‘Cool To Be Smart’: A Review of Big Hero 6
Despite resting on the tried-and-tested narrative structure of the traditional Disney canon, Big Hero 6 sees the animation house prove that it still possesses the creative chops to transport us into the fantastical.
The story is set in San Fransokyo, an East-meets-West metropolis that borrows its landscape from its iconic contemporaries. In its alleyways, we meet Hiro (Ryan Potter), a 14-year-old prodigy whose genius is confined to fighting misleadingly happy-faced robots for quick cash — largely to the discontent of a notorious veteran in the circuit. Soon enough, Hiro’s victory leads to an all-out chase that sees him wind up behind bars. Upon his release, Hiro’s older brother, Tadashi (voiced perfectly by Korean-American actor Daniel Henney), encourages him to enrol in his college’s prestigious robotics lab — the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology — where his talents would be best served.
There, Hiro meets Go Go Tomago (Jamie Chung), a stoic adrenaline junkie; Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), a quirky chemist; Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), a neurotic obsessive-compulsive; and Fred (T.J. Miller), a dishevelled comic book aficionado. Following a tragic event, the story turns on the relationship between Hiro and Baymax (Scott Adsit), Tadashi’s inventive incarnation, which effectively completes the cast of characters aptly titled Big Hero 6.
Disney’s strength in character development — an attribute which has already produced a list of timeless cultural icons — is evidenced in Baymax. In form, he is a cute inflatable white robot, housing — or rather hiding — his exoskeletal metal self. In substance, Baymax is a healthcare companion whose sole purpose is to diagnose and remedy anything from scrapes to emotional distress. Much like Iron Giant, the robot becomes increasingly anthropomorphic through the various interactions he has with Hiro. This development is most evident when he first tries to comfort Hiro in his embrace and says, “there, there.” Later, he learns and attempts to fist-bump, which offers one of the film’s most frequent but successful gags.
On its face, Big Hero 6 presents itself as a prototypical superhero movie — with its cast of benevolent misfits off to right the wrongs of a masked and misguided villain. In one sense, it is premised along the same cinematographic vein set in motion by the likes of Iron Giant, Wall-E, and The Incredibles. Unlike the latter, however, Big Hero 6 does not take place in 1950s suburban America, and finds originality — and its voice — without the need for ethnocentricities. If the name “San Fransokyo” is not proof enough, the use of a minority protagonist is precisely what this animated feature does so well. Perhaps most pervasive in Aladdin and Mulan, there have been very few, if any, attempts to offer a cast of characters as diverse as its audience. It was particularly refreshing to watch the film with my eight-year-old sister, who is more used to seeing blonde princesses than Asian heroes.
Like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Big Hero 6 too pays homage to the idea that it is “cool to be smart.” This manifests vicariously through Hiro. While initially drawn to the spectacular world of underground robot fighting, Hiro soon realizes that the comparatively academic San Fransokyo Institute of Technology is just as spectacular. This theme carries over to the disarming Baymax, who shows that non-violence can also be just as “cool.” In this light, Big Hero 6 is not only entertaining, but offers a lot of heart and promise — earning its spot on the shelf with Disney’s traditionally hand-drawn features.
Derek Kim (2L) is the Design Editor for Juris Diction.
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