Big Hero 6 is a movie that lands to find an extremely crowded market. In recent years, superhero flicks have grown to become the industry’s bread-and-butter; the almost guaranteed source of income that explores our general affection towards people in odd suits fighting against crime in extravagant ways. Therefore, the film has to contend with the always looming possibility that it might veer into the swamp of commonplace ideas and fall into a muddy puddle of fat stinky clichés; a disaster that would be all the more grandiose given its contemporary abundance of features inspired by comic books.
Fortunately, Big Hero 6 is never a victim to those traps. The crew of heroes is a Marvel intellectual property that, as the company’s vaults were deeply scoured by Disney’s creative minds, was seen as opportune grounds for an animated film due to its obscurity and relatively unique premise. It is, consequently, the very first direct artistic result of the purchase of the comic book giant by the nearly all-encompassing entertainment factory.
Masters at adapting existing works into colorful universes held together by strong script and bursting with family-friendly goodness, Disney – as usual – takes enough liberties with the material to turn it into something entirely different. Sure, the core concept of a band of unlikely heroes and a science project that becomes an invaluable companion is still there, but other than a few other structural nods to the source of inspiration, this Big Hero 6 would be unrecognizable if put side-by-side with its paper brother.
What that gigantic transmutation allows, then, is for the work to be heavily infused with the signature Disney charm; and that is precisely why Big Hero 6 sets itself apart from all live-action takes on the superhero universe. This is the meeting of Marvel’s zero-to-hero arc with the traditional emotional depth the Walt Disney Animation Studios are known for; in fact, both elements are so well-merged and greatly utilized that looking at Big Hero 6 as Disney’s shot at making a superhero movie is unfair.
Explosions, epic fights, and conspiracies are obviously present, but rather than being the film’s end, they actually work as a complement to the heart-warming and tear-inducing plot that is built through the feature’s first twenty minutes. Instead of being a central part of Big Hero 6, the heroics are truthfully just another element of the recipe that is brewing.
It all takes place in San Fransokyo, which – as the name implies and perhaps as a recognition of Silicon Valley’s emergence as the new technological capital of the world – mixes the impossible urbanistic tightness of downtown Tokyo with the charm of the San Francisco suburbs, including a stylized Golden Gate Bridge that draws visual cues from Japanese temples; hence giving birth to a unique art that ties together the lines of mangas with American comic book sharpness.
Hiro Hamada, a 14-year-old prodigy who has graduated high school and judges himself too good to enroll at an University due to his extensive knowledge in robotics, spends his day battling on and winning robot fights, which are highly popular yet illegal. Eventually, encouraged by his older brother, who is developing the impressive healthcare robot Baymax, Hiro decides to earn himself a spot on the local and world-renowned school by working on a project of his own: microbots.
Controlled by telepathic headband, those tiny units are able to come together to form any object their master desires, therefore being of great use in the fields of construction, transportation, among others. During his demonstration, though, the pavilion of the science fair mysteriously catches fire, forcing Hiro and all others who are present to quickly flee the venue. Left behind in the midst of the calamity, the powerful microbots are stolen, and – soon thereafter – start being used by a masked villain for unknown purposes.
Hiro has no choice but to form his own band of heroes to both recover his brainchild and find out the bad guy’s real intention. To do so, he turns to his brother’s university colleagues and builds suits that grant them positively original powers, which are cleverly based on the inventions each one had been working on inside the college’s robotics department.
From that point on, Big Hero 6 has plenty of chances to be completely obvious, but it is quick to shun all of them. This is a movie written by experts that are fully aware of the superhero mythology, something that is revealed through the character of Fred – a comic book aficionado – and by the film’s tendency to lead viewers towards an expected line of thought. However, right when it looks like it might be taking the easy and painfully straight way out to join all of its plot elements, Big Hero 6 pulls the carpet from under its audience to some surprising results.
Movie-goers who might have noticed the company’s recent tendency to insert major twists that are simple yet effective on the very climax of its features, as it happened on both Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen, might see it coming, but Big Hero 6 pulls it off with the stone-cold face of a deceptive poker player, making it all come to a satisfying conclusion.
The astounding effectiveness of everything it does, not to mention its smooth avoidance of average traps go to show that Big Hero 6 is the work of a company that has – after long struggles – once again reached the very peak of its creative powers and settled into a movie-making formula that is precisely calculated, and that – at the same time – leaves plenty of open room for emotions to take over.
Hiro’s peers are undeniably iconic; they are characters that, despite being slightly one-dimensional, make their way into everybody’s hearts whether they are wearing ridiculous costumes full of badassery or just being their own geeky and friendly selves. Baymax, meanwhile, comes off as the perfect Disney sidekick: his lovable and huggable design might have come to be in order to power merchandise sales through the roof, but regardless of financial outcome, he has a well-defined purpose; one that is closely tied to the very heart of the story that pushes Big Hero 6 forward at a pleasant pace.
Big Hero 6 is, ultimately, able to capture all traditional elements found in the superhero universe and use them in the building of something rather unique. All pieces are here: a tragic origin story, an unlikely source of power, a weapon of infinite destructive potential, a masked villain of unknown identity and hidden purpose, and plenty of otherworldly action. The added dash given by Disney’s firm grip on everything that is touching and emotional is the extra push that makes that structure soar high enough to make Big Hero 6 yet another gem on the company’s unbelievable string of stellar filmaking. If Big Hero 6 is representative of the Marvel and Disney collaborations we are set to see in the future, then – at least as far as fans are concerned – the Mouse’s investment will pay off quite nicely.