Science is everything this weekend. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is a beautiful space epic that urges us to think about our options. The Theory of Everything, accounting the life of Stephen Hawking, is getting great reviews. And then there’s Big Hero 6, the new animated film from Walt Disney Pictures which gives kids (and adults) the kind of science they really want: the kind that makes superheroes. And it’s about time, too. This is the first time that Disney has actually used Marvel characters in an animated film since their purchase of the blockbuster company, and the results are nothing short of exhilarating fun and thoughtful humor for the whole family.
It is (very loosely) based on the Marvel superhero team Big Hero 6 first introduced in the late nineties. This film begins with the story of Hiro Hamada, a young and inventive robotic genius who has much potential with his skillset. However, he decides to spend his time using his skills in back alleys and underground rinks to fight robots instead of getting a formal education. This upsets his brother, Tadashi, who wants nothing more for him than success. So Tadashi lets him meet his university friends, Gogo, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred. The real treat is Baymax, the star of the show and the scene stealing presence. Baymax is an invention of Tadashi’s; a tall, fat, white, inflatable healthcare robot that only exists to care for his patients. He’s basically a nurse disguised as the Michelin Man. But it doesn’t take more than a couple seconds for you to care about him. And you thought Olaf was loveable in Frozen? He’s got nothing on Baymax. The lack of tone and personality is exactly what gives him tone and personality. I would venture to say that Baymax is one of the most loveable (and funniest) characters in Disney movie history.
The plot, while predictable at times (especially at the end), gets into dramatic territory when Tadashi gets killed inside the university where Hiro has just made a name for himself by showcasing his new invention. He calls them microbots, a kind of nanorobotics that he can control telepathically by way of a neural transmitter. Professor Callaghan (the head honcho of the university) likes his invention and wants him as a student. It’s almost a big break until the school catches fire, killing Tadashi as he rushes inside to find Callaghan. But “Tadashi is here,” says Baymax a few times throughout the movie, and the evidence of that is Baymax himself. Hiro accidently drops something on his foot, involuntarily yelps “OW!” and out of the box comes Baymax. You can’t help but laugh as he tries to squeeze through a small space, knocking books off the shelf with his enormous belly. The voice of Scott Adsit is perfect, sweet and funny and there hasn’t been a more loveable character in any movie this year.
As the movie progresses, Hiro’s vengeance for his brother pulsates as he rounds up the group of friends (all perfectly voice cast) and attempts to do typical superhero stuff. And it’s all pretty cool. There’s a montage scene of the group testing out their superpowers together that seems to be a bit of a homage to the one in X-Men: First Class. But nothing good can happen when you try to give Baymax a violent side. “I am not fast,” he says with no emotion whatsoever, and it’s hilarious and cute, but it’s also what makes him himself. Which is why things get complicated when Hiro tries to make him a superhero, decking him out in metallic armor that makes him look exactly like Iron Man, except for the marshmallow-like texture. And for a good while, it works. Baymax uses his superpowers to help people, which doesn’t go against his programming. What does go against his programming is Hiro’s new rage, with which he tries to influence Baymax to kill the main villain of the movie, a man in a “kabuki mask” that is using his microbots for villainous purposes. Watching Baymax try to reason with Hiro and tell him that killing is bad is some of the best dramatic content in any movie this year. It’s heartbreaking stuff.
All the members of Big Hero 6 have their own little knacks and personalities. T.J. Miller’s character Fred is a bit of a stoner that has a home life that no one saw coming (and it may just involve a cameo by a certain Marvel someone “wink, wink.”) They all work well together, having some great interplay and comedic timing. But it all rests on the shoulders of Baymax. His character (and the movie itself) seems to be heavily inspired by The Iron Giant, from Baymax mimicking Hiro’s actions to a tremendous scene with Baymax turning into a killing machine on a group of baddies by the authority of Hiro. It feels like The Iron Giant in some of the best ways possible. But even amidst the great dramatic work that will garner some tears from audience members and the cool superhero action that is the best from animation since The Incredibles, the movie always falls back on the softness of Baymax. His innocence and want to do good is admirable and loveable, and he is destined to be quoted by the little tikes for months. Baymax says “Oh no” a handful of times when his team is in danger, and when the movie ends and you reflect on everything that makes him so personable, you’ll be saying “Oh yes.” This is a strong contender for the best animated film of the year, and I loved nearly every minute of it.
Big Hero 6 (2014) 102 mins Rated PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements Starring Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Genesis Rodriguez, Damon Wayans, Jr. Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams