Film Review: Big Hero 6 (2014)

*All reviews contain spoilers*
Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, is property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The author claims no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the author and are not to be viewed as factual documentation. All screencaps are from Disneyscreencaps.com.

 

Cast
Scott Adsit – Baymax
Abraham Benrubi – General
Paul Briggs – Yama
Billy Bush – Newscaster
Jamie Chung – Go Go
James Cromwell – Robert Callaghan
Daniel Gerson – Desk Sergeant
Charlotte Gulezian – Ringleader
Daniel Henney – Tadashi Hamada
Daniel Howell – Male Technician #1 (UK Version only)
Stan Lee – Fred’s Dad
Phil Lester – Male Technician #1 (UK Version only)
Katie Lowes – Abigail Callaghan
T. J. Miller – Fred
Ryan Potter – Hiro Hamada
Genesis Rodriguez – Honey Lemon
Maya Rudolph – Cass
David Shaughnessy – Heathcliff
Alan Tudyk – Alistair Krei
Damon Wayans Jr. – Wasabi
Frank Welker – Mochi
Plus the usual additional voices
Sources of Inspiration – The characters of Big Hero 6, an American comic book series by Man of Action Entertainment, 1998-present
Release Dates – This one played at various film festivals before its official premiere
October 23rd, 2014 at the Tokyo International Film Festival, Japan (premiere)
November 4th, 2014 in Los Angeles, California, USA (American premiere)
November 7th, 2014 in USA (general release)
Run-time – 102 minutes
Directors – Don Hall and Chris Williams
Composers – Henry Jackman
Worldwide Gross – $657 million
Accolades – 17 wins and 57 nominations, including an Oscar win


2014 in History

The West African Ebola virus epidemic reaches its peak
Slopestyle events are introduced to the Winter Olympics, held this year in Sochi, Russia
Belgium becomes the first nation to legalise euthanasia for the terminally ill
After days of unrest which leave around 100 dead, the Ukrainian parliament removes President Viktor Yanukovych from power and replaces him with Oleksandr Turchynov
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, carrying 239 people, mysteriously disappears en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing; the search for the plane becomes the costliest in aviation history
Later in the year, the airline suffers its second blow when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is shot down by Russians over Ukraine
Russia controversially annexes the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine after a referendum (most nations still recognise Crimea as Ukrainian territory), resulting in widespread fury from the international community
The UN’s International Court of Justice bans Japan from further whaling activities, but whaling continues regardless
Around 276 schoolgirls and women are kidnapped by Boko Haram in Chibok, Nigeria; four years on, 112 remain missing
A passenger ferry, the MV Sewol, sinks off Donggeochado in South Korea, killing 305 (mostly high school students)
The twin towns of Gamboru and Ngala in Nigeria are attacked by Boko Haram, who kill over 300 people
The Northern Iraq offensive begins between the Iraqi government and a Sunni militant group known alternately as ISIS or ISIL; this leads to a full-on military offensive against the group as their activities increase and they declare themselves a caliphate
Juan Carlos I of Spain abdicates the throne, leaving his son, Felipe VI, to take over
Operation Protective Edge occurs between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, killing thousands in just seven weeks
The Khmer Rouge Tribunal sentences Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan to life imprisonment for their part in the Cambodian genocide
The fatal shooting of 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer leads to unrest in the city
Scotland holds a referendum on whether to leave the UK; a slim majority votes to remain
The USA and Arab partners begin their airstrikes campaign in Syria
The 2014 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates is suspended to protest the third-time refusal of a visa to the 14th Dalai Lama, perceived to be due to South Africa’s “kowtowing” to China
The Umbrella Revolution occurs in Hong Kong
The Pakistani Taliban carry out a mass shooting at an army school in Peshawar, Pakistan, killing at least 145 people
Relations are formally re-established between the USA and Cuba
Births of Princess Leonore, Duchess of Gotland, Princess Gabriella, Countess of Carladès and Jacques, Hereditary Prince of Monaco


 

The end is nigh, guys – we’ve reached the most recent three Disney features! Big Hero 6 is notable for being the first Disney canon film to feature characters from the Marvel Comics universe, following Disney’s acquisition of the company in 2009. Now, I should mention right off the bat that I’ve never been a comic book person, so I admit that my knowledge of Marvel is woeful. Luckily, the characters of Big Hero 6 were never among Marvel’s more popular ones (one of the main reasons Disney chose them for adaptation), so I don’t have to worry too much about getting the “lore” accurate (and anyway, Disney changed a lot from the source material).

Following the purchase of Marvel Entertainment, Disney CEO Bob Iger encouraged his staff to explore their back catalogue for potential properties that could be turned into a new animated film. Big Hero 6 was eventually selected as its relative obscurity would allow them greater creative freedom. It was co-director Don Hall who first came across the comic while directing Winnie the Pooh (2011), saying later, “I just liked the title.” He pitched a concept for a film adaptation of it to John Lasseter in 2011 as one of five suggestions, and Lasseter, Hall and Chris Williams agreed to go ahead with it.

However, it wasn’t until the following summer that Disney confirmed the adaptation was in the early stages of development. Aiming to keep the film feeling “new” and “fresh,” the head of story, Paul Briggs, decided not to read too many issues of the comic, while screenwriter Robert Baird chose not to read it at all. During production, the Disney Animation team were aided by members of Marvel’s personnel, including chief creative officer Joe Quesada and head of Marvel TV Jeph Loeb. There was apparently some conflict between the two studios as to whether a tie-in comic should be published to promote the film, with a final agreement to have Yen Press publish a Japanese manga version of the story for Disney.

The usual Disney research trip was taken early in the production process, with Hall and the design team visiting Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. There, they met a team of DARPA-funded researchers who were experimenting with the new field of “soft robotics,” involving inflatable vinyl – I’ll give you three guesses as to where they got the idea for Baymax’s design from.

Production progressed relatively smoothly (especially compared to those of some of the other recent features) and the film was released in 2014 after two years’ work. While it didn’t exactly take over the world the way that Frozen had, it still did remarkably well, so let’s don our Kabuki masks and take a peek into the hi-tech world of Big Hero 6 to find out why.

 

Characters and Vocal Performances

The characters for the film were all designed by Sang-Jin Kim, the first Korean to become the top animator at Disney. He revealed that the leads, although they were eventually made biracial (Japanese-American), were originally intended to be Koreans themselves.

Hiro has to go here

Don Hall said of the lead character that, “Hiro is transitioning from boy to man, it’s a tough time for a kid and some teenagers develop that inevitable snarkiness and jaded attitude. Luckily Ryan is a very likeable kid. So no matter what he did, he was able to take the edge off the character in a way that made him authentic, but appealing.” Fourteen-year-old Hiro Hamada is only the most recent in a long line of “little-boy” leads at Disney, and many of his predecessors are notorious for suffering from being overly-generic, so how does our first boy lead of the New Revival era compare?

Well, he’s certainly more complex than someone like Arthur or Lewis, that’s for sure. Hiro is a rather cocky and gifted young lad who has recently graduated from high school at just thirteen years old, but has since been squandering his talents on underground bot-fights. His older brother, keen to wake him up a bit, cleverly piques Hiro’s interests by showing him around his university – this ploy works, and Hiro begins working hard to get into the school. Unfortunately, his ambitions are put on hold after the death of his brother in a tragic accident (at least, it looks like an accident), and from then on, Hiro’s story becomes one about coping with grief and moving on with life.

