Revisiting Big Hero 6: A Beautiful Disaster

Big Hero 6 is a bizarre movie. It came out in 2014 and was a critical success. It even won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature–a fact that shocked me when I started my Googling for this blog post. As you can probably tell, I disliked this movie. I watched it once, and it left me feeling bored and confused. There’s so many weird ideas smashed into a plot that fails to explore any one of them well. I believe that the script was rippling with potential, and it could have been something really unique. But it’s just another superhero movie. This probably shouldn’t surprise me at all, because Big Hero 6 was inspired by comic characters published by–you guessed it, Marvel. Ah, Marvel…the McDonald’s of entertainment.

Anyway, my feelings toward Marvel aside, there’s a reason I decided to write about a movie I abjectly disliked. I watched Baymax! today.

But first, if you’re not aware of the movie or the show, let me get you acquainted. Hiro Hamada (pictured) is a robotics genius living in the city of San Fransokyo, a city that is basically a hybrid of San Francisco and Tokyo (I am not making this up). His older brother, Tadashi, is also a robotics genius, who builds the personal healthcare companion robot, Baymax (also pictured). Hiro is wasting his talent getting into illegal robot fights in dark alleys, and to inspire him towards greater things, Tadashi takes him to his university, where Hiro meets his brother’s annoying classmates and his teacher, Professor Callaghan.

Tadashi’s ploy works, and Hiro decides to apply to the university. The “entrance exam” is a robotics event, where hopefuls turn up with unique tech that will blow Callaghan’s mind away. Hiro succeeds in doing so, with his new invention: microbots. Think of them as hive-mind robots the size of bees.

Then, tragedy strikes! There’s a fire at the event, and Tadashi dies. A distraught Hiro–with the help of healthcare robot Baymax–discovers that the fire was no accident, and sets out to track down his brother’s killer, a scary Voldemort-looking guy with a white mask, who is using Hiro’s microbots for his own agenda. To stop him, Hiro enlists the help of Tadashi’s annoying classmates, and recalibrates the sweet and huggable Baymax (remember, he’s a healthcare robot that looks like what would happen if the Michelin Man ate a whole bag of marshmallows) into a killing machine.

There’s already so much going on over here that it seems impossible for the movie to focus on anything at all. I remember the first time I watched this. I remember thinking, what was the point of that?

At the heart of it, Big Hero 6 is a movie about grief. Hiro’s actions are triggered by his brother’s death. His anger, his rage, his desire for vengeance, are a cry for help. And Baymax is a delightful character whose sole purpose is to aid. It is his raison d’etre. If the movie would have stayed in this area, it would have felt a lot more potent. Unfortunately, it falls into the typical trap of Evil Supervillain vs Fiesty Group of Heroes. The middle part of the movie is just overrun by stupid costume fittings, unbearable training montages, and mediocre fight scenes. None of the jokes land. None of the side characters is interesting. It’s a hot mess. It’s like Brave–it starts out with so much promise, and then just flounders.

So why did I rewatch it?

Well, like I said, I was taking a sick day today, and I watched the TV series Baymax!, which focuses on the robot character wandering around the city, helping people in need. I saw recommendations on Tumblr and decided to give it a shot. It is pure delight. The six, 8-minute long episodes pack more heart and emotionality than the entire Big Hero 6 movie. This is what the movie should have been. Throughout the course of the show, Baymax helps a girl with her first period, a guy who has an allergy, an old lady who is afraid of water, and a couple of other loveable people. He makes you wish he was real.

While Baymax! is obviously for children, I believe even adults can enjoy this sweet, light-hearted show. And that’s really what bothers me! The show is so good. It is such a reflection of what the movie could have been if they’d thrown out the excess and just given us a story about a boy and his healthcare robot. Because honestly, there is so much to explore in the realm of technology and healthcare.

There’s a scene in Big Hero 6 where Baymax scans the vitals of every individual in the city, in an effort to find out the location of the masked supervillain. That immediately made me think–oh my god, this is such a violation of privacy. Tech giants like Google are doing this right now, collecting personal healthcare data for their own ends. The movie could have explored this. I mean, I know it’s for kids, but so was Up, Inside Out, Zootopia, and Coco. All of these movies deal with heavy subjects. There’s no reason why they couldn’t have explored privacy. Or, or, okay, there’s a scene where Hiro removes Baymax’s healthcare chip and turns him into a violent and destructive robot. This is exactly what corporations and governments have done in the past–used good ideas for bad reasons. It made me think of The Dropout, based on the real-life healthcare scam perpetuated by Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.

Even if we look past all the dark themes and just focus on the healthcare aspect of it…the main character saw his beloved older brother die. He is already an orphan. He lives with his ditzy aunt, who is the only family he has left. You’re telling me you couldn’t tell a powerful, healthcare-focused story about this situation?

In the TV series Baymax!, Hiro’s Aunt Cass injures her ankle and is forced to learn the lesson that rest is important. That in itself would have been an incredible, groundbreaking theme back in 2014, when we were all obsessed with start-up hustle culture (and still are). Or scrap those characters entirely and give us a story about a character living with a disability, who Baymax meets. There is literally so much potential here for something SO SPECIAL, and the studio decided to go with…Voldemort but robots? Really?

My final verdict on this is that if you must watch a Big Hero 6 property, let it be Baymax! The movie is a chaotic mess of murder robots, superhero nonsense, underground robot fights, and healthcare. There’s too much going on for it to be about anything at all. That’s quite sad, but I guess that happens sometimes. At least I can rewatch Baymax! and enjoy the character as it was always meant to be. A soft big robot guy who just wants to make people feel better. Perfect for a sick day.

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