When Disney struck a deal with Marvel back in 2009, they immediately started pumping out lucrative superhero franchises, and only three years later they released The Avengers. But what people didn’t expect was an animated feature film based on one of the comic book company’s most overlooked titles, the Japanese style Big Hero Six.
The story follows Hiro, an adolescent genius who spends his spare time fighting bots for money, which is strictly speaking illegal. But hey, when you’re a genius like Hiro, it’s also quite the lucrative trade. Hiro’s older brother, Tadashi, in an attempt to steer him in the right direction, takes him to the “nerd lab” at his school, where Hiro meets his brother’s four best friends: Wasabi, Honey Lemon, GoGo, and Fred. They’re all nerds, but they’re all working on incredibly cool projects, which immediately draws Hiro in. He wants to get into the school, which means he has to come up with a wicked-cool project to impress the school and let him in.
Enter the micro-bots. Quite similar to nanotechnology, they are a group of tiny robots about the size of a seed that can be controlled through a neuro-transmitter. Without the transmitter they’re just a pile of metal, but with it, they can form and move into anything that the user can think of. His project is an instant hit, and he’s accepted into the school, though not before an offer by business guru Alistair Krei. Professor Callaghan, the school mentor and Hiro’s role model, warns Hiro that he cuts corners with his technology and is a dangerous man.
Then tragedy strikes. Hiro experiences loss personally, and soon discovers that his microbots have been stolen by some mysterious figure in a mask. It’s up to him and his four friends to stop this mysterious villain’s plot, along with the help from Tadashi’s lone remaining pet project: a healthcare robot named Baymax.
The film’s primary message centers around Hiro’s lust for revenge. From the moment that he discovers someone has stolen his microbots, he realizes that the fire that killed his brother must not have been as accidental as it seemed. The audience watches Hiro struggle through this loss with raw emotion that is difficult to glean from an animated film, thanks to a remarkable performance from Ryan Potter as Hiro. That theme of tragedy is tempered, of course, with a considerable amount of comic relief. T.J. Miller (Snotlaut from How to Train Your Dragon) provides a significant amount of over-the-top comedy and general nerdiness to give the audience laughs, while even bigger belly laughs come from Baymax’s inability to understand human expressions and sarcasm.
None of this is new or groundbreaking. Animated films have long dealt with loss as a major theme while providing comic relief along the way (Finding Nemo, anyone?). The thing that makes this film stick out, however, is not the originality of its core themes but the creative setting in which it’s expressed. The city of San Fransokyo is a brilliant combination of San Francisco and Tokyo, blending the obvious Japanese elements (Hiro’s name, Asian architecture) with those of the southern California city (rail-cars and port city scenery). The film also boasts stronger supporting characters than you’d typically find in an animated feature film. They are real and enjoyable, and the personalities of each member perfectly balances the team.
However, if you’re expecting this to be the next Finding Nemo or even the next Emperor’s New Groove, you find yourself slightly disappointed. The plot is a bit predictable, and it’s not going to break through a list of the greatest animated films ever made. But the themes of the destructiveness of revenge and the incessant selfless care that we see through Baymax are worthwhile themes to consider, and while it may not be the best animated film to come out this decade, it probably is the best animated film to come out this year.