Thursday, November 20, 2014

Movie Review: Big Hero 6

Last weekend The Boyfriend and I went to see Disney's Big Hero 6

In short: it was FANTASTIC.

Adapted from the comics by Marvel, Big Hero 6 is the story of a 14 year old boy name Hiro Hamada.  He is a kid genius, graduated from high school at age 13, and spends his time developing and fighting robots in his home city of San Fransokyo.  He lives with his older brother, Tadashi, a college student studying robotics at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, and their Aunt Cass, who has had custody of the brothers for the last 10 years, since the deaths of their parents.

There are some minor spoilers ahead.  None of the major plot points, but some character details and a description of the opening scene.  Don't read if you don't want to see them.

For real.

The movie begins at an underground bot fight.  Mr. Yama is destroying the competition, and no one is willing to take on him and his winning bot, Little Yama, until a small voice pipes up from the back of the crowd.  It is Hiro, holding his little robot, complete with a painted smiley face.  Mr. Yama agrees to fight him, seeing it as an easy win.  Little Yama beats Hiro's bot in about two moves, literally breaking it to pieces.  Hiro is stunned and begs for a second chance, saying it was his first bot fight, and offering a larger bet to persuade Yama to fight again.  Yama takes the bet and prepares for another easy win.

Except... this time Hiro's little bot completely wrecks the Little Yama.  In a hilarious sequence of the smiley face disappearing to reveal an angry shikami mask-style painted face (oooooh foreshadowing!!!), Hiro's bot breaks into separate pieces and proceeds to climb all over Little Yama, removing and disabling its limbs, until finally destroying the champion bot.  Mr. Yama and the crowd are in shock... this KID just hustled the great Yama!

And that is how we are introduced to Hiro, in a display of his humor and intelligence, laying the foundation that this kid knows his robots... and is maybe a little too cocky for his own good.  Yama is about to take his revenge, when Hiro's big brother Tadashi swoops in on his motorbike and saves him.  Tadashi tries to convince his genius brother that there are bigger and better things Hiro could be doing with his mind, and takes him to the university where Tadashi is a student.  There, we are introduced to Tadashi's, and later Hiro's, friends.

After an accident at the university, Hiro learns of a villainous masked man, Yokai, who is up to no good, and recruits his university friends and Baymax, the medical robot invented by Tadashi, to help him learn the identity of the masked villain.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this movie was how we were introduced to the characters, and how much personality each had.  Even though the supporting cast (Tadashi's university friends - Honey Lemon, Gogo, Wasabi, and Fred) only had a small part in the movie, I felt they all had well defined personalities, like I knew who these people were and what their possible back-stories might be.  Unfortunately, this wonderful characterization and the fact that this is a kid's movie made the ending a little predictable... but there were still a few surprises.

In addition, I loved the fact that there were female scientists in this movie.  Female scientists with varied personalities, who weren't there just to serve as love interests for the main character and his male buddies.  GoGo was direct and loyal.  Honey Lemon was fashionable, friendly, and a complete nerd for chemistry. However, I can't remember any conversations happening between them (or with Aunt Cass) so I'm not sure if this movie passes the Bechdel Test.  Despite that, I think these characters are much stronger and better role models than characters in some movies that do pass that test.

This movie also had more racial diversity than any other Marvel movie I can think of.  And while there were some tropes at play in their personalities, the characters didn't adhere to what we culturally expect from someone of a certain gender/race combination in a movie like this.  Wasabi, the muscular African American man - he was interested in lasers and applied physics, he was a little neurotic/anxious and scared, logically questions their involvement in the search for Yokai, and prefers order and following the rules ("There's NO red lights in a car chase!" - GoGo yells at him).  Honey Lemon's a Latina whose style reminded me of the girls I see in the K-dramas, while at the same time she's an all-out genius - demonstrating that it's okay to like pink and selfies and social media and wearing dresses, while still being a badass chemical engineer.  GoGo is Korean, into racing (she's developing a maglev bike for ultimate speed), and definitely not a people-pleaser - she's direct, self-assured, pretty tough and definitely doesn't take any crap, but seems to have a soft spot with her friends that is demonstrated through her loyalty to them.  And Fred is a rich, white stoner dude with a fierce interest in comics and kaiju movies, but he is very comfortable with who he is and is welcome among the other Big Hero 6 members, despite not having their intelligence or student status.

(If there was a Big Hero 6 personality quiz, I would be a total Wasabi)

And of course, I loved Baymax, the soft medical robot invented by Tadashi.  If anyone saw this movie and didn't love Baymax... what kind of person are you!?

Unfortunately, like I said earlier, the identity of Yokai and the movie's ending were really predictable.  A lot of the jokes lacked the adult-friendly cleverness that can be found in Wreck-It Ralph, or the animated movies from Dreamworks.  That's not to say this movie wasn't funny, but the humor seemed very kid-friendly and obvious.  And of course, there are the usual plot holes and fates aligning so the heroes always win type movie mechanics, but that's true of any movie.  The Boyfriend likes to tell me to be quiet and just enjoy the movie when I start questioning the things that don't add up.  Though this movie actually lays the foundation or explains away some that would normally have bothered me - like, Hiro probably bought all his cool equipment with money he won bot fighting, and the butler collected the team from the island via helicopter when their ride disappeared.

Disney's computer animation seems to be improving - last year everyone was complaining that Frozen's Anna and Elsa had the same face as Tangled's Rapunzel, but in Big Hero 6 every character seemed to have a unique design.  And the scenery was gorgeous - pay attention to San Fransokyo as it breezes past during the Baymax flying scene.

There is the requisite Stan Lee cameo and post-credits scene (hey, it is a Marvel movie, after all).  At my theater, they were telling everyone who bought a ticket to stay for the extra scene, which I thought was very nice.

2014 was a good year for Marvel - Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy were both huge successes and very well-received by the fans, and Big Hero 6 is continuing that streak.  Hopefully Marvel will be able to keep up the quality of their movies.

Big Hero 6 was released in the United States on Friday, November 7th, 2014.  It is rated PG and is 102 minutes long.  It does not take place in the same universe as the MCU.

All images from the Disney Wikipage for Big Hero 6.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you for sharing - I am not very familiar with Astro Boy, so I did not think of that, but I can see where there are similarities. That is very interesting!