At first glance, you wouldn’t think that a mouthless robot that looks like a hybrid of the Pillsbury Doughboy and Frosty the Snowman would have much depth of character.
But the huggable Baymax in Disney’s newest animated sensation Big Hero 6 is one of the many elements of surprise in this superhero origin tale.
The story begins in the streets of San Fransokyo, an imaginary futuristic mash-up of San Francisco and Tokyo, where cocky teen prodigy Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is about to pull one over on an underground robot fight. When things start to get heated, big brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) whisks Hiro away from the shady world only to be caught by the police. Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph), who became the boys’ guardian after the deaths of their parents when Hiro was just a toddler, must bail them out.
As the lone father figure in Hiro’s life, Tadashi tries to persuade Hiro, who graduated high school at 13, to use his genius in a positive way. Tadashi seemingly gives in to Hiro’s vice and offers to take him to the next robot fight. Instead, Tadashi takes a detour to his school lab at San Fransokyo Tech, where Hiro meets his brother’s nerdy friends and gets inspired by their science projects.
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There’s Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), a detail-oriented neat freak who is building a precision plasma blade. Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) is a close-talker chemist who is as bubbly as her chemical concoctions. The sarcastic speedster GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung) is a tough-as-nails daredevil who uses maglev discs as wheels on her bicycles and on foes. Lastly, there’s Fred (T.J. Miller), who is seriously just a dude. The unregistered student hangs out at the lab for kicks. He’s the ultimate fanboy and comic book aficionado who always has ideas for what his brainiac friends could invent for the superhero quests in his mind.
After meeting the coeds, Hiro is introduced to Tadashi’s pride and joy: Baymax (Scott Adsit), a healthcare bot that he hopes will help millions someday. When someone has a medical ailment, Baymax springs into action. He assesses the person’s health (“On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain?”), helps with treatment and won’t deactivate until the patient is satisfied with the care the robot provides.
Hiro is impressed but is ready to go to his next fight when he runs into Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell), the head of the robotics program and Tadashi’s mentor. The 14-year-old boy genius is so in awe of the professor that he vows to try to get into the school. Hiro works feverishly to create an invention that would wow Callaghan at the school’s expo. When he gets stuck, Tadashi urges Hiro to “use that big brain of yours to think your way out.”
At the expo, a tragic event forces Hiro to find his own way in the world. With the help of Baymax and his new band of lab brothers and sisters, Hiro sets out to solve a mystery, and as Fred aptly puts: “Do you feel this? Our origin story begins.”
Big Hero 6 is very loosely based on the Marvel comics of the same name. But aside from the title and the names of some of the characters, the film weaves a completely original tale. That’s OK because most viewers likely have never heard of the 1998 comics.
The Disney foray distinguishes itself not only in the animation but also the storytelling. If the scenes in San Fransokyo look like nothing you’ve ever seen in 3-D, it’s because Walt Disney Animation Studios created a proprietary system that allows filmmakers to animate hundreds of thousands of unique background characters. But it is the story that will enrapture audiences with its delicate balance between pain and empowerment, humor and humility, and grief and the pursuit of goodness.
Big Hero 6 offers something for everyone: action, camaraderie, superheroes and villains. But mostly, Baymax offers a compassionate and healing voice for those suffering, and a hug that can be felt through the screen.
Don’t miss the opening short Feast about a dog named Winston’s appetite for love, and stay until the very end of the credits for a comedic cameo that fangirls and fanboys will especially appreciate.
BIG HERO 6
* * * * * (out of five)
Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Cast: Voices of Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Maya Rudolph
Rating: PG (action, peril, rude humor, thematic elements)
Run time: 108 min.