When The Incredibles was released back in 2004, superheroes weren’t yet “a thing.” Yes, the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises were flourishing and Clark Kent spent his days fighting crime and puberty on television, but there just wasn’t the same appeal for superheroes as there is today. For all intents and purposes, Pixar was ahead of its time when it gave the world a family of retired superheroes trying to make it in the world as regular Joes. Disney Animation Studios must have recognized that and have taken it upon themselves (with the help their very own sister company, Marvel) to create a brand new franchise with the high-flying adventures of Big Hero 6, an animated superhero flick that tries to recreate the wonderment of The Incredibles but comes up just short in terms of both animated supremacy and superhero greatness.
Based on Marvel’s comic book series (created by Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle) of the same name, Big Hero 6 follows Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) and his ragtag group of genius friends (and one honest, heartfelt robot) as they seek revenge for the untimely death of Hiro’s older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney) and protect the city of San Fransokyo from destruction at the hands of a villain who is looking for vengeance all his own.
First and foremost, I like how they developed the character of Hiro. As a thirteen-year-old high school graduate, Hiro is in a place of both physical and mental puberty. He wants to have fun (what kid doesn’t?), using his talent in robotics to hustle players in illegal robot fights, but he also knows he has a responsibility to his family and his future. So when Tadashi takes him to his college (or nerd school, as the kids like to call it) to show him the benefits of learning, Hiro finds a place where he can be responsible (by using his talent to become a leader in the technology field) and have a whole lot of fun doing it (by challenging himself and spending more time with his brother).
After Hiro wins the robotic competition for entry into the school’s technology program with a new nanotech that can be used in various ways (and which the villain eventually takes advantage of for his own nefarious purposes), a fire erupts and Tadashi makes the decision to rescue his beloved professor, Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell) — a decision that kills them both and leaves Hiro grief stricken with nothing left to look forward to. Hiro’s emotional roller coaster of regret, pain, depression, sadness, excitement, inspiration and need for revenge are handled beautifully throughout the movie as he tries to come to terms with his loss and move forward without going against his or his brother’s ethical principles.
One thing that helps Hiro cope and find some semblance of solace is Baymax (Scott Adsit), an inflatable medical robot trained in thousands of medical practices and programmed to take care of all of his patients needs. Because Baymax is a nurse, all of his actions are based on whether or not they will help “cure” what ails Hiro. There is a fun scene when Baymax learns that being around friends and the simple act of giving someone a hug are all good things when dealing with loss. It’s a sweet moment that ignites what will become a terrific humanistic friendship between man and machine, wherein Baymax becomes a surrogate for Tadashi.
I can’t say quite as much for the rest of Hiro’s friends, who I felt were all slightly underdeveloped. There is a lot of time spent on developing Hiro’s back story and his individual journey, which inadvertently hurts the group dynamic by relegating the rest of the superhero team to background status. There are some fantastic things that happen with and between the characters, but the strength in those moments is lost in the fact that we don’t know them well enough to be excited for them when they learn to work as a team and really find their niche, thus hurting the dynamics that could have solidified the film as great.
Except for Fred (T.J. Miller), who is simply a mascot who loves the scientific impossibility of shrinking himself or being turned into a giant lizard, all of Hiro’s superhero partners are nerds of science — Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) is a material chemist, Go Go (Jamie Chung) a mechanical designer, and Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) a laser physicist. All of them are fun characters with specific dispositions that set them apart (and at the same time compliment the team), but it’s all surface. Where Hiro and Baymax enjoy the great depth of characterization, the rest of the team are just along for the ride.
Take for example the first major fight sequence between the team and the villain (whom I can’t reveal for purposes of spoilers). Before they go into action, we are presented the requisite montage of the group receiving their costumes, creating their weapons and learning to use their cool new gadgets, but when they reach that first battle, things couldn’t go more wrong. The team causes more harm than good by failing to find a way to work together. The sequence is terrific in showing that just because they’re friends and geniuses, it doesn’t necessarily correlate to teamwork. The problem is, the idea of finding a way to be a team is almost negated by the time they reach the last battle. No one even speaks about — or fights about — how they need to work together to be successful. As if by miraculous friendship aura, they just somehow suddenly work perfectly together.
And then there’s the villain, who in a Scooby-Doo behind the mask sort a thing, I guessed the identity of when I first met him. I don’t have a problem with this, or the fact that his reasoning behind his actions turns out to be more heartfelt than megalomaniacal, thus connecting him with Hiro in a way that goes much deeper than simple hero versus villain. It’s great to see this type of idea, an underlying relationship that binds the two together in an emotional way, given a chance to breathe, but again, it wasn’t developed as much as I thought it could have been to draw out the separate roads each of the characters takes to deal with basically the same issue. A few more tweaks (and possibly a few lines of dialogue wherein Hiro makes that connection) would have done wonders to the overall message that bleeds through the surface of the story as a whole.
There is a lot to like about Big Hero 6; the action sequences, though a little short in how they come to defeating the villain, are very good visually, the relationship between Hiro and Baymax is terrific, and there are some very good messages sewn subtly throughout. But if you take a second look at The Incredibles, with its high-gloss animation and natural, honest feel, all of what I said about aspects being all surface become much clearer. Big Hero 6 isn’t a bad film by any means; in some ways it’s super. But had it focused more on the team as a whole, it just might have been incredible.
My Grade: A-
Next week, new movies include Beyond the Lights and Dumb and Dumber To. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.