Nonchalant Hiro botfighting

At the beginning of the film, Hiro has settled into something of a rut – despite his incredible mental faculties, he spends much of his time sneaking out to engage in illegal robot fights, causing his brother and aunt no end of worry. He is cocky and overconfident, no doubt due to feeling bored and unchallenged throughout his school years; it’s implied that he likes the sensation of being a “big fish in a small pond,” using his youthful looks to deceive opponents and then quickly swindling them with his superior fighting techniques. His intelligence has made him lazy and he no longer bothers to push himself to try and find out what he’s capable of. Although it isn’t made explicit, there’s also the suggestion that Hiro may feel inferior to his older brother, Tadashi, and is perhaps afraid that he will never be able to live up to his accomplishments, thus holding himself back out of a fear of failure (look at the way he derides Tadashi’s “nerd school,” for instance, yet quickly gets sucked into the atmosphere of the place after one visit).

Hiro demonstrates microbots

After receiving encouragement from Tadashi’s friends and the head of the robotics department himself, however, Hiro finally dares to come out of his shell and use his skills for something more worthwhile. We see during his appearance at the school science fair that while he is book-smart, he’s not quite as adept socially and can be rather shy in public, but his confidence is boosted by the enthusiasm with which his microbots are received. He is also shown to be able to make mature decisions despite his age, as he resists the temptation to sell his creation to a major technology company in favour of continuing his education first.

It is during these early scenes that we get to see Hiro’s relationship with Tadashi, and it’s very nicely done. We haven’t seen a story focused on brotherly love since Brother Bear nine years earlier, and the dynamic between Hiro and Tadashi is similar to that between Kenai and Sitka. They playfight and tease one another, certainly, but it’s also established that they care about one another – Tadashi is quick to come to Hiro’s rescue and goes to great lengths to steer Hiro onto a better path, while Hiro himself views Tadashi as a role model and looks to his brother for support and advice. Sadly, just as in Brother Bear, the younger boy’s world is shattered when his older brother is cruelly taken from him, leaving him hungry for answers – and revenge.

Hiro depressed in his room

The interesting thing about the way Hiro’s character is handled is that Disney uses him as a realistic portrayal of someone suffering from grief. This is something that Kenai’s story didn’t really allow for, what with him being turned into a bear shortly after taking his revenge. Hiro is never allowed to make the same mistake that Kenai did, because he has friends to keep him on the right path – Kenai winds up having to make amends for his rash acts by the end of his film, whereas Hiro is prevented from actually killing Callaghan and is thus able to get his life back on track before it’s too late.

Over the course of the film, we see Hiro displaying signs of different stages from the famous Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief. The first we see of him after Tadashi’s death, a few weeks have passed and he has become listless and depressed, shutting himself up in his room in darkness and avoiding eating or speaking to anyone. Then, when Baymax accidentally inspires a possibility of finding answers, Hiro becomes obsessed with the idea that the fire was no accident and sets out to find answers (elements of denial), becoming angry when he realises that Professor Callaghan did nothing to help Tadashi. Eventually, with support from Baymax and his friends, Hiro comes to accept his brother’s death and begins to start afresh. This is one of the more nuanced depictions of grief and loss that we’ve seen in the canon so far, and it may well provide some comfort and guidance for any young viewers out there suffering under similar circumstances, showing them that while the memories of the lost person will never fade, the pain will ease in time.

Hiro tells Baymax to destroy

Hiro’s character development comes full circle after the altercation on Akuma Island with Callaghan. Faced with the same opportunity for revenge as Kenai had, Hiro is prevented from taking it by his friends and is then calmed down by Baymax, who shows him footage of Tadashi during Baymax’s own construction. This reminds Hiro that Tadashi would not have wanted him to hurt anybody, effectively teaching him a healthier way to deal with his grief by having him use Tadashi’s principles in his own life, helping people rather than lashing out at them. Hiro uses his late brother’s advice to try and talk Callaghan out of making the same mistake, but Callaghan cannot get past his anger and forces Hiro into a battle.

This brings us to Hiro’s relationship with Callaghan. While the genial professor is initially made out to be an ally of Tadashi and the others, it’s later revealed that a terrible accident during the testing of a teleportation device led to the apparent “death” of his daughter Abigail at the hands of billionaire Alastair Krei. This is what pushes Callaghan into becoming the villainous “Yokai”; as we’ve seen with plenty of earlier Disney hero-villain pairings, the two characters’ motives reflect one another’s, but only one of them chooses the right path. When facing the loss of a loved one, both set out to get revenge on the perpetrator, but Hiro learns that this is not the answer and will only bring about more pain and devastation. He makes a valiant effort to teach Callaghan this, taking on his brother’s role as the peacemaker and demonstrating his character growth in the process.

Hiro reasons with Callaghan

Ultimately, Hiro’s journey takes him from being an unfulfilled teen delinquent to a helpful and respected member of his community, and it’s all thanks to Tadashi’s teachings, which are embodied after his death by Baymax. Hiro’s relationship with the huggable robot is definitely one of the highlights of Big Hero 6 – since Baymax embodies all of Tadashi’s morals, he is able to continue to act as a kind of guardian of Hiro in Tadashi’s place, albeit in a more limited capacity. With his guidance, Hiro is finally able to continue his efforts to further his education and put his robotics skills to good use by helping people, honouring Tadashi’s dreams of doing the same with Baymax. By the time the film draws to a close, Hiro has changed dramatically, and we watch with pride as he chats with his friends, happy and confident with a bright future ahead of him. When I think of how underdeveloped Anna was as our lead in the last film, I’m filled with relief at how much better Hiro’s arc was handled – it’s far more satisfying.

Baymax says hello in Hiro's room

Regarding Baymax, our loveable robot companion, producer Roy Conli said, “The fact that his character is a robot limits how you can emote, but Scott was hilarious. He took those boundaries and was able to shape the language in a way that makes you feel Baymax’s emotion and sense of humor. Scott was able to relay just how much Baymax cares.” The character’s movements were so limited that the production team codenamed the process of animating him “UN-imating,” but they still seem to have had a lot of fun with him; the final result is one of the most likeable characters in the entire canon (and I don’t think that’s an overstatement).

Ah, Baymax. Don’t you just love him? I know I do – he totally steals the whole film. Baymax fills the role usually taken up by an “animal conscience” sort of character, accompanying Hiro on his adventures and keeping him on the straight and narrow, but he’s far more engaging than most of those animal sidekicks ever were. Baymax is a robot designed by Hiro’s brother Tadashi, intended to be put to use as a sort of robotic “nurse”; he is programmed to help anyone in distress and has a vast catalogue of medical expertise and technology at his disposal. After Tadashi’s death, Baymax makes it his mission to help his “patient,” Hiro, feel better. At first, Hiro tries to take advantage of this somewhat by “upgrading” Baymax and using his abilities to help him track down Tadashi’s killer, but eventually, we get the crucial scene where Baymax puts a stop to this. After Hiro breaches his protocol by having him almost kill a human being, Baymax uses footage of Tadashi to shake Hiro out of his senseless rage and thus helps him to accept his brother’s death at last.

