First Theatrical Release: October 23, 2014 (Tokyo) and November 7, 2014 (United States)
First Home Viewing Release: February 24, 2015
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Where I Found It: My library’s DVD collection.
Bechdel Test Score: Failed. Female characters include Aunt Cass, GoGo, Honey Lemon, and the cat (which has to be female because she’s calico.) Although the female characters are in group scenes together, they do not ever directly talk to each other.
So, here it is, bonus movie!! The master list I worked from for my Year in Disney Movies was from a DVD site — Big Hero 6 had not been released on DVD when I snagged the list at the end of 2014, but since it is now, the completist in me had to give it a watch. (Although I didn’t have my act together enough to track down its source materials, again, because it wasn’t on my initial list. That list ruled my life last year!)
I really wanted to love it so that my Year in Disney movies would go out with a bang. Instead, it went out with a bit of a “meh.”
Me and Action Movies: It’s Not You, It’s Me
This movie had so much potential in its opening act. I loved the mostly realistic, easy-to-relate to setting: a nerdy child prodigy and his even nerdier older brother getting into and out of trouble together; the unique geekiness of each robotics student at Tadashi’s university; and of course, Baymax (and the calico cat! But mostly Baymax — best scene ever, the one with Baymax AND the cat!)
(My own “hairy baby” is purring on my lap as I write this.)
The non-judgmental, literal-minded, unflappable personality of an A.I. is always refreshing, and Baymax, with his “programming” to be helpful, non-threatening, and comforting, is especially a delight. I probably would have been happy if the whole movie was just Hiro and Baymax bumming around town and learning from each other. I also really liked the way his personality was so at odds with the avenging superhero Hiro wanted him to be, so that the only way to bring him on board was to position revenge as a way to improve Hiro’s depression.
In so doing, this movie sets itself up as an interesting reflection on grief. In a world where no one knows the right thing to say after a tragic loss has occurred, Baymax’s straightforward attempts to be helpful, free of all ego or self-consciousness, prove to be just the bridge Hiro needs to pull him through. Although he believes that it’s his drive to get even with the man who caused the fire that killed his brother, it is likely the presence of a loyal friend that heals him more than anything.
And while I really like all of this, I found this movie losing me about halfway in. It may not be the movie’s fault. But when it slips from being about Hiro’s relationship with his brother and Baymax and into the superhero plot, it also shifts in tone from an awkward and warm comedy to a subpar action flick. There’s nothing wrong with Action as a genre, but it’s not the genre for me. Every time I go to a superhero movie, my eyes glaze over during the epic battle scenes; my mind wanders and I check in again ten minutes later to see who won and what the body count was.
I’m afraid that is exactly what happened to me in the middle of this movie. My attention slid away as the team discovered their cool superhero powers and chased some bad guys and flew around, until suddenly I snapped back and the movie was practically over. Can I fairly judge the movie when my resistance to action plots means I pretty much missed the middle? Probably not. But the fact that I pretty much missed the middle is a judgment in and of itself, isn’t it?
My Villain, Myself
What brought me back to the action was the interesting and surprising things this movie does with its themes.
From the beginning, we assume that the villain who has commandeered Hiro’s microbots is the slimy businessman, Alistair Krei. But then we learn that the real mastermind behind the evil is Professor Callaghan, who is hellbent on vengeance against Krei for his daughter’s disappearance when Krei sent her into a transporter that wasn’t yet safe for use.
In this way, grief becomes the driving emotional force behind both our hero and our villain; Hiro seeks vengeance for the death of his brother, even as he sees the way Callaghan’s desire for vengeance for his daughter’s disappearance breeds an out-of-control cycle of destruction that ends up hurting innocent people. In this movie we have a hero and a villain who are two sides of the same experience, who are more alike than they are different. In Callaghan, Hiro glimpses where the path he is on will ultimately lead — and as a fourteen-year-old boy who doesn’t have a ton of self-insight (even if he is a genius), that’s not initially enough to turn him away from that path. But Baymax, the antithesis of death and destruction, is. Hiro turns back in the nick of time, but he skirts closer to the edge of darkness than most Disney heroes do, and the movie is richer for it. It was even enough to get me to tune back in .