Big Hero 6 is Disney and Marvel's new robot adventure that takes place against the backdrop of the fictional San Fransokyo. It's a huge and beautiful new world, and although the plot isn't perfect, the movie is worth seeing for the robots, the city, and the jokes.
Based off a Marvel comic series of the same title, Big Hero 6 follows Hiro Himada and his gang of nerds-cum-vigilantes on their quest to keep a powerful robot from being used for evil. Hiro is a 13-year-old with a huge talent for robots, who abandons illegal pay-to-play underground bot battles in favour of following his pure-of-heart brother Tadashi to hone his craft at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. That's where he meets his robot-wielding buddies GoGo Tamago, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred, a ragtag band of geeky students.
Is the robot Baymax, a goofy marshmallow of a bot who can assess your health with a laser body scan. Robots and the smattering of futuristic but believable technology is arguably one of the best parts of the movie, in part because they're based on real robots being developed at labs like MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and DARPA, and existing tech like 3D-printing. But the beauty of Big Hero 6 is these slices of real science get human personalities, thanks to their human operators, or our six student friends.
To gain acceptance to SFIT, Hiro builds an army of Microbots, a group of drillbit-like pieces that come together to create pretty much anything your mind wants. Transportation! Weaponry! Tomfoolery! Kicking off the plot in earnest!
After developing his world-changing tech, Hiro is approached by a Peter Thiel-like tech CEO named Alistair Krei who offers to buy the Microbots for a ludicrous amount of money, putting Hiro in his first of many pretty black-and-white but still emotionally fraught decision's he'll face in the movie. As he leaves the facility, there's a fire and, well. The plot goes into overdrive from there.
Long story short, the army microbots end up in the hands of a faceless evil villain, and Hiro and Baymax team up with SFIT's band of mechanically minded misfits to save the day, unmask evil, and deal with the army of Microbots that now threatens to take over the world if ever in the wrong hands.
The team suits up at the SFIT lab get badass reboots as superhero suits. Each gets a fun little technological super-power that aligns neatly with his or her personality traits. Baymax gets Hulk fists and the ability to fly, and Hiro gets an Iron-Man-like getup. The crew has been formed. Evil will be squashed.
Great, cute, sweet and heart-warming tale. The subject matter gets a little heavy for kids. Big Hero 6 definitely made me cry. (I also cry in every movie.) And I guess if kids could handle the original violence of Grimm's Fairy Tales, then this is some basic stuff.
Towards the end, the plot gets a little more twisted and overly complex. Honestly, at this point, I would have preferred it just be predictable. Make Krei evil. Make Hiro right that evil. I would be fine with that. But I feel like it tried too hard to throw in a plot twist. However, a large part of the target audience for Big Hero 6 is kids, and kids aren't going to care about this plot problem. Aside from that, there's a lot of dialogue that's just bad and cliche and tries to tug too hard at your heartstrings. Still, it's worth seeing.
It's easy to ignore plot issues, because the Big Hero 6 universe is just so awesome, and has so many things to enjoy. First, of course, the robots. The robots are excellent and full of personality.
Then, there's San Fransokyo, and amazing glittering hybrid of San Francisco and Tokyo. The Big Hero 6 comic is based in Tokyo, but Disney created a huge, ambitious new world that's a beautiful amalgam of the two for the flick. Here's a tour, showing that it's actually really intricately made using real information.
Geographically, it's San Francisco, and it's a pretty close match to the real SF, thanks to data the animators took from the city's Assessor-Recorder's office. But it borrows pieces from each place, like rolling hills and Victorian homes of SF, or streets that by day are lined with beautiful cherry blossoms from Tokyo, and at night are lit by bright, brash neon signs of the Japanese capital.
One of my favourite parts of the not entirely fictional city was the San Fransokyo version of the Golden Gate Bridge. It's almost as arresting as the real deal, but it has its own Tokyo twist, styled with Torii gates. It's a perfect fit, and it looks like that's how the bridge was meant to look. I really want to visit San Fransokyo.
Baymax is a big puffy bot with a bigger heart. When we first meet him, he's a very straightforward character, meant to assess and treat medical ailments. But he, like any good character, evolves into a loving, feeling, compassionate friend. D'awww. Also, he plays the straight man throughout, delivering a bulk of deadpan punchlines.
The other half or so of the punchlines come from Fred, voiced by T.J. Miller, who plays pretty much a sanitised version of his character on Silicon Valley. I half hoped he might integrate that amazing dick joke from the season finale. But, hold on, this is a kid's movie.
Plot problems aside, it's of the brand of animated movies that leave you wondering whether it was intended more for kids or adults. The humour, in that regard, is great. And the film as a whole, is wonderful in that space too. You can take your kids and know you'll enjoy it just as much as they do. There isn't too much to think about here.
Big Hero 6 is full of those messages that are really important to learn as a kid. You can be anything you want to be. Being smart is cool. Girls can be smart, too. Don't do harm to others. Underdogs can win. Those are all important lessons, and that really struck me with how great it is that animated movies try to instil them in kids (and adults, for that matter). Because live action movies tend to stick to the same tropes. In Big Hero 6, nice guys—or rather, robots—finish first.
Big Hero 6 opens in UK cinemas January 30th, 2015.