Baymax distracted by butterfly

Of course, we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit. For most of the film’s midsection, Baymax serves primarily as comic relief – but he does it extraordinarily well. Baymax’s brand of humour comes from the unique situation he’s in as a robot dealing with complex human emotions and situations, so it’s all very understated, mostly coming from his calm and peaceful reactions to danger or distress. As a nurse-bot, he is presumably unable to express anger and of course cannot act violently, which gives him a gentle presence that enables him to soften the mood whenever things are getting too dark. Callaghan attacks Hiro, but it’s not too scary because we’re all chuckling at the hapless Baymax getting wedged into windows; Callaghan nearly kills the kids, but Baymax pulls them all to safety and begins to heat them up like a “warm marshmallow.” As you can see in the image above, Baymax remains a sweetheart even when trussed up in an imposing suit of armour, trying to do his own version of a fist-bump instead of demonstrating his powers and getting distracted by butterflies. He’s so damn CUTE!

Evil Baymax

This all makes that moment on Akuma Island even scarier, when Hiro pulls out the robot’s nursing chip and briefly leaves him with only a bloodthirsty battle chip to run off of, ordering him to kill Callaghan. It’s a scene which reminds us all too clearly that Baymax is, after all, a robot beholden to his programming – without the influence of Tadashi’s healthcare protocol, Baymax becomes a terrifying monster brimming with rage, mindless and nearly unstoppable in his attempt to “destroy” the clearly shaken Callaghan. The moment underlines the importance of Tadashi’s teachings to Hiro; when the boy tries to symbolically reject his brother’s guidance by discarding Baymax’s original programming, things quickly go wrong and almost end in disaster – it is only thanks to the quick intervention of Honey Lemon, who reinserts the healthcare chip, that a major mistake is prevented. Baymax himself learns from the experience, realising that what his “patient” needs is reassurance from his brother – something he is able to provide in the touching scene that follows.

Baymax closeup in portal

With Hiro’s moral code intact, the pair re-join their teammates to stop Callaghan – non-violently, this time – and in the process, they discover that Callaghan’s daughter is, in fact, still alive. Hiro steps into Tadashi’s shoes by volunteering to enter the portal to rescue her (“Someone has to help”, he says, echoing his brother’s last words), but at the last moment, a piece of debris destroys part of Baymax’s armour, rendering him unable to fly them all to safety. This leads to a moment reminiscent of one of the best scenes in The Iron Giant (1999), where the robot chooses to sacrifice himself to save his young friend – in this case, Baymax’s sacrifice and Hiro’s reluctant acceptance of it further highlight how much the boy has grown as a character, as he is now able to face the loss of a loved one, symbolising him coming to terms with Tadashi’s death. Baymax even references his “fist-bump” ability by using his jet-powered fist as the means of saving Hiro and Abigail, a touching nod to what he’s learned from his time with Hiro.

Then, in another happy parallel with The Iron Giant, we find out at the end of the film that Baymax (or at least, his “essence”, in chip form) “survived” the incident, and just as we left Hogarth eagerly anticipating the Iron Giant’s return, so we leave Hiro reunited with his friend (in a freshly-built body). Considering what the poor kid’s already been through, it’s all the more satisfying to see that he does at least get to keep Baymax – and since the robot himself is the cutest we’ve seen since Wall-e, he makes for a very welcome “reward.” Baymax, for me, is up there with the pantheon of other classic Hollywood robot characters – good job, Disney.

Professor Callaghan at university

Our main antagonist here is Professor Robert Callaghan, who is the head of the robotics department at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. Although he is initially presented as a nice guy who shows an interest in developing Hiro’s talents (even engaging with Tadashi in a playful bit of reverse psychology), we see early on that he has a bit of a personal grudge against Alastair Krei, a major businessman who evidently dominates the robotics industry in this universe. Their animosity is set up in such a way that we are led to believe Krei will be the man in the mask later on, but in another of those “twist” reveals that Disney seems to love so much in this era, it actually turns out to be Callaghan.

Callaghan attacks Krei in footage

The Big Hero 6 team learn through old surveillance footage that Krei used Callaghan’s daughter as the pilot in a test run of an unstable teleportation device, a test which seemingly kills her after the portal begins to destabilise during the demonstration. After that, Callaghan is apparently on the lookout for an opportunity to take some revenge, and when he sees Hiro’s microbots at the science fair it seems like his chance has come. While it’s never outright stated, the implication is that Callaghan started the fire which leads to Tadashi’s death in order to steal the microbots, and from this point on, he becomes a mysterious masked figure in a trench coat who goes by the name of Yokai (Japanese for “phantom” or “spirit”).

Yokai's first appearance

Honestly, Callaghan’s not one of the best villains in Disney-dom, suffering from the same kind of problem as Hans did in the last film. The trouble is, the film goes to such lengths to “throw us off the scent”, so to speak, by setting him up as an ordinary nice guy, that it feels unbelievable when he suddenly seems fine with murdering his students when they get in his way. Admittedly, he manages to be a more credible threat than the dashing prince was able to be because of his disguise, but until the mask is actually removed, it’s difficult to reconcile Callaghan with Yokai because they feel so utterly incompatible with one another.

As I mentioned above, Callaghan’s arc mirrors Hiro’s – both of them suffer a loss, and both react at first by seeking revenge, wanting to find the “source” of their pain and make that person feel it too. However, while Hiro has Baymax and his other friends to prevent him from making that mistake, Callaghan apparently lacks such support and goes completely nuts, displaying no remorse for Tadashi despite appearing to get along well with the guy earlier on and attempting to outright kill some of his own students just for seeing him (hidden under a mask), despite them having nothing at all to do with harming his daughter. Callaghan’s portrayal raises all sorts of questions about his family and background; where is his wife, for instance? Does he not have any friends? Is he a sociopath, as some have argued Hans was? He’s certainly able to put up a convincing guise of kindness when Hiro first meets him, but at that point, he has no reason to deceive the boy because he doesn’t yet know about his microbots (heck, Hiro hasn’t even created them at that point). Could his crossing of the “moral event horizon” later on be simple desperation to get Krei, whatever the cost? It all seems rather poorly thought out.

Callaghan wants his daughter back

In Callaghan’s final confrontation with the Big Hero 6 team, a newly-enlightened Hiro tries to reason with him, pointing out that killing Krei won’t bring back his daughter. Callaghan, however, refuses to accept this and continues trying to destroy the kids until they manage to crush his mask (which controls the microbots) – in doing so, they essentially perform the same duty for him that they did for Hiro, preventing Callaghan from committing murder and giving him the chance of redemption. When Hiro successfully retrieves Abigail Callaghan from the portal, the professor looks suitably ashamed of himself as he’s carted off in the back of a police car, but one hopes that he has at least learned from the experience.

Personally, I also hope that Disney learn to stop relying so heavily on these awkward “twist” villains, or at least to handle them more skilfully. While I don’t hate King Candy, Hans, Callaghan or Bellwether, none of them are as memorable as the classic Disney villains we all love to hate, mainly because hiding their evil sides from us too well robs them of any presence and makes their “reveals” too jarring to accept.

Tadashi scolds Hiro for botfighting

Hiro’s big brother Tadashi might not have a lot of screen time (sniff), but his impact is felt throughout the entire film and reverberates in the resolution of Hiro’s character arc. Like his brother, Tadashi is also an intelligent student and he knows what Hiro could be capable of, so he spends most of his scenes trying to guide the lad down a more useful path. His main tactic is to expose Hiro to the wonders of his school’s robotics department, knowing that a boy of his intellect will be unable to resist the temptations it offers.

