“Big Hero 6” (2014): The Value of Love and Compassion
Big Hero 6 is an animated children’s film released in 2014 by Disney—and it’s pretty freakin’ awesome! The film is like The Iron Giant but with superheroes. It definitely deserves its popularity.
I’m a huge fan of anything to do with robots. I have read Isaac Asimov.I loved Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was a kid. I loved the Geth in Mass Effect. I loved the synths and the Railroad in Fallout 4. I loved WALL-E, and I have a review of the animated film Robots on this website.
So with my nerd credentials there for your perusal, let’s get to the gushing.
The story takes place in futuristic San Francisco, now called “San Fransoyko” because, apparently, most everyone there is Japanese or half-Japanese—which explains the racial background of the main character, Hiro (Ryan Potter), and his older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney).
Is it just me, or does most futuristic science fiction predict that the world will be predominantly Asian?
Hiro Gets Arrested
The film opens with Hiro behaving like a sort of stereotype “lazy genius.” He has so much potential but wastes it, instead taking crazy risks and doing things that could land him in jail or get him beaten up or worse.
It’s clear that Hiro doesn’t care about his life at all.
During a conversation with his brother, it’s hinted that Hiro is behaving this way because he’s depressed about the death of his parents. He was only three when they died, but he likely grew up resenting the fact that they weren’t around. This sort of ongoing depression would have led him to squander all his potential and throw away his life.
So the first ten minutes of the film establishes Hiro as a lost and hurting young man who can’t seem to manage his grief in healthy, non-life-threatening ways.
Tadashi attempts to lead his brother out of his depression and down a more hopeful path by bringing him to the robotics school he attends (aka “nerd school”). There, Hiro (and the audience) is introduced to a plethora of neat characters—two of them women! Counting Hiro’s aunt (Maya Rudolph) and Abigail (Katie Lowes), that’s four women with important roles in the film (not that I was counting when I watched, but cool).
Ten points to Disney!
There was Wasabi (Daman Waynes Jr.), the super organized nerd who has a meltdown when things are misplaced or the rules are broken in any way.
I liked Wasabi’s depiction. He was allowed to be a human being. He wasn’t a walking stereotype; he was a person. And his extreme nerdiness was hilarious.
“Fred, I will laser-hand you in the face!”
We black nerds do exist, after all. It’s nice to finally see us in more films. Black people are so much more than thugs, rappers, and basketball players.
Black kids today are so lucky. When I was growing up, I never would have seen a character like Wasabi as a super hero on screen. The closest I had was the black Power Ranger.
Then there was Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), the super cute nerdette. She reminded me of Fred from Angel for some reason.
I loved that Honey was so cute and girly, with her little purse and her high heels and her lanky body. She had an adorable personality—enthusiastic, dorky, sweet, caring. I wish she’d been given more lines, but that might have taken away from Wasabi and Gogo’s screen time—and, truth be told, I like them more.
Gogo (Jamie Chung) is probably my favorite of Big Hero 6.
Her introduction was awesome. She came flying in on that sweet bike in that leather jacket with that sweet hair, popping pink gum bubbles like she didn’t give a damn.
Gogo has a beautiful athletic body and is physically strong, while Honey is more lanky and slender. I like that they depicted different body types of women in this film, rather than presenting all women as perfect hourglasses.
Even though this is a cartoon, it’s still good to show how varying women’s body types are. It’s something little girls should see more often—so that they don’t come into puberty and think something’s wrong with them when they aren’t Jessica Rabbit. It’s immoral to teach children to hate their own bodies before they’ve even hit seven.
Likewise, Wasabi had a strong upper body while Tadashi was more slender. Little boys should see different body types, too.
Also, keep in mind that I'm talking about body types, not "fat positivity."
Anyway. Back to how awesome Gogo is.
I loved her snarky personality. When she sarcastically told Hiro to “woman up,” I nearly died of glee. Makes the whole “man up” phrase seem as stupid as it actually is.
Ten more points to Disney that they had the more masculine woman say it, too.
There’s also Fred (T.J. Miller), who is kind of the comic relief. He reminds me of Shaggy from Scooby Doo.
Like the rest of Big Hero 6, he’s a huge nerd, only he’s not the smart kind. He can’t build robots or design insane technology. He just likes to collect action figures and thinks dragons are cool.
Nothing wrong with that.
