This is a cute kids’ movie that my grandchildren will enjoy. Truth is, I did too.
Disney really knows how to do the technical aspects of animation, including anime. But beyond that, they also know how to inject humor and warmth into their stories, and just to keep it from tipping over the silliness scale, a touch of the darker side.
Hiro Hamada (the voice of Ryan Potter) is a really smart young teenager whose parents have died. He lives with his older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney) and their Auntie, who is raising them in her little apartment above her bakery/restaurant in San Fransokyo, which is, yes, a composite of American and Japanese elements. We first meet Hiro when he is sandbagging in an illegal robot fight (the future’s equivalent of illegal rooster fights) where a group of rough-looking folk meet in a secret place to wager on whose robot is going to destroy the other one, winner takes all. Hiro, like an old-style pool hustler or street boxer, loses on purpose first (taking careful note of his opponent’s strengths), and then, after betting big, displays a programming acumen not envisioned by his hapless but now-enraged opponent. Then he makes his quick getaway on Tadashi’s motorcycle, home in time to pretend to Auntie that they were just hanging out with some friends.
Auntie may be clueless, but Tadashi is concerned that Hiro is wasting his big brain, and soon concocts a plan to have Hiro drop by his college lab with him, where Tadashi is busy building a robot named Baymax that will actually help people. And his colleagues and cohorts are also busy with their creative projects, led by their esteemed teacher, Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell). As Tadashi had planned, Hiro is suddenly fascinated and completely turns his life around, re-directing his considerable creative talents to impress Professor Callaghan enough to accept him into his famous technical school.
Hiro does indeed come up with a very innovative project involving rapidly moving “microbots” that instantly morph into any shape and configuration that the wearer of the electronic headband can envision. It’s brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, that the whole project is stolen by an unknown dastardly villain who sets a fire causing Tadashi to rush into the flames to try to save Professor Callaghan. But alas, they both perish in the sudden explosion.
Hiro is absolutely devastated. He’s so depressed that he doesn’t even want to leave his bedroom. Auntie tries valiantly to interest him in something – anything – to no avail. Hiro’s been so introverted and dependent on Tadashi for his lifeline to the rest of the world that without Tadashi he’s literally lost and alone. Even Tadashi’s young friends at the Institute can’t get through to Hiro (maybe because one of them looks and acts like he came straight out of Scooby-Doo).
But at last, Baymax breaks through. Baymax (Scott Adsit) is a balloon-like inflatable robot who looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy and talks like a gentle school nurse. He’s programmed to help people with their physical health including the treatment of minor injuries, the reporting of elevated fluid level through instant body scanning, and helpful suggestions about stress reduction. Yes, some of it is ironic, like making fun of your mother always telling you to floss your teeth and wear clean underwear. But Baymax becomes precious to Hiro because of the direct link to Tadashi and because Baymax, with a little help from Hiro’s reprogramming, is the one who’s going to help find the bad guy who caused Tadashi’s death.
So we are deal with broken families here. We take very seriously the impact of loss and grieving. But we also emphasize the importance of utilizing your gifts, overcoming your obstacles and finding friends for support and encouragement. Somehow, it’s inspiring without indulging in schmaltzy aphorisms. And it’s funny without reverting to bathroom humor. Hiro and his five self-proclaimed “nerd” friends turn their high-tech quirks into superpowers, and become, at the end, wait for it… The Big Hero 6.
Cute. Amusing. Clever. Perfectly kid-friendly. And very watchable for the adults who bring them.
Ronald P. Salfen is the parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.