At the school, we are introduced to Tadashi’s project, the robo-nurse Baymax, symbolising his driving motivation: He wants to help people. This selflessness is at the core of his character and, tragically, becomes his Achilles Heel – while it’s inspiring to see how he pushes his brother to challenge himself and touching to see him defending Hiro from the bot gang, we know all too well as he rushes into the burning building to rescue Callaghan that it will be his demise. He constantly puts others before himself, a trait which becomes both his biggest flaw and one of his most attractive qualities, making him feel like a realistic person in his limited screen time. His interest in advancing medical care in particular suggests that his parents’ deaths may have been due to some sort of incurable disease, or perhaps inept care after an accident, but their absence also affects him in other ways.

Tadashi chats to Hiro on bridge

While Hiro was too young at the time to remember his parents, Tadashi (who must be a good five-to-eight years older) presumably had time to develop a relationship with them and may even have inherited his caring nature from one of them. Growing up, he functions as a kind of surrogate parent to Hiro in the same way that Nani does for Lilo in Lilo & Stitch, acting as a mentor to Hiro and pushing him to do his best, while their Aunt Cass supplies the more nurturing side. Considering this, his loss is all the more crushing to Hiro, as Tadashi had been fulfilling multiple roles towards him as both a brother and a kind of parent. However, this also strengthens their bond and Hiro learns more from Tadashi than he might have had the two of them remained ordinary brothers with living parents to guide them instead.

In life, Tadashi was a great brother, a valued friend and an active member of his community, making him the film’s most important supporting character and a memorable addition to the line of deceased Disney family members who motivate the loved ones they leave behind. Oh, and to all the fangirls out there – yes, we know, he’s rather attractive.

Krei talks to Hiro at expo

The character of Alastair Krei fulfils a similar function in the plot of this film as the Duke of Weselton did in the last one – and as it happens, both are played by the versatile Alan Tudyk, who has become a staple of this era. Krei is the red herring, the decoy who we are supposed to suspect as the “villain” before Callaghan’s reveal, and as such, he is set up as the stereotypical slimy businessman who cares only about making money, even if this is at other people’s expense. His name is probably a reference to the Cray Research Company, which created the earliest supercomputers back in the 1970s.

There’s not really a whole lot to him as a character, because he is really more of a plot device. In his first scene, he seems to be representing the usual “temptation” which our hero/Hiro must resist, and the mood suggests that he will seek “vengeance” on Hiro for rejecting his offer. This turns out to be false, however, as we learn in his next appearance – the group see him sending Callaghan’s daughter into the portal in surveillance footage, sparking the professor’s wrath when she fails to return. While this does seem to suggest that Krei is rather lax with his safety regulations, it doesn’t make him evil; he probably didn’t expect the portal to destabilise so catastrophically. Krei’s final appearance comes when Callaghan gate-crashes the opening of his fancy new facility, presumably intending to kill him, but he is rescued by Big Hero 6, making him a bit of a damsel in distress.

Tactless and careless, but not remotely “evil,” Krei is not an especially interesting character, but he does highlight the diversity of Alan Tudyk – seriously, can you believe this is the same guy who played King Candy?

The gang videochats with Hiro

Before we get to the more minor roles, let’s take a moment to explore Tadashi’s “crew”, the four students who go on to form Big Hero 6 itself with Hiro and Baymax (despite never once referring to themselves as such in the film). This likeable, rag-tag group reminded me a lot of the crew from Atlantis: The Lost Empire, featuring the same collection of experts in different fields, the same ethnic diversity, the same mix of temperaments and the same gender ratio. Each one fits into a kind of stereotypical “role” and their characters aren’t fully explored here due to time restraints – if you’d like to see more of them (as I did), check out the TV show.

Fred introduces himself

First up, we have Fred, the only one of the four not to be an actual student at San Fran Tech. Instead, he is the school’s mascot, as well as being a bit of an otaku (or at least an affectionate parody of one), obsessed as he is with comic books, monster movies and other pop culture. On the subject of his voice actor, T. J. Miller, director Williams said “He’s a real student of comedy. There are a lot of layers to his performance, so Fred ended up becoming a richer character than anyone expected.”

Fred is one of the more excitable and energetic members of the team, making him most similar to Honey Lemon in temperament. He is good-natured and welcoming, happy to meet Hiro and supportive of him both at the science fair and in the aftermath of Tadashi’s death, showing himself to be a kind and caring friend. While his personal grooming may leave something to be desired (he re-uses his underwear for days at a time), it’s clear that he is the “glue” that holds the group together.

Fred in his suit

It is partially Fred’s enthusiasm for and knowledge of super heroes that lead Hiro to create Big Hero 6, and he seems to be the one keenest to keep it going afterwards. He’s also optimistic to a fault and seems to enjoy the many dangerous situations they end up in, even when their very lives are at stake. However, despite his happy-go-lucky attitude, it’s hinted that Fred might not always be as chirpy as he seems, since he seems to suffer from loneliness due to the frequent absence of his wealthy parents. It’s a classic case of being “spoiled sweet”: with his parents substituting their affection for endless money and trinkets, Fred turns to his friends as a kind of surrogate family. His excitement at showing them around his house for the first time is very endearing, although you do wonder why they’ve never been over there before (perhaps he’s a little shy about his parents’ ostentatiousness).

In his superhero guise, Fred’s costume (which resembles one of his beloved monsters) gives him the ability to breathe fire and allows him to leap from building to building like an acrobat. He also doesn’t let his lack of actual scientific skill get in his way, instead incorporating some of his “sign-spinning” from his role as a mascot into his fighting style. Overall, his warmth, positivity and good humour make him an enjoyable member of the team. He may be a nerd, but he’s our nerd.

Go Go at Fred's place

Speaking of Go Go, director Hall said, “She’s definitely a woman of few words. We looked at bicycle messengers as inspiration for her character.” Small, stocky and tomboyish, Go Go Tomago is notable for being Disney’s first Korean character, and she is one of Tadashi’s fellow students at San Fran Tech, where she studies industrial design and mechanical engineering. Her lead character designer, Shiyoon Kim, drew upon his own experiences with “tough” sister stereotypes and incorporated the bike messenger/trick culture of real-life San Francisco into Go Go’s skillset. Meanwhile, head designer Sang-Jin Kim had South Korean actress Doona Bae in mind when creating her, but he also worked in elements of various Korean short track skaters.

Go Go is the strong and silent type, and she has a direct counterpart in Atlantis’s Audrey Ramirez. Both girls are small, dark engineers who communicate more through actions than words, and both end up taking on a sisterly sort of role towards the male lead (although it makes more sense here; in Audrey’s case, said male was fourteen years her senior). Go Go is one of the group’s more active members, and along with Fred, is one of the first to side with Hiro in his decision to create Big Hero 6. Just before this, during their first encounter with “Yokai,” she takes the lead in the ensuing car chase after Wasabi’s law-abiding ways frustrate her, enabling their escape. She also actively engages in their later battles with the sinister figure and is only narrowly defeated due to her inexperience.

However, while she does display a similar tendency to act before thinking as Hiro does, she is more mature than him and knows when to step back, reproaching him for attempting to kill Callaghan. In this way, she helps to keep Hiro’s more rebellious side under control and acts as a stabilising influence on him. This possibly reminds him of Tadashi, which could explain why she and Hiro seem to have the closest relationship in the group by the film’s end.

Go Go in her suit

Go Go’s super-suit works off of her need for speed, incorporating a pair of maglev discs which act as both a means of transportation and as handy weapons in a battle. They are detachable and can be thrown at an enemy, but they are also magnetised and return to Go Go like boomerangs to be re-used quickly. With the right momentum and angle, she can even use these discs to cut through solid materials such as the microbots.

