(WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Big Hero 6 and Frozen)
The latest animated Disney film, Big Hero 6, is now out on DVD and the like, meaning I finally had a chance to watch it after months of everybody telling me that I needed to see it. I was honestly surprised by how much everyone seemed to like it. With Frozen still making the rounds despite being over two years old, I was worried that Big Hero 6 would kind of just pass everyone by; instantly dismissed by little kids everywhere just because it wasn’t Frozen. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.
But while I’m certainly glad that it did well, this was only because I didn’t want to see a film that could be really good on its own merits being overshadowed by something that had been around for far too long. Whether I think the film is actually good is another story; one that I shall share with you right now.
Positive: The Animation’s Nice
I don’t really need to spend too much time on this since good animation is practically a guarantee when it comes to Disney. I may have mentioned it before in my Frozen review but I was not fond of the idea of Disney doing 3D animated stuff. After the likes of Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6 continues to prove how wrong I was; it’s just lovely to look at. Plus, the character animations are great; I remember seeing test footage of how each character walks and sits down in a chair and they each perfectly fit their respective character. I’m sure if I watched it again, I could notice even more little touches that add to them.
Negative: San Fransokyo is an Unnecessary Combo
While a cool and interesting concept for a setting, having the home city of our heroes being a mix between San Francisco and Tokyo ultimately has no bearing on anything. I know this sounds incredibly nitpicky but, honestly, you could’ve probably replaced it with any generic city and nothing would’ve changed. Aside from maybe one or two shots, there was nothing about the city that gave it its own identity.
Also, I don’t think the two were meshed together all that well anyway. “Maybe we could put some Japanese characters on these trams. That’s good enough, right?” And after how amazing both Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph looked, the setting ultimately felt very underwhelming. It’s not a big thing but this felt like a cool idea for the sake of a cool idea. It might as well have just been in San Francisco. Or Tokyo. But not both.
Positive: The Cast are all Likable
I feel it’s important that when writing a story about a team, that every member of the team has to be equally likable. There can be no weak links; no member of the team is overshadowed by the rest. Fortunately, Big Hero 6 achieves that. While everybody prefers some over others, I felt like there was something to like about all of the cast.
Hiro is aware of his own intelligence and is delightfully smug and occasionally sarcastic (which makes him a great contrast to both his brother and Baymax), Honey Lemon is appropriately sweet and a little bit hyper (especially in regards to her research), Gogo is just a badass, Fred is your typical goofy slacker who happens to be a massive dork/man-child but not obnoxious; personally I found Wasabi to be my favourite if only for how much of a neat freak he is. That and I feel like if I was in his situation, I would still stop at red lights during a car chase too.
“The light’s red… You have to indicate your turn! It’s the law!”
Tadashi, obviously, is likable as well, perfectly fitting the big brother mold. It’s just a shame that he pretty much existed to die. I found myself wanting to see more of him interacting with the rest of the cast; maybe he could’ve been part of the superhero team or maybe opposing the idea of it. His death was tragic but it was hard to get upset about it when it happened rather early on (that and pretty much every trailer gave it away).
I also found myself really liking Aunt Cass. She may not have been a superhero but she was still pretty interesting. A single woman forced to look after her two nephews and suddenly having to become a mother-figure for them. I could see that she was still trying to be the cool aunt but also being responsible and looking after two young boys; something that she wasn’t prepared for. Given how many other characters needed screen-time and that this is a one-and-a-half hour long superhero film that a lot of kids are going to watch, I get why she didn’t get as much focus, though I still think there were some missed opportunities (we didn’t really get to see how Tadashi’s death impacted her).
Positive: Baymax Steals the Movie
I won’t lie; part of the reason why I wanted to check the film out was purely because of Baymax. It was obvious from the very first trailer that he was very much made to be the mascot of the film; Disney were clearly banking on him being the most popular character and it paid off. The people who worked on his animation deserve so much praise; the mere sight of Baymax slowly moving is enough to make me smile.
