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“Big Hero Six”: A Superhero Movie That Celebrates Brains Over Brawn



David Ives - published on 11/11/14

Disney delivers in a movie that's, well, adorable.

If your inner cynic got a good look at Baymax, the big inflatable robot from Disney’s newest animated feature “Big Hero 6,” and thought to itself, “You know, this big marshmallow thing is just custom designed to elicit the same kind of response those cute cat videos on YouTube do,” well… your inner cynic would be absolutely right. That adorableness is actually a crucial part of Baymax’s character.

Created by college age whiz kid Tadashi Hamada to be the ultimate healthcare companion, everything about Baymax, from his appearance to his voice, is carefully constructed to inspire calmness and trust as he administers to your medical needs. And not just your physical needs either, though he is fully equipped to handle injuries. Baymax is programmed to help with a person’s mental health as well, ready to dispense psychological analysis, or just a hug if that’s all that is needed. He may be big and awkward, but first and foremost, Baymax is a healer.

At least, that’s what Baymax is meant to be until Tadashi’s younger brother, the thirteen-year old prodigy Hiro, gets ahold of him. We first meet the aimless Hiro as he wastes his time participating in illegal back alley miniature robot fights. Having already graduated high school, the boy has no interest in enrolling in college, because he assumes no professor has anything to teach him. That all changes, however, when Tadashi tricks Hiro into stopping by the “nerd school” the older brother attends.

This is where Hiro meets Tadashi’s friends, and his own future teammates, as they work on their various projects. There’s the speed-obsessed Go Go Tomago, who is trying to master electromagnetic transportation, the neurotic Wasabi, who is developing laser slicing technology, the always optimistic Honey Lemon, who is pushing the boundaries of chemical reactions, and the science groupie Fred, who functions as both the school’s mascot and the chief bestower of oddball nicknames. The chief draw for Hiro, though, is the school’s teacher, Prof. Robert Callaghan, whose work in robotics is Hiro’s primary inspiration.

It’s interesting to note that, with a few exceptions, almost every major character in the movie is a genius. And those who aren’t, such as Fred, Aunt Cass, and Alistair Krei, the entrepreneur who hopes to profit from the school’s inventions, all admire and encourage intellectual pursuits. Maybe directors Chris Williams and Don Hall saw the old Val Kilmer movie “Real Genius” as kids and became enraptured with it, or perhaps they just wanted to make a kids version of “Big Bang Theory.” Whatever the reason, the movie is so egghead-centric that if it wasn’t for the superhero action which starts up halfway through the film, I’d worry that it might alienate every kid who never made the honor roll.

Speaking of that action, things really get rolling after someone blows up the school with Tadashi and Callaghan still inside, and makes off with the miniature pellet sized robots (not magic nanobots, mind you, just regular old robots) that Hiro had created for his audition to gain enrollment. Crushed by the deaths of his brother and his mentor, Hiro begins to revert back to his aimless ways.

And then he discovers that Baymax is still around and functioning. This is where the movie starts to get both really fun and occasionally poignant. It’s fun because, true to his programming, Baymax is downright adorable. Not overly cute or cloying, just adorable. Judging from the laughs garnered as Hiro learns to interact with his new caretaker, the movie could probably have skipped all of the action and just followed the two new pals around as they got to know each other. But the action scenes are a hoot as well, mostly due to Baymax’s determination to keep Hiro in a state of mental relaxation even as the movie’s kabuki-masked villain throws one robotic monstrosity after another at the pair.

It’s the introduction of this villain which brings a bit of darkness to the proceedings. Once Hiro learns of the masked man’s existence, he equips his school friends with superhero suits so they can help in the villain’s capture. And once he learns who is actually behind the mask, he becomes determined to kill the man, even going so far as to alter Baymax’s directives, effectively turning the healer into a hate-filled engine of destruction.

The take-home message in “Big Hero 6” isn’t a subtle one. Like most animated Disney movies before it, “Big Hero 6” uses the time-tested trope of killing off Hiro’s family in order to force him to grow up and face adult choices. This time around, those choices are symbolized by what programming Hiro will ultimately choose for Baymax. Will he allow the robot (and by proxy, himself) to approach the world with a spirit of caring, doing his best to make sure he contributes to the well being and wholeness of each person he meets? Or, will he give in to vengeance and confront the world with force and hatred? Do I even have to point out the Christian parallels here?

Don’t get me wrong. “Big Hero 6” is not a deep movie. It’s doubtful audiences will find in it the lasting emotional impact of a “Toy Story 3” or be moved to philosophical musings as with any given Studio Ghibli film, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. The script is brisk and much tighter than last year’s “Frozen.” The depiction of the near future mega-city of San Fransokyo is fantastically realized and a joy to look at. And did I mention that Baymax is adorable? If your kids are in the mood for a superhero movie and you’d like to take them to one that has a positive message and celebrates brains over brawn, “Big Hero 6” should fit the bill just fine.

P.S. As this is a movie made about nerds for nerds, any nerds in the audience should stick around for the after-credits scene. It’s pretty nerd-tastic.

In a world he didn’t create, in a time he didn’t choose, one man looks for signs of God in the world by… watching movies. When he’s not reviewing new releases for Aleteia,David Ivesspends his time exploring the intersection of low-budget/cult cinema and Catholicism atThe B-Movie Catechism.

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