Unlike Fred, we don’t learn much about Go Go’s life outside of San Fran Tech, but we don’t really need to. She does her job well, supporting Hiro in his hour of need and doing her bit to help the people of San Fransokyo from there on out. She’s a strong and capable role model for young girls, too, which is always good to see. Go Go is another excellent addition to the cast.

Wasabi says hello to Hiro

Next up we have Wasabi, a large African-American student of applied physics. Director Williams said of him that “He’s actually the most conservative, cautious—he’s the most normal among a group of brazen characters. So he really grounds the movie in the second act and becomes, in a way, the voice of the audience and points out that what they’re doing is crazy.”

Rather like Joshua Sweet in Atlantis, Wasabi’s imposing size belies his gentle nature and he is one of the more timid members of the team. He comes across as a little more reserved than Fred or Honey Lemon, but slightly warmer than Go Go, supporting Hiro at the science fair but expressing some doubts about the formation of Big Hero 6. He is naturally cautious and somewhat neurotic, possibly suffering from OCD as evidenced by his discomfort when people move his things. In battle, he is easily frightened by Yokai’s vicious attacks, seemingly the only member of the team to see the danger of the events that take place, but in spite of this he is able to do his part in defeating the masked villain and remains a member of the team afterwards. Although he is generally shy, he isn’t afraid to reproach Hiro when he steps out of line, scolding him along with Go Go for attempting to kill Callaghan.

Wasabi in his suit

Wasabi’s suit utilises his special skills just like the others, including a pair of retractable plasma blades which Wasabi can wield to great effect, slicing through even the hardest materials with ease. He also demonstrates surprising reflexes and agility for his size and is one of the most capable fighters when he gets into his stride, second only to Baymax in terms of raw power.

As one of the more level-headed members of the group, Wasabi is perhaps the closest thing they have to a straight man in the absence of Tadashi, and at times he serves as an audience surrogate, mirroring our reactions to the craziness of what’s going on.

Honey Lemon at Fred's place

The final member of the group is Honey Lemon, a Hispanic chemical engineering student. Director Williams said of her, “She’s a glass-is-half-full kind of person. But she has this mad-scientist quality with a twinkle in her eye – there’s more to Honey than it seems.” This is certainly true, though perhaps not quite in the way that he meant – the confirmation of Honey Lemon’s ambiguous racial background after the fact in promotional materials led to a minor outcry from fans, who felt that her “representation” felt more like tokenism since it isn’t made obvious in-film that she is Hispanic, while others argued that the very fact that her race wasn’t a “big deal” was progressive.

Either way, it’s certainly encouraging to see a girl in a Disney film engaging passionately in a STEM subject like chemistry, especially given all the articles in recent years about women’s continuing underrepresentation in such fields. And on top of that, she champions a different body image for a change; when was the last time we saw a tall, bespectacled girl as one of the leading ladies in a Disney film? Speaking as a short male, I was still genuinely pleased to see Disney finally representing tall girls.

In terms of personality, Honey Lemon is absolutely loaded with it, matched only by Fred in her bubbling enthusiasm and affectionate nature. If he is the “glue” that keeps them altogether, she is the “heart”, the one who looks out for their wellbeing and encourages them to communicate. What I love about Honey Lemon is that while she is presented as unashamedly “feminine”, she’s also intelligent and an active participant in the battles, showing that the two traits do not need to cancel each other out. She teaches girls that it’s perfectly okay to enjoy wearing skirts and heels while calculating complex equations in the science lab – being a woman does not mean being “less than” a man. Honey is just as capable as any of her male comrades (and is arguably smarter and more skilled than Fred), and for once, she is allowed to remain independent instead of being romantically “paired up” with one of them at the end of the film.

Honey Lemon in her suit

Story-wise, Honey is one of the more observant members of the team, frequently drawing the others’ attention to some new clue she has discovered, but she is also one of the more hesitant, expressing similar reservations as Wasabi over the creation of Big Hero 6. Still, she is behind Hiro one hundred percent and acts as one of his most vocal supporters, encouraging him to open up instead of closing himself off. Actually, in both personality and facial appearance, Honey bears a strong resemblance to Rapunzel, although she’s far taller than the petite princess! Both girls tend to see the sunnier side of things and are very demonstrative towards those they care about, but they’re also both tough when they have to be and more than capable of taking care of themselves.

Honey’s suit incorporates her love of chemistry in an ingenious chem-purse which she uses to make calculations on the fly, concocting various chemical weapons that offer her a wide range of abilities, from freezing enemies and cushioning falls to smokescreens for camouflage and sticky “pads” for suction. Of course, it also incorporates her beloved high heels, but in a sturdier wedge form more suited to kicking butt.

Honey is definitely an integral part of the team and my only complaint is that we don’t get to see more of her and the others, at least in the film. Thank goodness for the show!

Aunt Cass making wings

The cast is rounded out with Hiro and Tadashi’s Aunt Cass, their high-energy guardian who took them in after the death of their parents. She is the proprietor of the Lucky Cat Café, a popular bakery and coffee shop in the suburbs of San Fransokyo where she and the boys also live. Her role in the film is a small one, as she is basically just there to show that the boys are not living alone, but Maya Rudolph does a lot with the limited part and makes Aunt Cass a hugely enjoyable part of the film. Cass is shown to be excitable and a little eccentric, always talking fifty to the dozen and eager for hugs, much like Honey Lemon. She clearly cares deeply for her nephews and worries about them when they’re out at night, struggling to scold them after picking them up from the police station at one point due to her relief at having them back safe (it’s painful to imagine how she must have felt after Tadashi’s death, especially since she had to try and put on a brave face for Hiro’s sake). Following the loss of Tadashi, Cass does her best to cheer Hiro up and gently encourages him to get back to his life, but she is unable to lift him out of his torpor.

It appears that Hiro keeps his aunt in the dark regarding his Big Hero 6 activities, and after the group is formed she isn’t really featured again until the end, where we see her enjoying life as usual with Hiro and his friends at the café. Good for Cass – after all she’s been through, it’s nice to see her safe and happy with Hiro at the end. Also, in keeping with the Marvel themes of the film, it’s worth noting the resemblance her dynamic with Hiro bears to that between Spider Man and his Aunt May – surely it can’t have been a coincidence?

Cocky Yama botfighting

Among the minor characters, there are a few worth focusing on. In the film’s earliest scene, Hiro goes up against a mountain of a man named Yama, who seems to be the local bigshot in underground bot-fighting. Seeing diminutive Hiro, Yama is naturally arrogant and dismissive of the boy, overconfident in his own robot’s abilities, but the smile is soon wiped off his face when Hiro wipes the floor with him and collects the cash. He doesn’t react well, setting some of his goons on the kid, but luckily Tadashi is there to whisk Hiro out of danger before things get ugly.

Abigail Callaghan as pilot

Abigail Callaghan is also worth noting, since despite not getting much screen time, it is her apparent demise which motivates her father into becoming the evil “Yokai”. Callaghan notes upon meeting Hiro that he reminds him of Abigail, since she too used to love a good bot-fight, yet this apparently does not deter him from attempting to destroy the kid later on (damn inconsistent character writing). As an adult, Abigail is a confident pilot working for Krei Tech Industries, which is what leads her into danger after Krei’s teleportation portal malfunctions, leaving her trapped inside. Baymax and Hiro rescue her in the film’s climax, although Baymax is forced to temporarily “sacrifice” himself to do so. The last we see of her, she is being rushed to hospital in a stable condition.