While at the “nerd school,” Tadashi introduces Hiro to a robot he’s been working on. The robot is called Baymax (Scott Adsit) and was created to be a kind of . . . robot doctor. Or as Baymax puts it: a personal healthcare companion.
Hiro voices my thoughts when he says the robot looks like a giant marshmallow. But Baymax was designed to be approachable, friendly, and cuddly. He’s a robot that’s built like a teddy bear.
After seeing how great the school is, Hiro decides he wants to join. To get in, he has to create something unique and innovative, something that will impress Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell).
After some frustration, Hiro creates micro robots that can be controlled with a neuro-transmitter (kind of like Doc Ock’s robot arms in Spiderman).
At the end of his (awesome) presentation, Hiro is approached by Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk), who wants to buy his robots. Callaghan disdainfully interrupts, assuring Hiro that Krei is a shady business man who takes shortcuts. Hiro refuses to sell his robots, and Krei leaves (after almost taking one of Hiro’s micro bots with him).
Callaghan then announces that Hiro may attend his school.
About five minutes later, the school is on fire. Tadashi insists on running back in to save Professor Callaghan because “Someone has to help.”
I was shocked when Tadashi died.
I guess because characters don’t usually die in Disney’s computer animated films. Am I the only one who’s noticed that trend? Think about it. No one in A Bug’s Life or Toy Story died (unless you count that one alien toy that was destroyed by Scud). No one in Brave died, either. The main character’s wife died in Up, but not as part of the main story. She died in a montage before the real story began.
The same can be said for Frozen. Didn’t the parents die in the beginning, before the story began? I dunno. I’ve never seen Frozen. And anyway, it’s usually the parents who die in Disney films, not siblings.
So Tadashi dying was a WTF moment for me. I guess I got so used to female characters dying to motivate the male lead that I didn’t even see this coming.
Fast forward a couple weeks, and we see Hiro in the bedroom he once shared with Tadashi. He has lost yet someone else important to him. He’s not eating. He’s not sleeping. He doesn’t care—again—about going to school or moving forward with his life. He’s just sitting in his grief.
He hurts himself by stubbing his toe, and this triggers Tadashi’s giant marshmallow robot to activate.
Baymax doesn’t know Tadashi is gone, so he has no idea why Hiro is sad. Instead, he chalks it up to puberty. As the robot informs Hiro about pu*ic hair in a hilarious and awkward sequence, Hiro frantically tries to cram him back into his charger as he’s talking. But Baymax won’t shut down until Hiro says he is satisfied with his care.
Hiro has almost said the deactivation phrase when he notices that one of his micro robots survived the night of the fire, as it was in his pocket. The mirco bot is struggling wildly to join the other micro robots, which Hiro thought were destroyed.
Hiro dismisses the micro bot as broken, but Baymax—now determined to care for Hiro, who he sees as his patient – wants to find out why the micro bot is acting up. He thinks it will help Hiro feel better.
This is . . . so endearing and childlike. The more you watch this film, the more you’ll love Baymax. He is like Robot-Winnie-the-Pooh.
Hiro absently orders Baymax to figure out where the micro robot is trying to go. He is just trying to make the robot leave him alone, but instead of scanning or downloading data or something more . . . roboty . . . Baymax takes the trolley (hilarious) with Hiro frantically running after him.
Baymax Letting Out Air
They are led to a warehouse, where the other micro robots appear to have survived the fire. (That part where Baymax slowly lets out air to squeeze through the window and Hiro tensely stands there . . . I died laughing.)
They discover that a man in a mask is controlling the micro robots and has stolen them from the school during the blaze. The masked man attacks Hiro and Baymax, who escape to the police station (after Baymax hilariously proves too slow and squishy to run, kick, open doors, or move in general).
Needless to say, the police are unimpressed by a teenage boy’s report of a man in a Kabuki mask attacking him with tiny robots.
This entire scene is so, so funny. The unimpressed officer refers to Baymax as “balloon man,” as Baymax stands there, calmly smoothing tape over the holes in his arms.
Baymax is the only robot of his kind in existence, so most people in the film don’t know what the f he is, and their reactions to him are pretty amusing. Honestly, I wish the film had played this up a bit more. A giant balloon man waddling around town should have caused more people to stop in their tracks.
Now convinced that the man in the mask killed his brother, Hiro heads home, intent on upgrading Baymax and returning for revenge.
When Hiro covered the big, gentle, compassionate robot in armor, my immediate thought was that he was perverting his brother’s work.
