What Frozen did for sisters, Big Hero 6 does for brothers. While not being a fairy tale and instead being based on an obscure comic book series, this film tells a fantastic story and gives us quirky but still relatable characters. One feels enriched by the viewing experience as the credits roll.
While I enjoyed this film, however, I do have to ask – why is a movie about sisters a twist on a classic magical tale, complete with music, songs, princesses, dancing, and gorgeous dresses, while Disney’s follow-up film about brothers is based on a comic series, complete with scientific gadgets, robots, high-speed chases, and a distinct lack of songs? I can’t help but think of the unfortunate implications – namely, “girls = magic and sparkles” while “boys = science and technology”. Of course, both Frozen and Big Hero 6 are very good films in their own right. However, the stark difference (akin to walking down the pink “girls’ aisle” and the multicoloured “boys’ aisle” in the toy store) did impact my enjoyment of them. It isn’t enough to say that “Frozen was about sisterly love and female empowerment” and “Big Hero 6 featured strong female characters”. The very fact that they have been separated out is the problem.
Back off my soapbox and on with the actual review!
The main characters in Big Hero 6 are not normal by any stretch of the imagination. While not royalty or magical, Hiro is a teen genius, while his older brother Tadashi is an engineer of advanced intelligence himself. Tadashi’s (and later Hiro’s) friends are also likewise scientific geniuses and/or wealthy. Baymax, our beloved sidekick, is a robot – loveable like Winnie-the-Pooh, but able to learn and adeptly diagnose and treat medical issues. The most “normal” character is Hiro’s aunt, who seems to be relatively average in her smarts and exists in the film mostly to offer food. And yet, we can relate to all of these assorted characters because they seem realistic up to a point. Even Baymax does not seem out of the realm of possibility, technologically-speaking. Science, unlike magic, seems real and obtainable to us.
Big Hero 6’s plot is a blend of whimsical adventure, wherein magic has been turned into technology without losing its sense of wonder, and classic revenge tale. Hiro deals with the loss of his brother surprisingly realistically. He embarks on a quest to stop whomever has stolen and started abusing his invention of mind-linked nanobots. Later, this quest grows to encompass defeating the one responsible for Tadashi’s death. Throughout the adventure, Baymax provides aid, support, and lots of humour as he adapts his programming to help Hiro, even including becoming a karate master. Baymax is truly willing to go to the ends of the Earth and beyond to treat and save his young patient.
The world of San Fransokyo is a blend of North American and Asian cultures. Because of this, the city seems familiar and yet otherworldly, utopian and yet believable. Also, for the first time, Disney has the technological capability to minutely animate each face in a crowd and each leaf on a tree. The realism of the animation is incredible. Every background character has a distinct face, and with it, the possibility of a distinct personality and story. The setting is all the richer for that possibility.
Most importantly, the main theme of this film is to not give up on others and not to give in to despair. No matter how many prototypes or tests it takes, no matter how many hard and devastating blows life throws at you, no matter how obstinate another person is, do not give up. Tadashi does not give up on Baymax or Hiro. Baymax does not give up on being able to treat Hiro (or any human in need, for that matter). Hiro’s friends do not give up on him. His aunt does not give in to despair despite the loss of her sibling, their spouse, and her nephew. Hiro does not give up on Baymax. Fred, the friend with the least amount of scientific abilities, never gives up on being a part of the gang and providing them with all of the skills and knowledge that he does possess. The one character who does give in to despair and revenge gets their comeuppance in defeat, but even their dedication to their revenge ends up leading directly to the salvation of at least one lost soul.
Sometimes, it seems like one is indeed giving up. Letting go of revenge leads us to personal growth, love, acceptance, peace, and salvation. Giving up on one thing can let us embrace another. But giving up on a person can only lead to loss. Giving up on one’s humanity (or a robot’s nearness to humanity) leads to death and destruction. Giving in to despair leads only to defeat and loneliness.
Like all Disney films, this story reminds us that family and friends are important. However, it does so by showing us how one teenager reacts to losing nearly his entire family and creating a new one. The robotics, technology, and action only serve to bring a new, realistic spin on the classic formula. It brings the magic closer to Earth, but it also is wonderful, awe-inspiring, and just one step farther than reality. It is still magical, but it is about us.
That’s isn’t to say that it couldn’t have used a good song. It just didn’t need one.