Heathcliff bring it on

We also have Fred’s family butler, Heathcliff (what a butlery name), who serves primarily as comic relief. Heathcliff first appears when Fred brings the gang back to his mansion to recover after their first clash with Yokai, appearing only mildly surprised at the state of them and simply raising an eyebrow at Baymax’s adorably muddled version of a “fist-bump.” Later on, he’s also referenced as having rescued the gang from Akuma Island after Hiro leaves them there in a rage. Why do I get the feeling he’s British? This “stiff upper lip” thing is his defining trait; nothing phases him, even when helping Fred and his friends test out their new super suits. Despite several near misses, he still finds time to butter a scone! You wonder if he’s done this sort of thing before…

Fred's father

This brings us neatly to Fred’s dad, who serves as the standard cameo for Marvel legend Stan Lee in a post-credits stinger scene. Despite the considerable age gap between the actors (Lee was 58 when T. J. Miller was born), Lee does a convincing job as Fred’s billionaire father and implies that he, too, was once a superhero. It looks like Fred may finally get that father-son bonding time he’s been longing for, as they have something unexpected in common! Apparently, this scene was added to the film only in August of 2014 after Don Hall and the team went to see Guardians of the Galaxy and realised that the audience patiently waited for a post-credits scene. “{i}t horrified us, that people were sat waiting for an end credits thing, because of the Marvel DNA. We didn’t want people to leave the movie disappointed.” Don’t worry, Don – we weren’t!

Officer Gerson talks to Hiro and Baymax

It’s also worth briefly mentioning Sergeant Gerson, the incredulous police officer who Hiro and Baymax first try to report Yokai to. The details of their story already have Gerson wary, but once Baymax begins to lose air and malfunction due to “low battery,” the jaded policeman seems ready to dismiss their story as hogwash. Still, he’s not an unkind man and does listen to what they have to say (even if he doesn’t seem to believe it), which is perhaps why they reward him with a new tape dispenser in the credits.

Dan and Phil cameo roles

Before we move on, I know the phandom would kill me for not noting the famous Dan and Phil cameo in one scene. Daniel Howell and Philip Lester are a hugely popular pair of YouTubers with a highly devoted fanbase (for what it’s worth, I’m subscribed to both and enjoy their gaming videos) and for this film, Disney offered them the chance to immortalise themselves with two tiny roles in one of the surveillance footage scenes. For the UK theatrical releases of the film only, the duo voiced Male Technicians #1 and #2 – they’re the guys who advise Krei about the portal’s instability during the test. With just one line each, it’s a blink-and-you’ll miss it moment, but one which I’m sure their devoted fans treasured.

 

Animation

The animation supervisors for this film included Doug Bennett, Nathan Engelhardt, Jason Figliozzi, Michael Franceschi and Brent Homman. About ninety animators worked on the film across the course of its production, with some remaining for up to two years. As has become the norm with Disney’s newer computer-animated features, this one utilised various pieces of new software created to aid the artists in their work. These included Denizen, which populated San Fransokyo with around 700 distinctive background characters, Bonzai, which filled it with 250,000 trees, and Hyperion, which created fascinating new lighting possibilities and allowed the depiction of light shining through Baymax’s vinyl surface. Pixar’s trusty RenderMan was considered the “Plan B” for the rendering should Hyperion not be sufficient to meet deadlines.

Big Hero 6 crowd overhead

Okay, I’m going to lift this paragraph directly from Wikipedia because to be frank, it’s far too technical for me. According to the folks at Wiki, “Development on Hyperion started in 2011 and was based upon research into multi-bounce complex global illumination originally conducted at Disney Research in Zürich. Disney, in turn, had to assemble a new super-computing cluster just to handle Hyperion’s immense processing demands, which consists of over 2,300 Linux workstations distributed across four data centres (three in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco). Each workstation, as of 2014, included a pair of 2.4 GHz Intel Xeon processors, 256 GB of memory, and a pair of 300 GB solid-state drives configured as a RAID Level 0 array (i.e., to operate as a single 600 GB drive). This was all backed by a central storage system with a capacity of five petabytes, which holds all digital assets as well as archival copies of all 54 Disney Animation films.” Well, there you have it – for any techno-nerds out there, I hope you understood more of that than I did.

Regarding Baymax, director Don Hall said that he “wanted a robot that we had never seen before and something to be wholly original. That’s a tough thing to do, we’ve got a lot of robots in pop culture, everything from The Terminator to WALL-E to C-3PO on down the line and not to mention Japanese robots, I won’t go into that. So I wanted to do something original.” Lisa Keene came up with the idea of making him “non-threatening” and “huggable”, as Tadashi puts it, while the inflatable vinyl covering itself was inspired by robots at the Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, as noted in my intro.

Hall further explained that he “met a researcher who was working on soft robots. … It was an inflatable vinyl arm and the practical app would be in the healthcare industry as a nurse or doctor’s assistant. He had me at vinyl. This particular researcher went into this long pitch but the minute he showed me that inflatable arm, I knew we had our huggable robot.” For Baymax’s distinctively restricted movements, the animators studied the actions of babies with full diapers (blech). Meanwhile, the impressively-animated microbots were inspired by videos of fire ants working as a team – they were my favourite aspect of the animation on offer here, personally.

 

Plot

Although there were rumours of a rift between Disney and Marvel when adapting these characters, John Lasseter dismissed the idea, backed by producer Roy Conli, who stated that Marvel allowed Disney “complete freedom in structuring the story.” Disney Animation Studio President Andrew Millstein said that “Hero is one example of what we’ve learned over the years and our embracing some of the Pixar DNA,” while Marvel’s chief creative officer Joe Quesada said, “The relationship between Hiro and his robot has a very Disney flavour to it… but it’s combined with these Marvel heroic arcs.” Despite this blending of styles, it was decided from the outset that Big Hero 6 would not connect to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe (which is complicated enough, goodness knows), instead standing alone as a pure Disney product.

Big Hero 6 together

This is probably just as well, because despite sharing a name with the Marvel comic series the characters of this film are very different, with changes made to their names, ethnicities, backstories and roles in the plot. As I said in my intro, I’m no expert on Marvel, but a quick scan of the comic’s Wikipedia page tells me that there were several additional members of the team who weren’t included in the film, and that Baymax originally had the ability to transform himself into a dragon!

Baymax as seen here was originally supposed to be introduced much later in the film, according to Chris Williams, but story artist John Ripa came up with a way of having Hiro meet him earlier (and I’m sure we’re all very glad he did). This strengthened the film by establishing a firm friendship between Hiro and Baymax, but the filmmakers still ended up having to reconstruct “a fair amount of the first act” to make this new dynamic fit.

Baymax comforts Hiro

There were also originally going to be more villains included, including a trio of deadly Geishas called the Fujitas, a Japanese TV Talk Show host called Mr. Sparkles and a group of jetpack-flying pilots called the Banzai Bombers, but all were presumably cut for time (though I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them crop up in the show).

The secret island base, Akuma Island, was going to be an abandoned military base where Yokai would use a stolen nuclear submarine to power the portal (sounds like an idea from Gravity Falls). A monster named Entity was also going to emerge from it at one point and begin attacking San Fransokyo, but eventually it was decided to restrict the portal’s purpose to simple teleportation. I think that works better, as it fits into the film’s more realistic universe; none of the superpowers presented are supernatural, being rooted instead in real science, so including “monsters” might have cheapened the overall effect.

