There’s a very good chance that Disney let a troop of 8-year-old boys into the planning meeting for Big Hero 6. The movie is overrun with chases, robot wars, limitless science, explosions, superheroes and blinding colour. There is not a princess dress in sight and there is tremendous fun to be had but when the dust settles the movie feels like a huge brain-storm of ideas without a really solid suggestion.”
There is of course a group of savvy grown-ups behind the movie and they deploy all the formula that has been wholly tested and churned out by Disney previously. (There is also comic-book source material). A kid from an atypical family background has lessons to learn; meet Hiro, a 14 year-old, brilliant but brazen high-school graduate. There’s a loyal side kick, quirky authority figures, a musical montage and an entirely predictable final act. The political reality of the day is not dealt with but for all intent and purposes it seems he lives in a future version of San Francisco now under Japanese rule. [Editor’s Note: The fictional city is cultural and architectural mash-up between San Fransisco and Tokyo called San Fransokyo, imagined as if San Francisco had been rebuilt by the Japanese immigrants following the 1906 earthquake.]
The story has Hiro’s delinquent mind reformed pretty sharpish to set him on a collision path with nerd school, new friends and an inflatable medical robot. In a very public service way, the movie is littered with lessons on the value of education and, in a slight on Batman, reminds us that vigilantes delivering justice is to be frowned upon. There’s an odd mash-up of themes but the bonds of friendship are foremost , pivoted around Hiro and Baymax, a robot developed by Hiro’s brother. In the future our side-kicks will be programmed to be loyal in place of the dogs of old. With the Academy, governments and employers under fire for poor diversity and representation, Disney nevertheless puts the guys front-and-centre here: the sisters have been appeased with Frozen. A pair of brothers anchor the movie and Baymax is given a robot beer belly and male speaking voice. The girls do get a look in, included in the diversified circle of friends, but in the true spirit of equality are as blandly constructed as the boys. Baymax is the crucial source of much of the movie’s successes, in particular any humour. His dedication and dimensions drive the slapstick and wit of the movie and he is the proxy for the learning and growing that goes on.
Initially, things seem novel and suggest we may be in line for something new or engaging. It’s not every Disney movie that opens with scenes of underground, illegal gambling. Eventually the story collapses into a story of superheroes and a masked villain. It was recently confirmed that every single movie to be released for the next 600 years will be a superhero movie; the well has been well and truly drawn from. In this most recent Disney renaissance we’ve had expectations created, standards raised and records broken. The unique twists, the strength of humour and the appealing heart that have given other movies classic status is only here in diluted form. The story is one of delivering on potential but the movie itself is an under-achiever. We need new takes on tired genres, not output that rides in on the capes of other comic heroes with a franchise application form.
Big Hero 6 is a kids movie and a kids movie only. This wouldn’t be so serious an offence, and indeed shouldn’t be, if there wasn’t such incriminating evidence of failed attempts to make the movie more interesting than it is.