It becomes apparent in this scene that while Tadashi was happy, gentle, and patient (and thus created a happy, gentle, patient robot), Hiro is sullen, impatient, and full of rage. Thinking back to his robot hustling in the film’s opening, it’s obvious that he is given to violence and carnage. He takes pleasure in it.
After all, Hiro is a very young teenage boy. He hasn’t yet learned how to deal with his emotions in healthy ways. His rage makes him feel powerful, when he is actually small and thin.
The “power” behind rage is a delusion we all are given to in our youth. In reality, we make our greatest mistakes when we are angry.
And revenge is always a mistake.
Baymax doesn’t want to be violent. He wants to help Hiro through his grief. So he contacts Tadashi’s friends from school before Hiro can stop him.
But Hiro is determined to catch his brother’s killer, so he and the robot set out anyway. They have located the masked man when the Scooby gang shows up. A fun car chase follows, during which Wasabi insists on stopping at a red light, even while a masked villain is trying to murder them.
An exasperated Gogo takes control of the wheel, and the group escapes.
The heroes hide at Fred’s home, and it’s here that they decide what to do: Hiro will design high-tech armor and weapons for each of them, turning them into superheroes who can take down the masked villain.
Each of the college kids uses the project they’ve been working on to create a weapon: Fred finally gets to be a fire-breathing lizard, Honey has what I like to call “kaboom goo,” Gogo gets sweet-ass disk skates and deadly Frisbees, Wasabi gets cool plasma laser arms, and Baymax gets thrusters that allow him to fly, as well as a giant red fist that can shoot off his arm and burst through walls.
Interestingly enough, Hiro doesn’t give himself any cool weapons or abilities, instead relying on Baymax and his own wits.
And thus, Big Hero 6 is born.
After some test runs of their new gear (in an awesome montage with sweet music), the heroes set out to unmask the villain. They succeed, only to discover the masked villain is . . . Professor Callaghan.
The man we thought had died in the fire is alive and well—and is secretly lurking the night with an army of micro robots.
I like that the story provided this twist. I sensed immediately that the writers wanted you to think Krei was a villain, and because this was a children’s film, I assumed that this was a standard story, that Krei had set the fire and stolen the micro bots. I assumed this before it was ever stated by Fred, just because the movie was heading in that obvious direction.
I was tricked. Tricked by my underestimation of a children’s film. Shame on me.
They even had Krei almost take one of Hiro’s micro bots after the presentation, so that you would think he had attempted to steal one while pretending to innocently walk off with it. Turned out he almost stole a micro bot as an innocent mistake – the same way he almost killed Abigail as an innocent mistake.
Krei sets his mind on innovation and can see nothing else. That’s why he makes mistakes. But he’s not a bad guy.
Callaghan isn’t really a bad guy either. He’s just a man blinded by grief and rage, and as a result of his blindness, he can’t see how his mistakes are hurting everyone around him—which is ultimately what revenge always does.
Callaghan is so blind that he fails to see just how similar he actually is to Krei.
A furious Hiro orders Baymax to kill Professor Callaghan. When the robot refuses, Hiro forces him, sliding a red chip into his port that turns him from gentle and compassionate to blindly furious.
The robot has become a manifestation of Hiro’s rage. He immediately attacks Professor Callaghan, but Hiro’s shocked friends jump in, trying to stop him. They are easily tossed aside as a coldly determined Baymax tries to terminate his target.
Honey finds the robot’s original programming chip, slides it in, and Baymax goes back to normal.
The others chide Hiro for his rage, but he doesn’t listen. He is blinded by his anger and runs back home, determined to end Professor Callaghan. Because – like Professor Callaghan—he can’t see how he’s becoming the person he despises.
Hiro tries to reinsert the violent red chip, but Baymax refuses to reopen his port.
By forcing Baymax to be evil, Hiro not only perverted his brother’s intentions: he also perverted Baymax’s freewill. Baymax is a living, sentient being capable of making choices, and he refuses to be controlled again.
Instead, he tries to reason with Hiro. He reminds him that Tadashi would not want him to murder, that murdering Callaghan won’t bring his brother back.
In a very touching moment, Hiro slams his fists against Baymax before breaking down, defeated by his own rage.
Baymax shows Hiro an old recording of Tadashi—which he had been trying to show him before—and this seems to calm Hiro, who has been reminded of the brave and selfless person his brother was.
