Big Hero 6 was finally released in the UK last week, which means that I finally got to see it. And it was almost as good as the hype from America suggested it would be. Almost.
Because Big Hero 6 is a fun movie, and a sad movie, and a wonderfully animated movie, and even a fantastically diverse movie, but it is slightly lacking in narrative structure.
So here’s the cool part. Big Hero 6 is basically about scientist superheroes. Diverse scientist superheroes. The protagonist is Japanese-American, something of a child robotics prodigy who uses his skills to gamble over robot battles until his brother convinces him that he should go to university instead, and only one of the main group of heroes is white.
And the group of five heroes includes two girls, both of whom are, again, scientist geniuses, but neither of whom fit into a “nerdy scientist girl” stereotype. Honey Lemon was my personal favorite, simply for being incredibly excitable, incredibly pink, incredibly girly, and absolutely brilliant at science at the same time, but Go Go was also fun as the tough badass girl with a stripe in her hair. The movie as a whole conveys the message that science (or at least, fictional futuristic science) is exciting and cool and superhero-esque, but it also suggests that science can be pink girly, science can be fun for girls, science can be cool for girls, and it does so in a way that feels incredibly natural. There’s never any sense that the female characters are outsiders or different from the others. They were just awesome.
Big Hero 6 also beats recent movies like Frozen for the sheer presence of female characters. Disney has been (rightly) criticized recently for making movies with compelling female protagonists, but where almost every secondary or background character is male. Although Big Hero 6 was ultimately about the relationship between a boy and his older brother, it didn’t skimp on female presence, both in terms of significant characters, and just in the background. Hiro’s aunt didn’t receive a lot of screen time, yet her character was well-developed and emotionally powerful. Every group scene contained female characters, including background female scientists. And while that shouldn’t be significant, it’s rare enough these days to be noteworthy.
Unfortunately, the plot itself lacked structure. The main drive of the story was Hiro’s grief over his brother’s death, but this meant that the superhero/supervillain side of things felt somewhat undeveloped. The movie attempts a “surprise twist” on the identity of the villain, but its attempt to be surprising just meant that the villain never quite felt grounded or real, because we didn’t get enough information on him. There’s a key plot point about an abandoned lab on an island, but we learn about its existence so late in the story that it feels rushed and doesn’t carry the weight that it otherwise could have had. It becomes a vital part of the plot, but it almost feels tacked on to the previous story about grief and Baymax and microbots.
The villain’s actions are similarly confounding. We are told why he wants to kill one individual, but his supervillain-esque sprees and attempts to kill Hiro and his student friends never really makes sense. His revenge plan seems half-baked and overly elaborate, and his big chase scenes seem pretty pointless. Really fun to watch, but not things that hold up when you think about them.
In many ways, the villain’s story mirrors Hiro’s. He too has experienced loss in an accident, and he knows somebody he considers responsible. A vital part of the story is that Hiro initially has murderous impulses towards the person he considers responsible for his brother’s death, and even attempts to reprogram Baymax into a killing machine, but eventually realizes that this won’t bring his brother back, and he needs to use his science and Baymax’s skills to help others instead. He could have been in the same position as the villain, but he grows to take a different path. A powerful message as-is, but one that would have been even stronger if we had a better sense of the villain’s emotional background and more than a fleeting glimpse of his motivations.
Still, it was an incredibly fun movie, and Hiro’s emotional arc was absolutely perfect. It was heartbreaking and ultimately heartwarming, with lots of fun, gorgeous animation, and some good old-fashioned messages about friendship and kindness to match.