There was a time, not so long ago, when I would be eagerly anticipating each big Marvel blockbuster due to arrive. Now, I’m getting increasingly bored by them – and am getting exceptionally bored by people calling the studio “masters of risk taking”. Guardians of the Galaxy was hardly a risk take; after all, it was about a group of intergalactic misfits with different superpowers teaming up to save the world, with a screenplay that made it seem more like a comedy than an action extravaganza. In its basic characterisations, it was near identical to The Avengers, one of the highest grossing movies of all time. And since when has making a movie that is, narratively speaking at least, identical to one of the all-time biggest box office hits been a risk?
On paper, Big Hero 6 is the biggest possible risk the studio could do – the very first Disney animated movie based on one of their comic books. After the one-two punch of Wreck-it Ralph and Frozen suggested that Disney were back to being the best animation house on the planet, Big Hero 6 comes along. Instead of being a big risk for both studios, it feels overly familiar to the point of tedium.
The movie does get off to a strong start, showcasing some of the most beautifully rendered animation I’ve ever seen in the design of San Fransokyo, as well as frequent moments that are both funny and genuinely heartfelt. The “big hero” of the title is Hiro Hamada, a 14 year old genius who graduated from school when he was 13 and now spends his life building illegal fighting robots in ways that will likely remind every British viewer of the classic game show Robot Wars. After one fight goes awry, Hiro is rescued by his older brother Tadashi, who insists he enrolls in the “nerd school” he attends for the brightest scientific minds in the city.
Tadashi introduces Hiro to four of his friends, whose names I honestly can’t remember despite being main characters (they are 4 of the 6 after all), due to them having personalities that are identical to members of the previously established Avengers/ GOTD super groups and not being original characters in their own right. Of course, there is one truly memorable stand out character, Baymax, the “personal healthcare companion” Tadashi built to cure the world’s illnesses, who gets all the funny lines in the movie. In fact, his inclusion is the only way it feels like a Disney movie – his fondness for hugs makes him not entirely dissimilar from Olaf in Frozen, albeit nowhere near as adorable.
Hiro decides that he definitely wants to attend this nerd school and has to put together a presentation of one of his technological innovations; the microbots he creates gain the attention of the school’s head of robotics and he’s welcomed with open arms. The only other bit of stereotypical Disney is what happens next; a fire breaks out killing Tadashi, and soon Hiro is left all alone with only the personal healthcare companion Tadashi left for him. Now, I know this is a kids movie (and even though it sounds like I’m ruining the movie, I should point out we are barely at the twenty minute mark here), but there is a plot development so convoluted it ended up ceasing my enjoyment. With no evidence and nothing in the previous twenty minutes to suggest such a rapid turn of thought, Hiro becomes convinced that the fire was deliberately started with the intention to kill his brother. This happens in the space of two lines of dialogue and suddenly the entire narrative shifts to accommodate this as fact.
At their best, Disney are one of the few studios who treat their young audiences as intelligent human beings. Yet with this unprecedented turn of events that has clearly been sandwiched into the narrative, they are clearly opening themselves up to criticisms of condescending to their young audience. That isn’t the only narrative problem that jarred my enjoyment – for a film about a group of superheroes teaming up to save the world, there is a remarkable lack of threat. You see, this is set in a world where technology has advanced to cure all of life’s problems; every time a problem arises, there is a scientific solution straight away. For example, Baymax has been programmed to not partake in violence, making him useless as a superhero. But don’t worry, just reprogram him and it’ll sort itself out. I understand that this is the realistic thing to happen in such a scientifically advanced world, but it doesn’t exactly make for gripping storytelling.
Of course, if you’re a Marvel fan you will surely enjoy Big Hero 6, which makes all criticisms here moot. For the rest of us there is some of the most gorgeously expansive CG animation Disney has ever done, which more than makes up for any of the negatives – it’s a film you’ll want to look at endlessly, but won’t necessarily want to watch it. Usually in my reviews I talk about the choices directors have made in the making of the movie; with Big Hero 6, it feels like its been made by committee, a bunch of Marvel and Disney narrative clichés bundled together in the hope of making something that seems risk taking, but is as unremarkable as can be.