I should love almost everything about Big Hero 6.
I love science fiction and I love comic-book movies, and this movie is both. I love Isaac Asimov and his bright vision of a future driven by fantastic innovations in science and technology. This movie has that in spades. I love robots (who doesn’t?), but I especially love robots with innocence at their core, like Brad Bird’s “Iron Giant”. This movie has that too.
I really, really want to love “Big Hero 6.” But alas, I only kind of liked it.
There’s a lot going on in the movie that is really cool on a conceptual and visual level. And yet its whole script is surprisingly weak. With 3 credited screen writers and 2 ‘heads of story”, perhaps it was a problem of a film being written by committee.
Note: I can’t make some of the points I’m going to make without giving away plot details and a few hints and minor spoilers. You’ve been warned.
It’s a pretty good set-up for a while, but even within the first major scene, I started to wonder about some of the writers’ choices.
We meet 14-year old Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) and his big brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) right away.
Tadashi is an engineering student at San Fransokyo University, and Hiro is a brilliant robotics prodigy more interested in hustling for money at illegal robot fighting tournaments with his home-built robot than doing anything more important with his talents. In a really short amount of time we get to see who each of these guys are, and how much they care about each other.
The problem is, all this would be a lot better if the writing during this set-up wasn’t also pretty bad.
Take the way in which we learn that the brothers’ parents are dead and that they live with their aunt Cass. There are numerous subtle and emotionally compelling ways to convey that kind of information in a film, but Hiro literally blurts it out to his brother while riding a Vespa, as if it was news to the both of them.
Sadly, this was just the first of what will be several instances of aggressively on-the-nose exposition stated from one character to another, including one moment toward the twist reveal where T.J. Miller‘s character, Fred, loudly announces that “This is a revenge story!”
Thanks for clearing that up, Fred.
Truthfully though, what bothered me the most about the first act was the introduction of the most cliched and underdeveloped character in the movie, Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk), resident nefarious tech-billionaire, and his supposedly good-guy nemesis, robotics pioneer Dr. Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell) – who also happens to be Tadashi’s mentor, and a celebrity crush for Hiro.
Callaghan tells Hiro that his students “go on to change the world”, and to get in to the program, he must invent something amazing.
Enter Hiro’s microbots.
Hiro creates tiny robots controlled by a neural transmitter that magnetically link together to form any shape or do any task the user can dream up. It’s a huge breakthrough for construction, transportation, and literally any field that you could imagine. It’s one of those incredible concepts buried in the movie.
But what happens next is where things go wrong again.
Like any reasonable person with a successful technology company would have done, Alistair Krei offers Hiro “more money than a fourteen year old boy can imagine” for the patent. But when Dr. Callaghan angrily paints Krei as a villain motivated “only by his own self-interest” (a truly ironic statement in this case), Hiro turns down the sale so he can go to college instead.
I guess in this world, making billions of dollars from an incredible product you invent when you’re fourteen and also studying robotics is impossible?
It’s an especially odd choice coming from a kid who, minutes earlier in the movie, waved a wad of cash around excitedly after having cleaned up at robot fighting. Not to mention the fact that in reality, the only way to really “change the world” with your invention is for millions of people to know about it and use it every day – which is the one thing that will never happen if you keep to yourself in a workshop.
For me, though… The way that the evil businessman trope is so clumsily pushed the into the first act was really an early signal of a script filled with heavy-handed cliches, just like the dozens of bits of flatly expository dialogue.
Still, the worst part about this kind of writing is that it telegraphs way too much about the rest of the story.
Shortly after Hiro’s presentation, a fire breaks out that supposedly destroys his microbots and kills Tadashi, setting up for his real journey to begin. When Hiro and Baymax discover that someone had actually started the fire to steal his microbots, the film has already tried so hard to make everyone assume it was Krei that the plot contains no real surprises from then on. Even the “twist” was so obvious by the time it was finally revealed that I was just annoyed that Disney went down such a cliched road in the first place.
All that said, there are some things to absolutely love.
After we make it out of the first act, the movie gets really good. It’s got a ton of wonderfully fun moments.
The action sequences and the richness of the world of San Fransokyo are really well crafted, as is the supporting cast of Hiro’s friends.
Baymax (Scott Adsit), a healthcare robot invented by Tadashi who befriends and protects Hiro, is worth the price of admission by himself. Especially when he goes bobbling around like an almost-human bouncy castle through the streets of the city. Baymax is both the movie’s heart and its comic relief, and somehow the balance is perfect.
It’s just too bad that all these great characters and concepts didn’t get a plot built on a stronger narrative foundation.