The problem with Big Hero 6...
…is that there’s not more of it. Zing!
Hate-baiting title aside, I really loved the hell out of Big Hero 6. Even in a year that had more than its share of great animated movies (The LEGO Movie, Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2), it stood out as something memorable. I cried no less than twice both times I saw it, and that doesn’t happen often. I rarely cry at movies, and that’s no boastful claim; I’ve unfortunately gotten so jaded that hardly anything gets to me, but Big Hero 6 managed to push my buttons.
Part of this was that it’s largely a hodgepodge of all my favorite animated and/or superhero movies and TV shows. There’s a little bit of The Incredibles, a touch of Spider-Man 2, a dash of Teen Titans, and a lot of The Iron Giant. It’s hard for me not to love a relentlessly optimistic and colorful superhero movie about a diverse team of geniuses saving the world with science. I’m all over that kinda shit.
But more vital to Big Hero 6’s success is its speedy and effective character development. You could practically teach a class on establishing character traits using this movie. Check out this scene.
In the space of a single minute, you instantly know everything you need to about each individual character’s personality and skill set, and almost none of it is exposition. It’s all demonstrated through character action. It’s the perfect example of why “show” is always superior to “tell”.
In fact, the brief nature of our individual interactions with these characters is the chief complaint I had, as I alluded to at the start of this piece. This above scene isn’t just the introduction of the team, it accounts for almost half of the time we spend getting to know them. Despite ostensibly being a superhero team movie, Big Hero 6 at the end of the day isn’t really an ensemble film. This is 100% Hiro Hamada’s story, and the film revolves almost exclusively around him and his incredibly toyetic sidekick Baymax, who would easily be Marvel’s top breakout character of the year if he didn’t have Groot for competition.
The remaining four members of the team exist on the fringes of the film, to the point that they have almost no impact on the events of the film at all. They’re here only to provide emotional support and backup during the fight scenes, both of which Baymax is chiefly responsible for and could easily have handled on his own without changing these scenes much. At the end of the day, the other team members almost feel more like extensions of Baymax rather than individual participants in the narrative.
This isn’t really an obstacle so much as it is a missed opportunity. The laser focus on Hiro’s story works great as it stands. It tells a funny, touching story of dealing with loss, and of revenge versus justice, which sets up its world so beautifully that you’re left craving more. Baymax is one of the best robot characters I’ve seen in the movies in years, wonderfully simple, yet effective in design, and avoiding many worn-out clichés and effortlessly tugging on your heartstrings with every frame. He and Hiro make the perfect duo to hang the film on, and I’m glad we’ll be seeing more of them.
That said, it was a bit frustrating to see a supporting cast of instantly lovable and visually dynamic characters end up as little more than set dressing. Marvel’s previous team movies did a great job of giving all its characters room to breathe without losing focus on the story, and unfortunately the same can’t quite be said of Big Hero 6. It’s a testament to how great these characters are that I was left craving more of them, even with only about a few minutes worth of dialogue apiece. Hopefully, Marvel has more plans for these guys, because Gogo, Wasabi, Honey, and Fred* are too good a team to remain in the background.
[*Also Aunt Cass. Am I the only one who loves Aunt Cass? Because Aunt Cass is awesome.]