Fresh off the phenomenal success of Disney’s profit making juggernaut, Frozen, comes what could be this year’s biggest box office must-see animated movie – Big Hero 6. First let’s get to the origin of the title, because even though the title stresses 6 heroes, it’s primarily about 2 of them. And the other 4 are secondary characters. One could argue that 1 out of the 6 is the true focus of the movie. When it will be released in Japan, even though they must have Japanese word equivalents for Big and Hero and 6, the title of the movie over there will be simply Baymax. Big Hero 6 is Disney’s first animated feature based on a Marvel property featuring the team and characters created by Man of Action. Man of Action, if you haven’t paid attention to the credits of Cartoon Network’s 3 Billion-dollar earning shows, Ben 10 and Generator Rex, is a creative studio and writer collective comprised of prolific comic book writers Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau, Joe Casey and Steven T. Seagle. They are also the team behind the current Disney XD popular animated series Ultimate Spider-Man and Marvel’s Avengers Assemble. The comic book title that the movie is based on was written by Seagle and Rouleau. Although many things in the movie have not stuck to the original comic book storyline (in the book Baymax is a synthetic entity that looks like a dragon), the core characters and theme have been kept and then Disney-fied with a sprinkling of emotional magic dust and a healthy dose of comedy.
The central story focuses on 14 year old, robotics genius Hiro Hamada, voiced by Ryan Potter. I am told Potter is an up and coming actor in the Tween market with starring roles in several Nickelodeon programs such as Supah Ninjas – must be cutting edge and urban kinda ninjas because I have no idea what adjective “supah” could describe…maybe they love soup or assassinate in the name of supper?! After the eventual Disney plot twist involving a heart-string tugging loss of a loved one, Hiro finds himself alone, aside from a very busy guardian, Aunt Cass (voiced by SNL alum Maya Rudolph); just a big, creative brain with no focus and no prospects of a future. The only person pushing him to make something of himself, something better than just a back alley Bot Fighter, was taken tragically from him. In the midst of mourning the loss of his brother Tadashi, a brilliant robotics scientist in his own right (voiced by Daniel Henney), Hiro is reintroduced to Tadashi’s last project – the Robotic Health-Care Companion, Baymax.
Baymax was invented by Tadashi to be a portable, rechargeable nurse and all-in-one assessment / treatment center. He was meant to improve the quality of life to anyone who would need help and care with their health and well being. Made of white vinyl that inflated when activated, Baymax was intended have a “Non-threatening, huggable design”. He pretty much looks like a big, puffy marshmallow guy – think the Michelin Man without all the layers. And his personality fits his description. With a docile nature and programming to never harm a single soul, Baymax is the least intimidating character of the entire cast. He’s not fast. He’s not tough. But he is endearing, helpful and handy to have around. And I think that’s the point. He is in all aspects the opposite of Hiro. The boy genius is scrawny and short, with all sorts of sharp, angular features even up to his scruffy anime-like hair. Baymax, on the other hand, is tall, curvy and puffy. Hiro is all brain, but no purpose. Baymax, conversely is all heart, and compassion, and has an unwavering purpose – to make Hiro feel better, physically and emotionally. And it’s this pull of opposites towards each other that brings the adventure of Big Hero 6 to life. They make the other better by complementing what the other lacks. They become a successful team, a great team. Now all they need is others, with different but equally impressive assets, to make their group even better.
At a cursory glance, you’d expect this feature to be just a Super Hero movie. But upon further analysis, Big Hero 6 is more like a Japanese Super Sentai adventure film. A Super Hero movie is like The Incredible Hulk or Spider-Man, where it focuses on how a single individual learns to use his new abilities and then struggles to balance great power with great responsibility. Super Sentai, on the other hand, is a term used for those long running Japanese superhero team genre of shows produced by Toei Agency and Bandai. You know the shows, where a team of 6 or less fighters join forces to fight an evil foe, using newly acquired and quickly mastered powers. Each member has brightly colored uniforms, wielding super powers or technology and inherent martial arts skills to wipe out a common and relentless enemy. It makes sense considering Sentai is Japanese for “task force” or “fighting squadron”.
You get the drift. Big Hero 6 is a remix of Power Rangers…but in a not-cheesy, good way. In many aspects that’s better than a Superhero Movie. It solves the problem of the typical stumbling blocks that multi-hero movies have. Think about it. What do movies like The Fantastic 4, The X-Men, The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy have in common (besides making everyone involved super rich)? They all have that initial resistance to want to be a team. They fight and bicker amongst each other, creating friction and drama. He hates him. She doesn’t need so and so. He splits and does his own thing and fails. They waste a lot of valuable screen time resisting what we all in the audience want to see happen – namely, get your act together, have one incredible training montage and then go out and pound that jerk with the helmet to kingdom come!! Big Hero 6 avoids those missteps and assembles a team, led by Hiro, that is willing to join forces, willing to do what it takes to defeat the bad guy and is willing to just get along. Don’t you wish everyone at your work just got along so you can all get stuff done already?
Hiro and Baymax can’t do all the “super-heroing” alone. They will need the help of super nerds; nerds who all knew and worked with Hiro’s brother at their University. There is gruff and all business GoGo Tomago – the bubblegum chewing speed demon of the group (voiced by Jamie Chung from Sucker Punch and The Man With The Iron Fists). Then there is Wasabi (voiced by Damon Wayans Jr. from Let’s Be Cops), the neurotic neat freak of the bunch. The plasma blades he wields from his fists can slice rock and metal like a knife through butter. The other female team member is called Honey Lemon. She sounds like a cough drop but she is the brainy chemist that creates ice bombs and smoke screens with grenades she manufactures in her tricked out purse to launch at the enemy. She is voiced by Genesis Rodriguez of mainly spanish language programs but has recently garnered roles in mainstream Hollywood movies like What To Expect When You’re Expecting. Lastly there is Fred (voiced by T.J. Miller from Cloverfield and She’s Out Of My League) who with enhancements to his mascot outfit becomes the high jumping, fire breathing Fredzilla. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Big Hero 6.
The movie is lush with the kind of detail and frantic energy that you come to expect from this new generation of Disney movies. The backdrop of all the action is the city of San Fransokyo a sort of hybrid of Tokyo and San Francisco, keeping it American but brushing in anime influences and the Japanese flavor of the comic book. Imagine if you took San Francisco with its Golden Gate Bridge, streetcars and classic Painted Ladies houses and then made the entire town look like it’s Cosplaying as Tokyo with its ornate shrines and flashy advertisements and lucky cat figures in front of every business. Its pretty clever how they fused everything together.
Big Hero 6 is also groundbreaking. With the introduction of Hiro, Disney has created the first movie with a mixed-race lead character! Voiced by an actor who is also mixed race, Ryan Potter. Daniel Henney of both Korean and Irish descent voices Tadashi. Hiro is the first Asian lead in a mainstream, non-martial arts movie, as well. Viva diversity!
All in all, Big Hero 6 is big in laughs, big in adventure and big in the warm and fuzzy moments that Disney has spent years perfecting. The emotional content and performances conveyed in the artistry and design of the characters is top notch. I’d daresay that you could watch the whole movie on mute and still be able to know and feel what was going on, just by the “acting” translated by the brilliant animators. So go see this movie. See it with your kids. Heck, bring your mom too. I’ve seen grandmothers in the parking lot mimicking Baymax’s karate chops and side kicks. Do yourself a favor and come early to see the Disney short, Feast. Supah adorable (see what I did there? Wink wink). And definitely stick around until the end of the closing credits so you can see the bonus ending. Trust me. We good? (Fist Bump) Ba La LA La La La La!