When Disney bought Marvel in 2009, it was only a matter of time before Disney Animation Studios would release a movie based on a comic. After all, nearly all of the previous animated movies are adapted from something. Enter Big Hero 6, released in 2014. And you’d think that, being both a Disney movie fan and a comic fan, this movie would be the perfect combination. I certainly felt optimistic going into this one. In fact I’ve been interested in seeing this movie since it came out, yet somehow I never watched it until now.
I don’t know much about the original comic series to be honest. So instead of tracking it down to read it, I just skimmed through an article online. What I do know is that Big Hero 6 is a fairly obscure series that lasted a couple issues a while back, and then famed X-Men writer Chris Claremont tried to bring them back in a mini-series. It didn’t sell all that well. So it’s odd that Disney would adapt Big Hero 6 of all comics. Then again, it wouldn’t interfere with the Marvel Cinematic Universe in any way, and that would be a plus. A story about the Micronauts might have worked as well, and they’re nowhere nearly as obscure. I’m not complaining that they chose an obscure comic by any means – I’m just saying that it seemed a bit odd going in.
In any case, Disney’s Big Hero 6 was a massive success. It earned $657 million on a $165 million budget. It became the highest grossing animated movie of 2014 and at the time, it was the third highest grossing Disney animated movie ever (behind The Lion King and Frozen). Taking worldwide profits into account, it’s currently both the highest animated science fiction film and the highest animated superhero film of all time. It also received very positive critical reception, and earned the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture.
Not long after Disney bought Marvel, Disney’s CEO encouraged Disney Animation Studios to start working on a Marvel adaptation. He actively encouraged them to pick an obscure comic so they would have a lot more freedom with the movie. That kind of explains why they picked Big Hero 6, which makes me wonder if they’ll ever try to adapt any of the really old Marvel western comics.
The movie was mostly created by Disney Animation Studios, although a couple people in Marvel were involved in the creative process. Both Joe Quasada, current chief creative officer at Marvel, and Jeph Loeb, current head of Marvel Television, helped out with the story development. They actively encouraged Disney to do their own thing with the story. Disney also embraced some of Pixar’s DNA while working on the movie. Quasada commented on the story, “The relationship between Hiro and his robot has a very Disney flavor to it … but it’s combined with these Marvel heroic arcs.” They wisely decided not connect it to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, giving the writers and directors further freedom on the story.
Big Hero 6 stars Hiro Hamada, a 14-year-old genius who already graduated from high school the year before, but is getting bored with his life. He’s a robotics expert who spends his evenings in illegal robot fights, building up on his personal savings and hiding his nightly activities from his Aunt/parental guardian. To redirect his life in the right direction, his older brother introduces him to his University lab, his friends, and his professor. Most importantly, he introduces Hiro to his creation, a medical robot called Baymax.
In hopes to join the University program, Hiro starts working on his own robotics project to show off at a prestigious science fair. His creation wows the crowd and even gains the attention of the CEO of a research and development firm. Shortly afterward, there’s an explosion at the lab that kills Hiro’s older brother and the professor.
The first half of this movie is very dramatic, with Hiro trying to deal with the emotional trauma of losing the only immediate family he has. He’s grown emotionally distant from even his brother’s lab partners, who send him encouraging videos and trying to stay in touch. But when he accidentally activates Baymax, it sets him on an adventure where he learns what actually happened at the lab.
I won’t say too much else about the story at risk of spoiling it, because there are several plot twists along the way. One of them kind of got me. I didn’t think that the red herring would end up being the villain, but I didn’t expect the real villain. Then again I was kind of tired when I watched the movie. You fully understand the villain’s motivations, and he’s also a genuine threat, using one of Hiro’s own inventions as a weapon.
Hiro is a great lead. It’s fun seeing how genuinely smart and ambitious he is, yet he’s otherwise a normal kid who’s got a bit of a rebellious streak. He also goes through several stages of character development. He goes from a kid with no direction in his life at the start of the movie, to a kid who’s very excited about going to University at such a young age. After his brother’s death, he’s depressed for a while, but when he finds a lead to his creation he thought to be destroyed, he’s determined to find out what’s going on. At one point he’s motivated primarily by revenge, and so is the villain. It’s a great contrast where both the hero and the villain want the same thing, and it’s the one who learns to overcome those extreme emotions that ends up being the good guy.
