The following contains spoilers for Big Hero 6. You have been warned.
Disney Animation’s Big Hero 6 pulled off the big box-office upset this past weekend, besting Interstellar (which you can read about here) by about $9 million. But there’s more to Big Hero 6 than being just another cog in the Disney/Marvel mint; it’s a roaring fun movie in its own right. If you haven’t seen it yet, have a look at our review. If you have, join Eduardo Ramos and me and we talk about the adventures of Hiro, Baymax, and the rest of the gang.
Erik: Let me just say before we get into any criticism or snarky comments about the film (I mean before I start making snarking comments, of course) how much fun it was to watch. The colors popped, the designs of the characters, buildings, etc. were creative, and the action scenes got the blood pumping. Now on to breaking down a children’s film. Eduardo, thoughts?
Eduardo: First off, yes. The color pallette of this film was extraordinary. I don’t think I’ve seen any animation as visually beautiful since perhaps Pixar’s Up or Wall-E. I agree that it was one of the main highlights of the film. Overall, I enjoyed a lot about the film. It wasn’t without it’s blemishes, but they were, for the most part, forgivable. I liked the heart, the humor, the action (as you mentioned), and pretty much it was one of the better animated features I’ve seen this year. But I wanted to touch upon something which I really admired in the film, its enthusiasm towards science. It was very science-centric, so to speak. And I alway admire animation that is able to toe this line between conveying some sort of message to kids without seeming like it’s a droning lecture. Last year’s Frozen did it with it’s feminist message, and so did Wall-E with it’s environmentalism. So I enjoyed that.
Erik: Yes, “Use your imagination!” and “Be creative!” were pretty obvious, but still poignant messages in the film. I think a good visual representation of that was the designs of the team’s costumes. They all had similar aspects (they were, after all, created by the same person), but each was still quite distinct. Much like The Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, you could easily pick-out each character in a line-up. Some team-based films (like, say, G.I. Joe and the first three Transformers films) gave the characters far too similar looks. That seems to be the antithesis of creativity we apparently want to imbue in our children.
Eduardo: I actually, having no familiarity with the Marvel comic that this was adapted from, curiously skimmed over its Wikipedia page before seeing the film (not for any meaningful plot points, but rather to read about the characters/heroes of the story) and was alarmed to find how drastically different they ultimately ended up looking in the film. I thought Disney would try to maintain some sort of consistent look from the comics, you know, just “kiddie it up” a bit, but no. A lot of them were very different, and I thought, like you, it worked extremely well. The character of Baymax is basically a completely new vision from the one in the comics, and I actually thought he seemed somewhat inspired by Wall-E’s Eve in a way. The sleek, simplistic design. Obviously a more bloated, fluffy version of her. But just that very simple, Apple-esque design.
Erik: I’m mildly familiar with the comics – I’ve read maybe two issues worth – and yes, much like with Guardians of the Galaxy, there were some big liberties taken with the characters and the team itself. For instance, in the comics, the team was composed almost entirely of Japanese heroes. In the film the made the team a little more racially diverse, but considering the cross-culture city the filmmakers created it made sense – plus given the traditional lack of diversity with superheroes, it’s completely forgivable. And as far as Baymax goes, it kind of amazes me how Disney consistently creates these characters that seem solely designed to sell toys (try to tell me Baymax dolls aren’t flying off the shelf as we speak/type), yet still make them interesting, or at the very least entertaining.
Eduardo: Oh, there’s definitely a conscious marketing effort going on behind almost every Disney film, where they’re surely looking at character designs from two perspectives – that of contributing to the story of the film, and that of selling merchandise. I can already envision seeing Baymax at Disney World. I think it speaks to their know-how as not only a producer of children’s animation for all these years, but as really an all encompassing brand that knows how to make money. And yes, even with that bottom-line approach of, “Will this character sell us toys?” they still manage to make something very real and authentic that doesn’t appear to be purely manufactured for profit when placed within the context of their film.