Of course, I need to give massive credit to his voice actor, Scott Adsit, for managing to put a new spin on the whole ’emotionless robot voice’ thing. Baymax doesn’t really convey emotions through his voice but he still sounds so calm and reassuring all the time (which makes sense considering what he was built for). It’s perfect for both comedy (like a calmly uttered “Oh no” in the face of danger) and tragedy (like when he asks where Tadashi is). My only complaint is that he doesn’t really develop all that much. There are subtle changes throughout the film, such as his understanding of Hiro’s more casual speech and learning how to deal with Hiro’s emotional pain though I personally would have loved to see Baymax maybe getting a bit more emotional by the end of it. But that’s only a small thing.
Negative: The Supporting Cast are very One-Note
As much as I liked the supporting cast, I do agree with criticisms that they very much have one defining personality trait and that’s it. And they’re all traits we’ve seen before. We’ve got the sweet but hyper girl, the tough girl, the sensible one and the jokey slacker. That’s almost all they have and while they do get a little bit of growth, they’re still very much the same characters by the end of the film as they were in the beginning. Granted, they are supporting characters; the focus is on Hiro – it’s just a shame that I found them more enjoyable.
My other problem, though, is that they really don’t do anything. I mean, yeah, they help Hiro in his fight against the villain and they do take part in the combat but that’s really it. I feel like the film didn’t utilise them or their abilities as much as it could. There’s a great moment where Fred uses his fire breath to detonate Honey Lemon’s chemical bombs to create a smokescreen – I’d have loved more team-up moments like that. For a film called Big Hero 6, the actual Big Hero 6 don’t do much (it takes over half the film for the team to even form). Apparently, in Japan, the film is just called Baymax, which is actually a more suitable title in my opinion, because the story is really more about Hiro and Baymax than the actual team.
Positive: The Villain Looks Cool…
Disney may have a happy, friendly exterior but that hides a dark and cruel mind, which is where many of its greatest villains come from. So to see Disney tackle a comic book supervillain was certainly interesting. While some might disagree with me, I actually felt that Yokai (or Mr Kabuki to some) was actually pretty intimidating. He had a simple design with just the all black costume and the mask which meant that he could blend into shadows; he could seemingly emerge from the darkness like a demon.
Plus he never talked. That was something that surprised me. He never said a word and because you couldn’t see his face, it meant you couldn’t even tell what he was thinking. His very presence was just enough to darken the tone, especially when he came in riding a sea of microbots that he could just lash out at people with a flick of his arm. The fact that the swarm of blackness he wielded was originally made by Hiro for more constructive purposes made him all the more threatening; it made you question what kind of warped mind we were dealing with…
Negative: Until He Takes the Mask Off
You know how sometimes the mystery is really engaging but the reveal ends up being really disappointing? This is one of them. Not only was it obvious from the get-go who Yokai was (so obvious, in fact, that not even the characters fell for the red herring) but, in my opinion, he kind of became rather underwhelming and no longer intimidating once it was revealed who he was.
Technically there’s nothing wrong with him as a character; it’s just that he was built up as this almost inhuman force – his plans would be borderline monstrous, with the lives of everyone in San Fransokyo on the line. Instead it turns out all he wants is revenge against a single guy. Oh, and it was to avenge his daughter’s supposed death.
Thinking about it now, maybe that was the point – this seemingly unfeeling monster revealed to be a grieving father, but by adding that human element, it took away what made him so threatening in the first place. “Oh but he’s meant to be sympathetic and his pain is very similar to Hiro’s” you might say. True, but here’s my other problem.
Callaghan being the bad guy raises so many questions. For starters, how come nobody knew that he had a dead daughter? I understand nobody knowing the circumstances surrounding it (the government or whatever probably covered it all up) but you’d think at least one person would know about it. That reveal pretty much came out of nowhere with no foreshadowing whatsoever.
Also, he’s wanted revenge for years but only decides to take action when he sees Hiro’s microbots. Was he just waiting until somebody invented something for him to steal to help exact his very specific revenge plot? Maybe he hasn’t been plotting for years but saw an opportunity to take revenge. He’s smart so I could imagine him putting together a plan in his head pretty quickly.
But easily my biggest problem is the sudden shift in personality he seems to make. At the beginning of the film, he’s presented as being very friendly; it seems he gets along with all of his students and is widely respected not just for his intelligence but also his kind nature. The moment he takes on the Yokai identity, however, he seems to have no qualms with killing his own students. The guy chucked a car at them! And left them to drown! And later threw a giant rock that would’ve crushed them had Baymax not caught it! How am I supposed to believe that these are two sides of the same guy? Oh, and let’s not forget this exchange right here:
“[Tadashi] went in there to save you!”