The other characters are great as well. Baymax is a really cute robot with an inflatable exterior that makes him soft on the outside just like he is on the inside. He’s programmed specifically to help people recover both physically and emotionally, and he’s got a touch of Hiro’s older brother’s personality in him. He just sees Hiro as his patient and wants to help Hiro recover from his emotional trauma. At first Hiro finds Baymax a bit annoying, but as the movie goes on he starts to see his brother’s robot as a friend. It leads to a tragic moment in the film’s climax. It’s also adorable when Hiro starts programming Baymax with Karate moves to turn him into a superhero, yet Baymax keeps questioning how it will help him take care of people’s medical needs.
The rest of the University lab group is made up of different personality quirks, and they’re all likeable in their own way. They’re not extensively developed, but they’re more than entertaining enough as supporting characters. There’s Fred, who’s more of a group mascot than an actual scientist. He’s a huge comic fan, a bit of a frat boy, but his character has a complex personality that slowly reveals itself as the movie goes on. There’s GoGo, the adrenaline junky of the group who’s a magnetic expert. She doesn’t talk too much, but she’s athletic, kind of aggressive and probably the bravest member of the team. Wasabi is a laser expert who’s neurotic and by far the most conservative, by the book member of the group. And then there’s Honey Lemon, a mad scientist who specializes in chemistry. She’s boundlessly optimistic, energetic and kind of crazy, but fun.
At the half-way point, Hiro convinces them to all become superheroes, focusing on their own areas of expertise. He builds each of them robot suits, and they eventually become superheroes. There’s a lot more I could say about the story, but I’m afraid that I’d spoil something if I do.
The animation in this movie is fantastic. First off, the movie takes place in an alternate world where Japan helped rebuild San Francisco after the earthquake in 1906, and now it’s called San Fransokyo. They developed a bunch of new software for the movie to help build San Francisco, and then purchased the actual assessor data of the entire city, with information on over 83,000 buildings and 100,000 vehicles. One new program, Denizen, simulated 700 distinctive characters for the background population. Another program called Bonzai created hundreds of thousands of trees. Hyperion, yet another new program (and possibly named after a Marvel superhero) greatly increased the lighting possibilities in the digital world. Disney clearly took advantage of all three new programs.
I really liked this movie. It’s got the classic Disney movie charm and emotional depth, with the feel of a Marvel Comics origin story. There’s a strong balance between telling a good story with some great plot twists, and focusing on the character development and emotion. All of the protagonist characters are likeable, and you can even understand the villain’s motivations. The animation is brilliant. The action is exciting. If you enjoy superhero movies, I’d recommend this. If you enjoy Disney movies, I’d recommend this. In general, I highly recommend this movie.
Also if you do watch this movie, make sure you watch the post credits scene. It is a Marvel movie after all, and the post credits scene involves a cameo from … you know who.
I could almost do a vs. post between Big Hero 6 and either Meet The Robinsons or Wreck It Ralph. It’s got a lot in common with Meet The Robinsons in that it stars a child prodigy in science, but I feel that Big Hero 6 is clearly the better movie. It’s got a lot in common with Wreck It Ralph in that they’re both nerdy movies, but as someone who found Vanellope mildly annoying, I much prefer Big Hero 6. As such, it’s not worth writing a vs. post with this one.
Big Hero 6 was successful enough that Disney is working on a TV series follow up, which will begin shortly after the movie ended. It’s scheduled to premier this fall, and the creators of Kim Possible are behind it. I’ve never seen Kim Possible, although I’ve heard great things about it from even some male adults. It’s enough that I’ll at least check out the Big Hero 6 TV series when it begins.
Anyway, there are only two movies left on my Disney Animation Studios blog marathon. Zootopia, which I haven’t seen, and Moana, which I have seen. After that, I’ll be taking a break from movie related posts for about a month or so, besides maybe a couple lists.