Walt Disney Pictures’ latest animated feature Big Hero 6 is based on a Marvel comic – a first for the company. The titular team was created in 1998 and has only appeared in what amounts to a handful of comic book issues. This obscurity ends up working in Disney’s favor as they were given the freedom to tweak and mold Big Hero 6 into something that is much more family friendly than your typical Marvel fare without being beholden to some nonsensical reverence to the comic’s roots. Yes, there are lessons to be doled out here and positive messages abound, but Big Hero 6 is so much fun and its “big message” so earnest and culturally relevant that these life lessons actually strengthen the film rather than provoke unintentional eye rolls. Big Hero 6 stars Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) as a child science prodigy who, in the film’s early scenes, is content using his abilities to hustle in the underground world of “bot fighting,” which is exactly what you imagine. Hiro’s older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) pushes him to be more than just a back-alley robotics hustler and brings him to his school to hopefully persuade him into enrolling. It is there that we are introduced to Tadashi’s classmates, all of which possess a very specific science-based skill: The cartoonishly meticulous laser expert Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), adrenaline junkie and daredevil Go Go (Jamie Chung), bubbly chemistry expert Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), and the lovable slacker known as Fred (T.J. Miller). We also get to meet Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell) and his ethically unsound adversary, Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk). It’s worth noting that all of this tablesetting and introduction of heroes and villains occurs in the university’s aptly named Exposition Hall – one of many clever sight gags in a film loaded with them. It is also here that we’re introduced to the real star of Big Hero 6, Baymax – an inflatable robot whose sole purpose is to provide medical care to people.
Baymax (voiced by 30 Rock’s Scott Adsit) provides the film with a majority of its comic relief. The puffy balloon design of the character is played for laughs often and the animators really let their imaginations run wild here. The film has a great understanding of physics and, as you might imagine, there are plenty of physically amusing things you can do with a balloon. Now picture that balloon having the ability to speak with the voice of a trained comedic actor because as great as those bits of physical humor are, the real charm of Baymax lies in Scott Adsit’s vocal performance. He delivers his lines in a deadpan, matter-of-fact cadence that is both childlike and maternal in nature. It’s an odd pairing of traits but it really works for such a unique character whose only desire is to heal, at all costs. With Baymax, we have the ultimate comedy presence on screen; he is both the foil and the straight man and that makes for a comedy act that never grows tiresome.
Anyone looking for the depth of The Incredibles should keep searching because you won’t find it here. The rest of the Big Hero 6 team can’t really compete with Baymax’s wit or charm but they really don’t have to. This is an animated team that functions much better as a team (Baymax included) than as individuals. Not that they’re boring, per se, but these characters are more or less types rather than fully fleshed out heroes like Pixar’s aforementioned team. Fortunately, teamwork is one of Big Hero 6’s messages and so it’s likely that these specific, one dimensional supporting characters are meant to shine a light on the greater good of teamwork rather than that of the individual. Still, it’s frustrating when you’ve seen other films champion the idea of teamwork while handling the supporting cast much better.
The main message of Big Hero 6 is this: don’t take the easy way just because you can. It urges its characters (and hopefully the audience) to solve problems by looking at them at another angle, to use your imagination and think creatively. This point is made no fewer than a half dozen times in the film and I couldn’t stop myself from smiling at every occurrence. Maybe it’s just my personal bias or maybe it’s because I’ve never seen a film so eagerly invested in inspiring its kid- centric audience to actually think but I loved Big Hero 6 for this reason above all. The excitement of having a logical breakthrough is treated as being one of the greatest feelings one can have and I’d be lying if I said I disagree. This is a movie you can actually feel great about letting your kids watch approximately two million times before they become treacherous adolescents.
Despite some glaring black holes in the plot Big Hero 6 is a whole lot of fun. It’s got heart, humor, and action and looks absolutely beautiful. This is a stellar animated film that will not only keep your kids entertained, but possibly inspire them to do much more than sing “Let It Go” in a cacophonous shriek for the rest of their childhood.
8 out of 10 stars