Big Hero 6: What I Did (and Did not) Expect

Nobody tells a coming of age story quite like Disney, in fact, they’ve kind of taken the monopoly on it. Over the decades we’ve collectively witnessed countless young people in their formative years dealing with, and eventually overcoming, rather extraordinary odds. Along the way, they make friends, they fail, they learn, and when they succeed, we cry. It’s everywhere: in Simba’s triumphant reclamation of Pride Rock, Merida’s reconciliation with her mother, Nemo’s battle cry to “swim together,” and, last and most profitably of all, Anna’s rescue of her ice queen sister. It’s the secret formula that has been at the heart of Disney’s cinematic success for decades; it’s the reason every new movie always carries that warm sense of familiarity; it’s our own story, retold across space and time.

In that regard, Big Hero 6 doesn’t seem to introduce anything new, and why should it? It has all the right parts for a solid Disney movie: a precocious teen, a villain, an anthropomorphic guide, and jokes. I, like many of you probably do and will, had a clear definition of what I thought this picture would be. I was right, and I was also wrong.

I expected the main character (Hiro) to have a high degree of likability. I mean, even some of the more annoying Disney protagonists have some endearing qualities: Nemo’s got his small fin and his bravery, Tiana has her work ethic, etc., etc. There is something that draws you to that character.

I didn’t expect to not like Hiro. At all. Hiro represents every know-it-all 14-year-old kid that you know. We learn in the first 10 minutes of the show that he’s graduated high school at an incredibly early age and, rather than spend his time and big brain developing his talents at school, he spends it on underground robot fights. Not saying I wouldn’t do the same thing if I were a boy genius, but the film is already putting us against Hiro by labeling him a lazy potential-waster and member of the entitlement generation.

I expected to love Hiro’s robotic companion, Baymax, a big, white, inflatable robot whose prime directive is the health and well-being of its patient. Disney has explored the waters of robots adopting human characteristics in an incredibly fun way. We saw that in Wall-E, where the title character is learning how to love, how to hold hands, how to dance, etc., all with varying and hilarious levels of success. Baymax is not much different. He takes every command literally, is a master of stating the obvious, and has a little difficulty mastering the fist bump (you’ll just have to see it). As such, he’s completely without guile. Really, he should be the most boring character in the entire film, but that expressionless face, deadpan delivery, and inability to to be deterred makes him, by comparison, the most interesting player by far.

I didn’t expect Baymax to be a carbon (more accurately, carbon-fiber skeleton) copy of my high school calculus teacher, David Heaton-Bush (who also went by HB, a more serial-numberesque nickname): incredibly smart, dry, and white. Somehow, that combination produced a more sophisticated type of humor that I don’t think we as high-schoolers were prepared for: it was physical humor without being slapstick; clever without being sarcastic. That’s Baymax.

I expected a fair amount of action. Disney has found the happy medium between action that is too scary for young kids, and action that puts people to sleep (although, the weird Hannibal Lector grasshopper in A Bug’s Life pushes the boundaries pretty far). The action in this movie is particularly fun because it, like so many other aspects of our everyday lives, is very technology driven. Not magic (even though it might as well be). What’s most interesting is Disney’s exploration of the grey area between what’s scientifically possible and what’s simply fantasy. Microrobotic technology? Magnetic transportation? It could happen. It’s probably happening now.

I didn’t expect a Marvel movie. Oh my goodness, this movie reads like a Marvel movie. I’d go even so far as to say John Lasseter took a few pages directly from The Avengers screenplay (there’s even a nod to the great Stan Lee somewhere in there). But why not? You have classic superhero movie moments: the suit-up, the first flight (How to Train Your Dragon did it better, by the way), the first failed team mission, team discord, and finally, the team thwarting the bad guy. The point that got painfully obvious to me, however, was the final scene which I will not reveal here (suffice it to say, inter-dimensional travel/sacrifice may or may not be involved).

I expected to learn nothing.

I didn’t expect to learn something this disturbing; in a world run by technology, it is so often the norm for us to increase in egocentrism. We build tech to serve our needs. In the world of San Fransokyo (don’t get me started), the people have become so tech-dependent that they’ve needed to build technology that relieves us of our need for selflessness (Baymax). Throughout the film, Baymx’s top priority is the safety and health (physical, emotional, etc.) of his patient, Hiro. Hiro experiences a great loss during the film, and Baymax, being a robot, remains completely free of judgmentalness (different from judgment) or offense. Why do we need a robot to teach us what it means to be truly human: to put others first, to deal with loss in a healthy way, etc.? Speaking of which . . .

I expected loss. You find that Hiro’s coming of age story emphasizes this idea of dealing with loss and that even some grown-ups aren’t that good at it. Up does it, along with nearly every other Disney movie featuring a deceased parent (like this one). Dealing with loss is a important part of growing up: it makes you appreciate whatever you can gain just a little bit more.

I didn’t expect the end, well, I was hoping for it, but I guess that’s what keeps us coming back, isn’t it?

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One thought on “Big Hero 6: What I Did (and Did not) Expect

  1. What Grimmer so graciously leaves unsaid is that I also have a large white body, tiny bald head, and trouble fitting into my clothes.

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