Erik: Although I can’t help but think about the villain, Robert Callaghan, and what his action figure’s description on the back of it’s box will read: “Went crazy after watching his daughter die, and murdered Hiro’s brother.” That’s a bit heavy for kids, but then again, Disney seems to recently be more willing to incorporate darker and more difficult ideas and subject matter into their films. For instance: the manipulative sociopath of a villain in Frozen, the death of the goofy comic relief character in Princess and the Frog, and that’s not even getting into Pixar. In Big Hero 6 you had an important character die and never come back, you saw his family dealing with the grief – hell, the fact that they acknowledged grief is pretty significant. You also had a protagonist who straight up tries to murder the antagonist, and then a message of “killing is wrong” that didn’t feel trite.
Eduardo: Yeah, in a lot of ways the character of Baymax serves as a commentary to Hiro’s grief (and his varying stages of grief, from all out rage, to finally…acceptance) throughout the entire film. It was actually really well done, the way they made Baymax serve not only as Hiro’s physical sidekick, but as a companion for his emotional journey. The phrase, “Are you satisfied with your care?” obviously was meant to signify two very different things in the film. On this superficial level, it was a very literal question, but it also served as this deeper subtext of Hiro getting over the death of his brother and coming to terms with his quest for vengeance. So in the end when Baymax asks him for the last time, and he answers, “I am satisfied with my care,” it was really quite striking how that was meant to mean two things, and how it served the story and the character’s emotional journey.
Erik: Agreed. And yet… despite how well the film handled its themes, messages, and visuals, I wish the filmmakers had been a little more creative with other aspects of the film. The title of the film is Big Hero 6 and yet it wasn’t really the story of a team, it was the story of one member of the team: Hiro. This is a problem I have with team films, like the X-Men franchise, where the team really only exists to further one character’s journey. As much as I did enjoy Honey Lemon, Go-Go Tamago, Wasabi No-Ginger, and Fred, they were only there in service of Hiro. Thus, they didn’t get adequate screentime to develop past their archetypes: the tough one, the nice one, the funny one, the nervous one. While I’ll remember their designs, I’m not sure how long I’ll remember them.
Eduardo: I’m glad you mentioned the supporting team, because I’m in full agreement with your points, and it was perhaps my biggest issue with the film. They had no depth. None of them, and the closest thing we got to a backstory for any of them was the revelation that Fred, this slacker funny guy, actually came from a family of wealth and lived in a huge mansion. And honestly that seemed like more of a reason to serve a punchline than it did to give him some sort of substantial background. Also, early in the film they very clearly establish that the supporting team are geniuses themselves. They go to this fancy science school, and when Hiro first visits them, they’re working on these elaborate and impressive projects on their own. So when Hiro later single-handedly upgrades all their costumes, it sort of seems like it’s diminishing what these characters are capable of bringing to the table. And at the end, when it looks like Robert Callaghan has got them trapped (each of them in confinement), we need Hiro’s encouragement for them to suddenly remember, “Hey, we’re geniuses and we can find a way out of this by using our brains.” So I fully agree with the notion that the filmmakers did a disservice to the supporting team. This was very much Hiro’s story, for better or worse.
Erik: Consider Guardians of the Galaxy, which I think – despite any flaws the movie may have – handled the team dynamic better. Yes, it was essentially Starlord’s story, but the other Guardians still had their own motivations and backstories – except for Groot, and Rocket Raccoon’s is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, but there nonetheless. If, perhaps, in Big Hero 6 we had seen the rest of the team on their own, or having any interactions with someone besides Hiro, they could have been fleshed out a little more. Even the villain, who had a decent backstory, wasn’t all that unique (powers notwithstanding) – a real shame considering some of Disney and Marvel’s past villains (e.g. Judge Frollo from Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hans from Frozen, and of course Loki).
Eduardo: Yeah, I think the main issues with Robert Callaghan as the villain were twofold. One, by making his powers come as a direct result of what Hiro has done (Hiro having been the one who invented that elaborate magnetic thingamajig), you’re essentially saying that he’s only powerful because of the protagonist, and without the power, he’s ordinary. That already diminishes him as a villain, because he’s piggybacking off of the hero’s genius and know-how for his own power. That’s not to say that I don’t understand why they did that, because honestly, without Callaghan using Hiro’s invention, we essentially have no story. And secondly, I think the filmmakers tried too hard to make Callaghan’s identity in the first half of the film this great mystery, that it just seemed so obvious that it was going to be him. First, they clearly tried to deviate our attention towards rich tycoon Alistair as the villain, which just seemed like an obvious red herring for the audience (not for one second did I believe Alistair was the villain). So when the reveal finally came that it was Callaghan, it wasn’t that effective, at least not the way I think the filmmakers had intended for it to be.