“That was HIS mistake!”
On a first viewing, that line’s great and all, but really? Would he really be so flippant in regards to the inadvertent death of one of his students? It feels forced, as if the writers just needed something to show that Callaghan was evil. Which would be fine if they didn’t play the sympathy card about 20 minutes later. You’re giving me mixed signals here, movie.
I can’t help but see this villain reveal as being similar to the Hans reveal in Frozen. Both seem to come out of nowhere with little to no foreshadowing. But at least Hans was entertaining in how much of a smug prick he was. Callaghan didn’t even have that by the end of it.
Negative: The Plot is Quite Predictable
One of the factors of how much I enjoy something is how much I’m surprised. I love being surprised and having my expectations being completely subverted. Unfortunately, Big Hero 6 didn’t do much of that. If I organised a surprise party for myself, I’d have found that more unexpected than Big Hero 6.
If you’ve watched any other superhero film, you’ll have probably figured out most of the plot before the halfway point. The moment that building caught fire and exploded, I knew Yokai would turn out to be either Tadashi or Callaghan. When Hiro abandons his friends and seems to start going down a dark path, I’d knew he’d come round, apologise and all would be forgiven. Even when Baymax ‘died,’ I knew that he’d somehow turn out fine (anyone who actually thought he was gone forever have either never watched a movie before or are five years old). I think Tadashi dying would have been a real shock if whoever was in charge of the trailers actually attempted to hide it.
That’s not to say that I need to be 100% shocked by every detail to fully enjoy something, but it did feel like a lot of the script had been copied and pasted from other movies. Though, it did get a few moments that I didn’t expect like Hiro actually ordering Baymax to murder Callaghan, followed by Baymax going full-on Terminator (which I won’t lie, was pretty frigging cool). The only other surprises were the events surrounding Callaghan’s daughter’s ‘death’ (but like I said, that was due to the lack of foreshadowing and set-up) and, well…
Negative: That Bloody Alternate Dimension
I’ll admit, this is probably a massive nitpick on my part but this just bothered me so much. In most comic book stories, alternate dimensions are accepted as being pretty standard to the point where sometimes even the characters aren’t surprised by them, but nothing throughout this entire movie hinted at the possibility of alternate dimensions and the like. It came so far out of left-field, I’m surprised it didn’t get whiplash.
Not to mention that it’s never fully explained. The portals were just a teleportation thing, right? So, did the inventors accidentally create the dimension or somehow connect to an already existing one? We know absolutely nothing about it and the writers make no effort to explain or justify its existence. I guess someone said that the daughter couldn’t be dead because God forbid a young adult dying in this movie…. oh wait a minute.
Unless a sequel focuses on explaining it and actually doing something interesting with it, I argue that this is a concept that should’ve been left on the cutting room floor. Speaking of sequels…
Positive: A Sequel could be Better
I know there are a lot of people that despise the idea of sequels, especially when they’re unnecessary. While I do agree with that mentality, I also think that sequels can also be a force for good. Since characters have already been established, it means the writers can focus on not only telling a brand new story but also developing said characters and doing different things with them.
The credits showed that the team continued their superhero careers so a sequel would be the perfect chance to make up for the lack of superhero team antics in this one. We could gain a better insight into all the other characters like Wasabi and Honey Lemon. There could be a greater sense of scale, with a new villain or threat that maybe puts the entire world at jeopardy. Basically, it could do so much more now that the origin story is done and dusted.
But whereas a potential sequel could be really good, I sadly can’t say the same for Big Hero 6 itself. I don’t share the same enthusiasm that some have for this movie but at the same time, I can’t hate it and dismiss it as bad. The best I can say is that it’s average. I honestly think Frozen‘s a better film.
If you’ve yet to see it yourself, I still suggest you watch it if only to form your own opinion of it. If you’ve got young relatives who really want to see it, there’s no harm in letting them. It’s serviceable. But with any luck, Big Hero 6‘s success will lead the way for something better that takes the idea of a genius and his caretaker robot to its fullest potential.