Big Hero 6 (2014)
Written by Jordan Roberts, Robert L. Baird, and Dan Gerson
Directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams
In 2004, Pixar released The Incredibles, a superhero film ahead of the curve with Iron Man and the MCU not launching until four years later. My first thoughts after the end credits rolled were that Brad Bird and company had succeeded in making the best Fantastic Four film, which would be proven correct when Fox released the groaningly terrible FF live-action movie in 2005. Bird understood the core essence of these characters and about the fundamentals of what drives kids of all ages to lose themselves in an afternoon of comic book reading.
The superhero movies of the early aughts were primarily driven by shame over the direction of the Batman films in the 1990s, and so they did everything they could to try to hide the fact that they were superhero movies which ultimately failed. X-Men had tongue in cheek comments about yellow and blue spandex, Daredevil thought itself to be so badass and dudebro, even the Fantastic Four couldn’t handle the central antagonist having the surname Doom. The Incredibles realized that superhero movies are A) primarily a children’s genre and B) should feel fun. The spiritual successor to this philosophy was Disney’s Big Hero 6.
Big Hero 6 is a collaboration of Disney Animation and Marvel, a one-off experiment that I wish would be repeated. Director Don Hall, who helmed the recent Winnie the Pooh film, was going through a list of character acquisitions Disney made after purchasing Marvel and stumbled across a Japanese-based team called Big Hero 6. These characters are profoundly minor in appearance and helmed a mini-series, but beyond that have made no measurable mark on the comic books. Hall liked what he read about them and worked with creative talent from Marvel and Disney to take the base concepts and create a whole new cast of characters and plot. The result is a perfect blend of genres, mixing anime and Western comics with Disney animation. The script never plods along but keeps the story moving at a brisk pace.
The story concerns Hiro Hamada, a 14-year-old genius living in San Fransokyo. He looks up to his older brother Tadashi who attends the city’s Insitute of Technology. On a visit there, Hiro meets Tadashi eclectic group of inventor friends: Go Go, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and group mascot Fred. Tadashi also unveils Baymax, a robot he’s created to provide nursing care. Hiro is so impressed that he creates his own presentation to seek a spot in the program, building a horde of microbots he controls with a headband. Tragedy strikes at the science fair, and Hiro finds himself withdrawing from everyday life until he awakens Baymax and the two set out to uncover the truth behind what happened. Along the way, Hiro must enlist the young scientists he’s befriended to help him in this quest.
Every element of Big Hero 6 feels like a classic Marvel comic. The teenage hero struck by tragedy, using his own wits and intelligence to build what he needs to make things right. A powerful masked villain with personal ties to the hero. Like Brad Bird, the creators of this film understand those fundamental principles of what makes superhero media appealing to kids. One place where Marvel has been lacking was in the musical score of their movies. Big Hero 6 has a beautifully triumphant and classical superhero sound, big heroic themes to highlight Hiro & company swinging into action and sweeping notes to underscore the tragedy. There are genuinely touching moments in the story, and this is not an animated film where everything gets tied up nicely with everyone turning out safe. People die in this story, and the villain is more complicated than the audience will initially realize. Much like the comic books that inspired this movie, the creators respect the intelligence of children and know that, with a well-written script and strong creative choices, a “kids’ film” can be something powerful.