Erik: I knew it wasn’t Alistair Krey because that’s way too obvious of a villain name. Also, Callaghan’s blandness can be summed up by his costume: a kabuki mask and a black coat. I think the filmmakers expended all their creative energy on the nanomachines. I wonder if they were a little too concerned with giving him a good backstory. It may have been in the movie’s service to give us a straight-up evil villain with little to no redeeming qualities. That way they could have taken the time devoted to said backstory and used it to develop the other characters a little more.
Eduardo: That’s a good point. And let us remember it doesn’t take much to establish a villain’s motivations. You don’t need this elaborate backstory. An effective example of this was Pixar’s The Incredibles, where all we learn about the villain (Buddy Pine a.k.a. Syndrome) is that he is the way he is because of some sense of rejection he felt from Mr. Incredible himself as a child. And we only learn that through a quick, brief flashback scene connecting Syndrome to the little boy that Mr. Incredible slighted. That was it. And that was enough for us to believe him as a character, buy into his motivations, and see that he was clearly deranged. Something similar might have worked for Big Hero 6.
Erik: I wonder too, what was the point of having Callaghan’s (I really wish he’d been given a proper villain name) daughter still be alive – did Disney think two dead family members in one film was pushing it? In fact, what was the point of that post-fight sequence. Were they going for an Iron Giant-type of moment? If so, it didn’t work, because even if you didn’t realize Disney wasn’t going to kill the film’s mascot off, Baymax doesn’t even stay dead for very long. That whole part seemed pointless, like they thought it was a story beat they were obligated to hit.
Eduardo: I actually enjoyed that post-fight scene. One one level, it was pure indulgement. I thought it was a beautifully animated scene. The colors and world they created once Hiro and Baymax go through the portal was as beautiful as anything I had seen in animation in a while. I can only recall Wall-E floating through space with a fire extinguisher as something more memorable (visually) or perhaps some moments in Up. On another level, I think it served, as I alluded to earlier, that idea that Hiro had to finally come to terms with his grief and with losing his brother. When he finally says, “I am satisfied with my care” it was him letting go of all the emotions and anger and vengeance that he felt towards Callaghan, and going to save Callaghan’s daughter was a representation of that (of course, you would hope he would have saved her regardless). But I agree that I found it an odd choice that she is suddenly alive in the first place. Was it merely so Hiro and Baymax can go through the portal and share that great moment? I don’t know. Part of me feels like the filmmakers wanted to contrast Callaghan’s vengeance and quest against Alistair and compare it with Hiro’s. While Callaghan ultimately let his rage consume him (and he ended up doing it for nothing, essentially, since his daughter was still alive), Hiro was able to channel his brother’s mantra of helping people and getting over the fact that Callaghan was responsible for his brother’s death by risking himself to save his daughter.
Erik: Granted, the visuals in that sequence were lovely. But, I thought we got that moment of Hiro coming to terms with his grief in the scene where Baymax plays his brother’s recordings. Again, I think Callaghan’s (seriously, they couldn’t have come up with some name? “Mr. Kabuki” perhaps?) backstory just muddles things.
Eduardo: I guess the final thing I’d say is that, at this point, I’d probably put this atop my list as the best animated feature I’ve seen this year, without putting too much thought into it (since I’m sure I’m forgetting about some films I’ve seen). I didn’t see The LEGO Movie so I can’t comment on that, but I’m pretty sure I prefer this over How to Train Your Dragon 2, which is the other meaningful animated release this year (I’m also not including both Studio Ghibli efforts, of which I have not seen).
Erik: Considering that I have seen The LEGO Movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Boxtrolls, and The Book of Life, I’d say the only film Big Hero 6 beats out is Book of Life. However, I did like every one of those films, so this is only the second “worst” animated film by default. I once again must emphasize how much fun this movie is, and entertainment is the primary reason I go to the movies. Though I went on at length about its flaws, that’s only because this year has raised the bar – and my standards – for animated features.