion takes both Tadashi and Dr. Callaghan out of the picture. (Cue the sad violins.) In his depression, Hiro unintentionally forms a bond with Baymax (Scott Adsit), an adorable inflatable healthcare robot Tadashi invented. Baymax is definitely the best part about Big Hero 6, as he provides much of the genuine laughs and the film’s heart, even though his own heart is made up of programmable parts.
Doing some detective work, Hiro and Baymax soon find that a kabuki mask-wearing villain has been manufacturing his own neural-guided microbots and using them for EVIL. Actually, he’s not really doing anything all that evil with them until the climax, and that’s another one of this flick’s faults. Even in a Marvel universe that had Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash, this bad guy is the worst. He doesn’t even have a name.
Then there’s the inevitable “let’s get the gang back together” routine, only this time it’s the gang getting together for the first time, as Tadashi’s university pals join Hiro and Baymax on this quest for justice. There’s the boisterous loudmouth Fred (T.J. Miller) and his fire-breathing dragon suit, the tough-talking GoGo (Jamie Chung) and her electromagnetic wheels, the chemistry-loving Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez) and her bag of chemical reactions, and Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.), the somewhat normal guy who uses laser gloves. (Plus, keep an eye out for Stan Lee’s cameo.)
I get that this is a kid’s movie and that I’m not the target audience, but children don’t pay for movie tickets on their own, so there needs to be something here for adults to get into. Without a doubt, that honor goes to the stunning visual splendor that is San Fransoyko. From the street scenes near the café run by Hiro’s Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph), to the massive high-in-the-sky sequences, I was absolutely blown away by how beautiful this movie is. Admittedly, I would have been happier had it just been a bird’s-eye tour of the city rather than the half-cocked superhero tale that we get.
Spoiler: these guys are terrible heroes, especially when compared to Baymax, who is the only being suitably equipped to take on this movie’s challenges. And he’s not even supposed to be doing any of this since he’s just a healthcare bot. Other than Hiro and Baymax, every character in this movie is instantly forgettable, including the greedy foil Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk), and the villain’s motivations (which lead to a completely bonkers final battle) are insanely ludicrous. Seriously, the nanorobotics stuff is pretty awesome, even if it is unlikely, but the film introduces and hinges on an even more maddeningly unbelievable technological advancement. I suspended my beliefs walking in, but they’d all repelled down and walked away by the ending.
Though I can knock the trite storyline, it’s impossible to ignore how much of Big Hero 6 is invested in science, which is both admirable and inspiring. I sincerely hope that kids come out of this movie with a newfound respect for the amazing world around them and what we can do with it, in the same way that little girls want to be Disney princesses and little boys want hoverboards. I like the way Modern Disney is giving both girls and boys something to dig into, but Big Hero 6 falls much flatter than either Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen. Maybe they’ll fix everything in the sequel, because you just know this movie is going to earn enough to get a sequel.
In the end, Big Hero 6 is far from terrible, but it’s just too generic and half-cooked to be considered a must-see, especially at a time when comic book heroes are a dime a dozen. The Incredibles just turned 10, you should watch that again instead.