Tadashi worked very hard to create a being that would bring more compassion into the world. No, he would not approve of Hiro’s blind, murderous anger.
Hiro laments that he’s not like his brother “after all,” but I feel he was being too hard on himself. He is very young, has suffered a great deal of loss, and has very little guidance. His aunt (who admits in a hilarious rant that she’s a bad parent) is too busy watching classic horror films with her cat to raise him. He is literally being raised by a robot (who turns out to be a better parent, sadly).
The other members of Big Hero 6 catch up to Hiro and Baymax, and the group determines that this time they will capture Professor Callaghan and turn him over to the police.
There’s a pretty touching moment where Hiro struggles to apologize, but he doesn’t have to: Gogo suddenly hugs him tight. She and the others know it’s exactly what he needs in that moment, not more scolding and lectures. Hiro is a hurting, grieving boy who needs love and compassion. If he had more of that, perhaps he wouldn’t be so angry.
Before heading off to fight, the others show Hiro the rest of the recording, which they found back at Callaghan’s hideout. Apparently, Callaghan hated Krei because his daughter, Abigail, was lost through a teleporter during one of Krei’s presentations.
Professor Callaghan, full of hate and rage, set out for revenge, stealing Hiro’s micro bots to do so (and getting Tadashi killed in the process).
Now Hiro sees the person he will become if he doesn’t get his rage under control and channel his grief in healthy ways: such as helping others.
The final battle sequence is pretty awesome, with all the characters using their high-tech weapons and their wits to trick Professor Callaghan out of his mask. As it turns out, the mask was a neuro-transmitter, which was how he controlled the micro bots.
In an attempt to send Krei through, Professor Callaghan restores the portal during the final battle. As he is apprehended by the six, Baymax identifies Abigail on the other side. She is lost in hyper sleep.
Hiro immediately decides to recuse her. And it’s telling that, instead of ordering Baymax and telling him what to do, Hiro asks him if he wants to rescue Abigail. Hiro has finally come to the realization that Baymax is a sentient person and not just a machine.
Hiro and Baymax find Abigail in her ship easily enough, but the portal is full of dangerous debris, and Baymax loses his leg thrusters when a large piece slams into him. Now the robot cannot fly and they are stranded.
Realizing that the only way to save the other two is to boost them through the portal with his fist feature, Baymax places his fist against Abigail’s ship—on which Hiro is riding -- and asks Hiro to shut him down once he’s pushed them through.
Hiro is faced yet again with losing someone he cares about. Baymax is all he has left of his brother. What’s more, Baymax has been a friend—even a parent—to Hiro. Almost in tears, Hiro initially refuses.
(Let me pause here to say that Hiro and Baymax had some excellent voice acting. The emotional scenes were really good in this. All the voice actors were good, I thought.)
Eventually, Hiro agrees to Baymax’s plan, and as he and Abigail are pushed through the portal by the robot’s fist, he utters the shutdown phrase, “I am satisfied with my care.”
Baymax shuts down as Hiro and Abigail sail through the portal, leaving him behind.
Back home, Hiro discovers that Baymax was holding his chip in his fist with the intention that Hiro would find it and boot him up in a new body.
To me, this part makes no sense.
Without that chip, Baymax wouldn’t be able to think to do such thing, let alone speak to Hiro in the final moments. As Tadashi said, the chip was what made Baymax, Baymax. So taking the chip out would be like—for lack of a better analogy—taking out his soul. Without that chip, why should he care about Hiro or Abigail or pushing them through the portal??? How would he even recognize them???
I’m a science fiction author, so I tend to be a tad annoyed when stuff like this doesn’t add up. I wrote a book with a similar ending, where the robot’s body was destroyed but her programming was saved, so she was easily booted up into a new body later. Because of that, I was touched by the ending of this film but still annoyed that it didn’t add up correctly.
Basically, I’m saying that the writers could have found a cleverer way to resurrect Baymax, so to speak. They could have had Honey Lemon or one of the other eggheads make a copy of Baymax’s healthcare companion chip, just in case the original was lost. One of them could have done it as a preventive measure after Baymax was forced to be evil.
The way Disney chose to go just didn’t make sense.
That aside, I thought the ending was great. I loved the anime images during the credits, showing the lives of the six in the aftermath. It looks as if they carried on being friends and hanging out, while saving the day from bad guys.
So in the end, Hiro learned to channel his violence, anger, and rage into something positive: helping people.
Hiro was like Tadashi all along.