Tadashi in video footage

Overall, the film has better writing than Frozen did (obviously not going through the same last-minute rewrites as that film), but that said, the pacing is still a little off at times and some of the dialogue is clunky and expositional – Tadashi in particular seems to suffer from this. (“You graduated high school when you were thirteen and this is what you do with it?” Who says sentences like that?) I have to admit, while I understand the plot significance of Tadashi’s death in prompting Hiro’s “flowering into manhood,” I didn’t really feel anything the first time I saw it because it felt too rushed and sudden. Still, the scene where Baymax comforts Hiro with recordings of his brother makes up for this, as it features some nicely-written dialogue for Tadashi which doubles as advice for Hiro (he talks about “not giving up” on Baymax/Hiro and says “You’re going to help so many people”, which Hiro does as a superhero).

The_Iron_Giant_poster

Also, as I noted in the character section, the plot of the film bears some resemblance to that of The Iron Giant, which also featured an intelligent young boy and a sweet but rather clueless robot helping one another to grow. Both robots sacrifice themselves for their friend but are then able to “survive”, but I must admit I found the moment more moving in the older film (perhaps just because of a nostalgia bias, having grown up with that one).

 

Cinematography

This is notable for being the first Disney film to show the title only at the end of the film rather than the beginning, and it is also never referenced by any of the characters, who do not refer to themselves as Big Hero 6.

Big Hero 6 represented a new challenge for Disney’s computer animators, as it required the creation of an entire city in all its complexity. Earlier CG Disney films did feature the occasional city, such as in Meet the Robinsons, but never had such an intricate setting been so thoroughly realised and explored. The original comic takes place in Tokyo, but apparently, the reason Disney chose to meld it with San Francisco here was because that city had not been used by Marvel as a major setting before, and it featured plenty of iconic aspects which they felt would blend well with Tokyo’s aesthetic. The writers came up with a whole backstory explaining this “alternate” version of the Golden Gate city, in which it was rebuilt largely by Japanese immigrants after the great earthquake of 1906, but this is never mentioned in-film (shame, I love a touch of history). The setting of the film is officially said to be 2032, thus explaining all the advanced technology; funnily enough, Hiro is supposed to be being born this very year, so his parents are still alive. Quick, we must protect them!

The film features plenty of breath-taking panoramas and cityscapes, as well as some careful use of lighting and recurring symbols (like Tadashi’s hat) to influence the emotional beats of the scenes; just look at this selection. I struggled to narrow it down; this is a really gorgeous film!

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The design of the city was inspired by similar ones featured in films like Akira (1988), Ghost in the Shell (1995), Tekkonkinkreet (2006) and the illustrations of Tadahiro Uesugi. To aid them in crafting the detailed digital simulation of the entire city, Disney purchased the real-life assessor data for the city of San Francisco; the final version on screen contains over 83,000 buildings and 100,000 vehicles.

akira-neo-tokyo
Still from Akira (1988)

This fusion of Eastern and Western cultural styles lends Big Hero 6 a distinctive style that sets it apart from its neighbours in the canon (it’s certainly far more colourful than the largely white Frozen). Director Don Hall said of San Fransokyo that it’s “an alternate version of San Francisco. Most of the technology is advanced, but much of it feels retro … Where Hiro lives, it feels like the Haight. I love the Painted ladies. We gave them a Japanese makeover; we put a cafe on the bottom of one. They live above a coffee shop.” Production designer Paul Felix (whose name you’ll probably recognise if you’ve been here a while) elaborated: “The topography is exaggerated because what we do is caricature, I think the hills are 1½ times exaggerated. I don’t think you could really walk up them… When you get to the downtown area, that’s when you get the most Tokyo-fied, that pure, layered, dense kind of feeling of the commercial district there. When you get out of there, it becomes more San Francisco with the Japanese aesthetic. … (It’s a bit like) Blade Runner, but contained to a few square blocks. You see the skyscrapers contrasted with the hills.”

Regarding specific settings within San Fransokyo, the design of the technical college and its surrounding parklands was based on the Presidio of San Francisco, which the artists also felt had a college-like atmosphere. The portal testing lab was supposed to be located in the catacombs of Alcatraz, but then they moved it to an altered version of Angel Island called Akuma, which means “demon” or “devil” in Japanese. Meanwhile, the big climax inside the wormhole was based on the stylised interior of a mandelbulb, which is apparently a “three-dimensional fractal” created by Daniel White and Paul Nylander in 2009 (the Wikipedia page looks like an alien language, it’s so cool).

Baymax posing in armour

Designing Baymax’s second suit of armour proved a challenge. Hall noted that they were “just trying to get something that felt like the personality of the character,” while Williams explained, “A big part of the design challenge is when he puts on the armour you want to feel that he’s a very powerful intimidating presence… at the same time, design-wise he has to relate to the really adorable simple vinyl robot underneath.” I can certainly see the Akira influences in the colour scheme. The wings were apparently the hardest part to get right. Also, while we’re on the subject of Baymax himself, his simple face design was inspired by a copper suzu bell that Hall spotted while visiting a Shinto shrine.

Hans statue

For the eagle-eyed viewers, Big Hero 6 also contains a number of hidden “Easter Eggs” referencing other Disney films. A picture of Hiro’s cat, Mochi, depicts the moggie in a Stitch costume, while another shows Bolt. Hiro also has a Wreck-It Ralph figurine on his computer monitor, and the game Sugar Rush can be seen in an arcade. The police station has wanted posters for both Hans and Flynn Rider, the latter being depicted in one of his “off-brand” models that got him so irked in his own film. There’s also another, more obvious reference to Hans (and people’s opinions of him) in a statue of him in Fred’s garden, which Baymax promptly destroys with his rocket fist. Karma, indeed.

 

Soundtrack

Big Hero 6 is another of those rare non-musicals for Disney, so there’s not a whole lot to discuss in this section. Henry Jackman returns to provide his third score for a canon film and it’s a pretty solid effort, if not as remarkable as his Wreck-It Ralph work. The soundtrack features a brief instrumental section from the 1982 classic Eye of the Tiger, used to cue up Hiro’s aborted “creativity” montage (“Nothing, no ideas, useless, empty, brain!”).

The one song and the film’s main theme is Immortals, a rousing pop-rock number performed in the film and over the credits by Fall Out Boy. It’s initially used during the montage of the gang creating and trying out their super-suits, before being reprised over the credits images depicting the team’s later successes protecting the citizens. I chose this as my thirty-third favourite credits song in an earlier post, and it serves as a perfect adrenaline-pumping theme for this action-packed theme. In my earlier article, I said, “To describe it in a word, it’s cool. With a powerful, rock-influenced guitar and drum beat accentuated with some creative percussion, the song suits Big Hero 6’s edgier, grungier style (for Disney anyway), as well as its superhero theme. It’s the kind of song that would leave you feeling awesome when you walked out of the cinema as a kid – too bad I couldn’t have seen this film when I was younger!”

Big Hero 6 credits

Regarding the voicework, it’s of a generally high standard, but the clear standout is Scott Adsit as Baymax. According to producer Roy Conli, John Lasseter initially wanted to drop Baymax’s description of Mochi as a “hairy baby” while low on battery, but director Williams chose to keep it anyway and after the first test screening, Lasseter admitted he’d made the right choice. The sound design on Baymax’s voice is excellent and adds a whole new layer to the comedy of Adsit’s performance. Baymax’s calm, almost deadpan reactions to mortal peril always tickle me, but it’s his totally inappropriate health monologues that really have me in stitches – he views absolutely everyone as a patient, even the bad guys! Outside of Adsit, though, T. J. Miller’s performance as Fred is also notable for the largely improvised rants and exclamations that make the character so likeable, and Genesis Rodriguez’s performance as Honey Lemon created some discussion due to her choice to accent Honey Lemon’s pronunciation of certain words, like Hiro’s name, which she stated was a deliberate attempt to emphasise Honey’s ethnic background. Daniel Henney, Damon Wayans Jr. and Jamie Chung all do excellent jobs with their roles as Tadashi, Wasabi and Go Go, respectively, and I continue to be amazed at Alan Tudyk’s versatility when I compare his role as Krei to his other work.

