Ever since Disney purchased Marvel back in 2009, the question of collaboration between established Disney production houses and Marvel IP was in the back of many minds. The crossover seemed inevitable, with grumblings about Pixar making a Fantastic Four film (though they do not own the rights to make Fantastic Four movies, and Pixar had already done it anyway in The Incredibles). For years, nothing had come of it, but that has changed with the release of Big Hero 6, filling this year’s November animated release. It might be difficult to know that, though, as Disney chose to downplay the Marvel origins of the story in much of its pre-release marketing. Perhaps they wanted to distance it from the web of continuity that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become, but either way there is no mistaking that this is a Marvel property once the story gets going.
The film focuses on Hiro (voice of Ryan Potter), a fourteen year old engineering genius, already graduated from high school and passing his time at illicit and illegal robot fighting rings, hustling his opponents thanks to his young appearance and superior skills. His Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) and brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) want him to go to robotics school to learn under the tutelage of Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell). Tadashi and his friends Fred (T.J. Miller), Go Go (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) are all working on wild new projects, the most impressive of which is Tadashi’s healthcare providing robot Baymax (Scott Adsit). Tragedy strikes at a robotics expo/competition that is Hiro’s ticket into the program, and soon he finds his inventions co-opted by a mysterious kabuki-masked assailant with sinister, though not immediately known, intentions. With the help of Baymax and his new friends, it is up to Hiro to save San Fransokyo.
Big Hero 6 is an impossibly bright film. Its colors are vibrant and explosive, its architecture fulfilling on the enjoyable mix of San Francisco and Tokyo that its name implies (the pagoda-style spires on the Golden Gate Bridge are a nice touch). The characters are full of life, each a different nationality and a different body type, some tall, some short, some rail thin, some wider, and Baymax the widest of them all. It is a refreshing melting pot of a society, and is one way the film manages to feel modern beyond all the crazy robots running around. The animation is fluid and chaotic, moving at breakneck speed but clear enough to follow easily. It is the sort of film designed to spark the fleeting attention spans and imagination of children, and it is quite successful in doing so. The voice acting is solid, and the score is not particularly memorable, but it hits the correct tone.
What is unfortunate, considering the strong foundation upon which the story builds, is how familiar and unremarkable nearly every other aspect of the film is. The plot is about as by-the-numbers as it gets, managing to combine the standard Marvel plot structure that has been whittled down to a smooth science since Iron Man with the even more audience friendly animated Disney backbone to make sure nothing surprises. Big Hero 6 is eminently predictable in its plot movements and twists, and it is impossible not to notice how heavily it borrows its major emotional beats from The Iron Giant. No Marvel movie is safe from citywide destruction, even when it is an animated film designed for children that exists outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is all ever so tiring, and a disservice to the characters and the setting. Indeed, without Baymax, there is a very good chance that this film would have collapsed on itself by the middle of the second act.
It is almost a shame that Baymax is as great a character as it is. Brought to life by comedian Scott Adsit and some very talented animators, Baymax is a giant vinyl balloon of warmth and feeling with distinct and charming movements. It inhabits the sort of comedic sidekick role seen so often in films like this (Olaf in Frozen, Vanellope in Wreck-it Ralph, the horse in Tangled), but in practice Baymax represents so much more than those characters have in past animated features. It is the heart and soul of the film, the emotional center, the living moral and the funniest character as well. It manages to surprise and entertain in places the plot cannot. Big Hero 6 is a worthy film simply because it has introduced this character to the world.
As good as Baymax is, its presence only barely outweighs the stale and ordinary plot to which it and the other characters are shackled. The routine story does so much to harm the enjoyment of Big Hero 6 that it really is a shame. As the Marvel formula’s success seeps into other aspects of modern pop culture (makes sense to show up here first, as it is a Marvel property), it is tough not to notice the sameness of it all, and it drags down the cinematic experience. Of course, Big Hero 6 has to contend with its additional overlaps with other films that pushes the exasperation with the plot over the top. There is plenty to like, and Baymax is a wonderful creation that needs to be seen, but this is the sort of film that will otherwise be forgotten moments after the credits roll.