The outstanding critical and financial success of Marvel’s cinematic universe films in the last five years should have alleviated any fears or reservations fans may have had when it was announced that the House of Mouse would be buying Marvel Comics for $4 billion in 2009. Having had a hand in mostly financial decisions so far, Big Hero 6 – Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first film since the wildly successful Frozen – is the first time Disney themselves have chosen to adapt a property from Marvel’s illustrious archives.
It’s not quite the Pixar’s Avengers everyone envisioned when the deal was announced (such a creation would tear an endless amount of holes in the very fabric of reality), but selecting a lesser-known superhero team gives Disney the autonomy to introduce and drastically change established characters without welcoming the unbridled wrath of an entire fanbase.
Big Hero 6 follows Hiro Hamada, a 14 year-old with incredible talents in robotics. Tadashi, Hiro’s similarly gifted brother, discovers Hiro hustling robot-fighting gangsters in a seedy underworld, and tries to put his brother back on the right path. Tadashi meets a heroic end as he tries to save someone from a burning building, leaving Hiro heartbroken and defeated. He later discovers his brother’s final invention, the cuddly health-care robot Baymax, who helps Hiro as he goes through the bereavement process.
Hiro’s grief and his touching relationship with Baymax lie at the movie’s heart, and despite the source material and the futuristic setting, does what any good Disney movie should do, and gives children the important message of holding on to hope in dark times, not losing yourself amidst horrible circumstances, and the importance of friends and loved ones.
This isn’t to say that the movie is a gloomy, emotional cinematic slog; make no mistake, this is a superhero film. Hiro’s friends, a colourful band of nerds with amazing scientific abilities, are summoned by Baymax to help Hiro get back to his normal self, but they soon find themselves embroiled in the schemes of an apparent supervillain, who is using one of Hiro’s inventions for nefarious purposes. Hiro pulls a Tony Stark and creates an array of super-powered battle suits to take on his new adversary, and prevent the destruction of the city.
The thrills come thick and fast, and whereas the main entries in Marvel’s cinematic universe have been largely grounded in science and reality, Big Hero 6 joyously works outside the box to bring stunningly epic battles to life, as if Marvel’s 75 years of comics were bleeding into the silver screen. Baymax’s 2.0 upgrade gives him a flight-enabled suit which fully shows off the beauty of San Fransokyo – a high-tech city overflowing with the sun-drenched awesomeness of San Francisco’s hilly metropolis – and the splendour of Japan’s cherry blossom trees and neon skyscapes.
The challenge in making robots the focus of a movie is making them stand out, distancing them from boring, done-to-death robot tropes from generations of sci-fi films that precede them. Wall-E encapsulated viewers through minimal dialogue and a brilliantly inquisitive, adventurous and noble nature. Interstellar’s TARS had a dry sense of humour and an interesting (non-homicidal) bond with his fellow crew members, playing off well against Matthew McConaughey. Baymax is truly the highlight of the movie, standing apart from his murderous/boring/benign/cutesy counterparts, dishing out emotion and largely unintentional humour in equal amounts. He daintily tries to navigate rooms and small spaces, in spite of his enormous, cuddly girth. He expresses concerns about Hiro’s battle-ready upgrades undermining his ‘non-threatening, huggable design’. Whilst his efforts often come of as a hindrance, or as unintentional comic relief, Hiro’s wellbeing is Baymax’s primary concern and function; he hugs him when he thinks he needs it, calls his friends to give him some company, and will only leave Hiro when he is truly satisfied with his care. Baymax’s design is simple; he’s a large, vaguely humanoid white blob with a largely featureless face, yet Disney still manage to inject so much personality into the bot. There’s a truly hilarious scene where Baymax’s battery starts to run out of juice, and his normally reserved and pleasant manner hilariously transforms the mini Stay Puft Marshmallow Man into a drunken mess.
Big Hero 6 is an absolute joy to watch, with enough humour and true heart to encapsulate children and adults of all ages. Baymax, I am satisfied with my care.
Oh, and one more thing! Make sure you stick around until the very end to witness Disney one-upping Marvel at their own game with one of the best post-credits scenes yet.
Big Hero 6 is out now in cinemas across the UK