Hairy baby moment

 

Final Verdict

Big Hero 6 had a rare foreign premiere before its American one, debuting first at the Tokyo International Film Festival. It also had runs at various other film festivals before its general release in November of 2014. The film was accompanied in theatres by the popular short Feast, a charming love story told from the perspective of a man’s dog who eventually helps to reunite the estranged couple.

Apparently, the South Korean version of the film was retitled to just Big Hero to avoid creating the impression that it was a sequel, and was also edited to remove any indications of the main characters’ Japanese heritage. Relations between Japan and South Korea are… tense, to say the least, so I can understand why this was done, but it’s still an unfortunate political side effect and you could get into a whole debate about media censorship if you wanted to (I’d rather not). Hiro’s name had to be changed into “Hero Armada” (I can’t help sniggering at that), and all Japanese language shown on screen was changed into English. Despite these changes, the film still caused some controversy in South Korea because of small images resembling Japan’s “Rising Sun” flag in Hiro’s room, but that’s no surprise – show me a Disney film which didn’t cause some kind of controversy, and I’ll show you the cow that jumped over the moon.

Actually, the film’s reception overall was largely untroubled by any of the controversies and criticisms suffered by earlier ones and it enjoys a high reputation among critics and fans alike. It was a big earner, becoming the highest-grossing animated film of the year and Disney’s third-highest-grossing non-Pixar animated film. Many critics singled out Baymax as the best aspect of the already high-quality production (and no wonder, he’s delightful). The film went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature that year, a particularly impressive feat given the quality of the other nominees that year. It was Disney Animation’s second win in a row in that category.

The film was released to Blu-ray and DVD in early 2015, but writer Steven T. Seagle, co-creator of the original comics, criticised the Blu-ray featurette for failing to mention him or co-creator Duncan Rouleau in its account of the characters’ creation (fair enough, that was a bit stupid of Disney). A Japanese manga version of the film was released in Kodansha’s Magazine special shortly before the film premiered, and according to the film’s official Japanese website, this manga revealed plot details in that country before anywhere else. Yen Press published the English edition. Later on, IDW Publishing announced their own adaptation of Disney’s version of Big Hero 6 into a fresh comic series, marking one of the few instances where Marvel have loaned out one of their properties to another comic publishing firm. The series is set to debut next month with Hannah Blumenreich writing and Nicoletta Baldari illustrating.

In addition to all this print media, the film also spawned a number of tie-in video games, including Big Hero 6 Battle in the Bay, the last game released for the original Nintendo DS. The film also became the first since Tangled to receive its own TV series, which debuted in late 2017 and continues the story of the film (I’ve seen a few episodes and it’s quite good, showcasing more of Hiro’s friends). It was created and executive produced by Mark McCorkle and Bob Schooley, who were behind Kim Possible (that explains the quality) and features the majority of the original cast reprising their roles, sans Wayans Jr. and Miller. In 2015, there were rumours of a potential sequel floating around, but so far nothing more has been said about this.

 

As usual, I hope you’ve enjoyed the review. We only have two left to go now, folks! Hard to believe, isn’t it? I saw Big Hero 6 in theatres and found it far more enjoyable than Frozen, even if it does still suffer from some awkward pacing and writing at times. The point is, Big Hero 6 has a clearer idea of what it wants to say, and it also features stronger characters who are easier to invest in, bolstered by a lively supporting cast. I wasn’t immediately sold on the Tokyo/San Francisco fusion, but it’s grown on me over time and now I don’t know how I overlooked the film’s beauty. It reminds me a lot of one of my all-time favourites, The Iron Giant, which is always a good thing, and when Toys ‘R’ Us recently closed down, I went in for a last nostalgic browse and ended up coming out with a little stuffed Baymax keychain as my final purchase from them. I regret nothing!

I’ll see you again next week for Zootropolis (Zootopia to the Americans), but until then, stay animated!

My Rating – 4/5

 

 

References
I consulted various web sources for this review:
(Once again, I don’t own the art book for this film, but here it is anyway): The Art of Big Hero 6 (2014) by Jessica Julius
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42400162 – credit for poster
By Z22 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50811938 – credit for the inflatable arm image
https://nefariousreviews.com/2017/06/15/akira-anime-review/akira-neo-tokyo/ – credit for Akira image
http://themagicalworldof.com/2014/11/the-problem-with-honey-lemon-in-big-hero-6/ – an article about the portrayal of Honey Lemon as Hispanic
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxnJD4JXJ5k&list=WL&index=16&t=0s – a video essay by TheDavoo about the film’s plot problems
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlTMf5YT-f4&list=WL&index=14 – a discussion of the similarities between this film and The Iron Giant, by Story Laboratory
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Hero_6_(film) – Wiki profile
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2245084/ – IMDB profile

 

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5 Replies to “Film Review: Big Hero 6 (2014)”

  1. Aside from viewing the Spider-Man and X-Men movies (as well as some direct-to-video animated productions), I’ve never really had much of an interest in the Marvel universe, so I tend to look at this film as being a separate entity, based on its placement in the Disney Animated canon; that being said, I quite enjoy the film, and probably should re-watch it before immersing myself in the spin-off TV series. (So far, I’ve only seen the first episode of the series, and have watched the film just once.)

    As a lifelong resident of the Bay Area (I was born in Moss Beach, but was mostly raised first in San José and then in Palo Alto), I was blown away by how the filmmakers managed to so seamlessly integrate elements of San Francisco with elements of Tokyo to create its own entity.

    While I greatly appreciate the diversity of the team that goes on to become Big Hero 6, I must confess that I would have been happier if they had added members to the group who were of Pacific Islander, Native American, Middle Eastern, and South Asian (that is, Indian) descent.

    I happen to be a casual fan-in-passing of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, and somehow, I can’t help but think that the BIG HERO 6 team may have taken some inspiration for Baymax from my favorite TNG character, Lt. Cmmdr. Data (portrayed by the great Brent Spiner). I mean, think about it: They’re both artificial lifeforms who seem to struggle with processing human emotions, and both are highly rational and down-to-earth. Need I say more?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not a big Marvel person myself, either – I’ve only seen Spider Man: Homecoming. This is most definitely a Disney classic rather than a Marvel film, and I would highly recommend giving it a re-watch! It’s the kind of film that grows on you steadily with each re-watch, rather than grabbing you the first time around – it’s quite subtle in it’s handling of character development.

      Ah, a local! Glad to hear they represented San Francisco accurately. I loved the look of the city they created, it’s so distinctive.

      Hm… I see your point, but I can’t help feeling like that might have come across too much like tokenism. It might have been rather awkward to justify there just happening to be one “representative” of each race. We did get Moana a few films later to represent the former culture, though!

      I have a friend who’s a huge Trekkie, I bet he’d have some thoughts on that. For me though, I shall take your word for it. If Data is anything like Baymax, I’m sure he’s a hugely enjoyable character.

      Like

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