The major draw of Don Hall and Chris Williams’s Big Hero 6, an adaptation of Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau’s minor Marvel title, is Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit), an adorable, next-level healthcare-providing robot that looks like a walking, talking air bag. By the end of the film, Baymax is suited in cherry-red armor and can fire a mechanical fist like a missile, but for the most part, the film’s deuteragonist remains lovable and oafish, and utilized largely for physical gags. Most of these gags, such as Baymax trying to maneuver a tight bedroom with his ample frame, are expertly crafted and anchored in delirious movement, as are the action sequences that involve the titular group of alpha-nerd superheroes. Yet the film is unsubtle in its didactic agenda of teaching kids to speak and stay active with friends, rather than indulge in violent vengeance. It’s a fine lesson that’s broadly examined through on-the-nose dialogue, and these cheap morals plague the entirety of this funny, engaging, but hugely unfocused film, which feels overstuffed with storylines from the get-go.
The film opens with a backstreet robot fighting brawl in the fictitious San Frantokyo that peaks with a corpulent gangster with a buzz-saw-wielding bot getting schooled by tech prodigy Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), yielding what looks like the most dangerous dog toy in existence. Hiro’s cocky disposition changes drastically when his genius brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), Baymax’s creator, is killed by an explosion at a technology showcase, seemingly along with Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell), Tadashi’s legendary mentor, while simultaneously destroying Hiro’s latest breakthrough invention: micro-bots. As such, Big Hero 6 quickly becomes a study of grief and retribution, and the question of how exactly technology can and should be utilized in the treatment of these emotions.
In the aftermath of the explosion, Hiro joins up with Tadashi’s friends, including Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), who fights using laser blades on his fists, and Go Go (Jamie Chung), who’s fitted with a lightning-quick uniform. Along with Hiro, Baymax, Fred (T.J. Miller), and Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez), they come together to fight the mysterious Kabuki-masked man who stole Hiro’s micro-bots—which can form into a variety of large-scale mechanisms and weapons—before the explosion. The fight scenes between our heroes and this costumed nemesis play like a relatively straightforward mix of popular anime tropes and the major action sequences from Brad Bird’s The Incredibles. The film, while impressively brisk throughout, is unshakably familiar in design and tone, an entertaining grab bag of stylistic notions from the most beloved pop animations of the last two decades.
And like many inaugural chapters of superhero franchises, much of Big Hero 6 involves showcasing the team’s gadgets and newfound abilities. To be fair, this does allow the filmmakers to linger on certain images that showcase a delicate eye for textures, such as the millions of micro-bots swarming into shapes and Baymax’s deflatable body. There are also brief glimpses of beauty, like when Wasabi slices an apple so thin that the pieces float in the air like flower petals. Like many animated features, Big Hero 6 is attempting to be several movies, including a superhero flick, a moralistic children’s fantasy, a volatile vengeance tale, a buddy film, and a funny, well-designed cartoon. And yet, it never feels quite as messy as that might suggest, thanks largely to the fact that the film’s emotional undercurrents of mourning and anger anchors much of the action, if in very simple terms.
Both Hiro and the story’s villain use technology to exact a mighty revenge for the loss of loved ones, but their connection is only vaguely considered in the script in favor of more time given to remind everyone of how important friends are. Around the middle of the film, the team assembles for the first time and Hiro humorously struggles to fit Baymax into the metallic battle suit he’s designed for him, a sequence that was used frequently in Big Hero 6’s promotion. It makes perfect sense, as the scene is the ideal symbol for an enjoyable, ambitious film that seems awkwardly stuffed into a rigid, familiar mold.