(Look, it takes me a while to get to movies that come out in November and December - give me a break!)
The first half of my New Year's Day excursions to the movie theater was the latest offering from Disney Animation - Big Hero 6. What intrigued me about this movie when I first heard about it is that it's based off a Marvel property (in a sidewise, maybe-sorta-kinda, from-a-certain-point-of-view way - hey, Frozen was based off The Snow Queen), but it's a full-on Disney film. Okay - well, if you're going to own a company, might as well make good use of what you have the rights to, right?) But as time went on and I saw more trailers and promos and spoilers (really, how are you going to stay completely spoiler-free for a Disney animated movie?), I was even more intrigued about it.
Let me backup for a bit - back in the 90s, Disney Animation Studios was working on two movies - The Lion King and Pocahontas. Long story short - Pocahontas was meant to be this huge, epic, animated historical movie and the studio had the most faith in it. The Lion King was supposed to be just this cute little story about talking animals on the African savanna. Audiences, however, found that The Lion King resonated more with them and made that movie a huge hit - one of the most successful Disney movies until Frozen came along. Pocahontas... well, it wasn't a bomb, per se. But it was not the huge success that Disney wanted to have (if you ask me, Pocahontas is where the studio started to lose its footing with the movie-going public that it had gained with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast). What was the difference between these two movies? They only came out a year apart and the studio was working on them at roughly the same time. Neither really featured magic very much and they weren't fairy tales. But one did really well and remains one of the most beloved Disney films ever, and the other pretty much crapped the bed. Why?
My theory? The Lion King centered on family relationships and living up to your fullest potential in life. Pocahontas was an animated lecture/guilt-trip with historical inaccuracies up the wazoo. Personally, I know which one I'd spend money on at the movie theater.
When Disney (and Pixar, by extension) takes simple, easy-to-identify-with, everyday scenarios and creates a story around that - for example the relationship between a father and son (The Lion King), or a mother and daughter (Brave), or a husband and wife (Up!), or two sisters (Frozen), or two brothers (Big Hero 6), or any other family relationship you can think of - that's what resonates with people. Those movies generally become successful. Because, by and large, we all have someone in our lives that we are that close to. These are small, close-to-home stories that we all see ourselves in, to one degree or another. Sure, you can add any number of cuddly robots or talking snowmen or flying houses to the mix, but the core principle of the story remains the same - family caring about one another, missing each other when they're gone. I hesitate to call this a "formula" because that's such a loaded term when talking about movies - I guess I can call it a trope - but this is why Big Hero 6 works.
Big Hero 6 centers around Hiro Hamada, a boy genius who initially spends his talent running around in the illegal Bot Fighting underground of San Fransokyo (the visuals of this amalgamation of San Francisco and Tokyo are a movie character in and of themselves). Hiro's older brother, Tadashi, encourages Hiro to use his talent for something more beneficial (and less against the law). Tadashi introduces Hiro to what they affectionately term "Nerd School" at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. At first, Hiro is skeptical, but as he sees what his brother and others at the school are working on, Hiro jumps at the opportunity to enter a tech showcase and be accepted into the program. One of the key projects that Tadashi is working on is Baymax, a personal healthcare provider robot with a very low sense of humor, but who inadvertently makes most of the best jokes in the movie.
Hiro works hard to come up with his own ideas to impress Dr. Callaghan, the professor over the "Nerd School," at the upcoming tech showcase. I won't give away what he invents because it's pretty amazing to see it brand new at first, but Callaghan is sufficiently wowed and offers Hiro a spot in the university program. At the same time, a businessman named Alister Krei offers Hiro a lot of money for his invention. Hiro refuses, because Tadashi and Callaghan don't trust Krei - and Hiro is trying hard to reform his mercenary ways (all at the age of fourteen). During the post-showcase celebrations, a fire breaks-out in the building and Tadashi runs back inside to rescue Dr. Callaghan, but neither of them make it out. Hiro is devastated by this loss and would do anything to get his brother back - and that's when Baymax more or less stumbles into Hiro's life.
There are a lot of characters in this superhero-team film (my sister compared it to The Avengers, I saw shades of Guardians of the Galaxy in here too - I suppose both are correct) - but the best relationship in this movie between Tadashi and Hiro. Even though Tadashi dies before the movie hits the halfway point, his presence is felt throughout the story. Hiro misses his brother. He doesn't seek out or want comfort from any of his friends. He can't get over his loss. It's only when Baymax starts poking holes in Hiro's well-being (and Hiro discovers that the fire that killed Tadashi may have been set intentionally and he sets out to find out who's responsible) that Hiro sort of starts getting his motivation in life back. In fact, Baymax almost becomes a stand-in for Tadashi. There's one scene when the team is facing down the villain that Hiro reprograms Baymax to actually kill the bad guy. Baymax's programming gets set right by Honey Lemon before Baymax can carry out his task and he apologizes for causing distress to the team, even though Hiro is angry that the bad guy got away. That moment is kind of a catalyst for events that set Hiro to realizing that, even though his brother is gone, Hiro still remembers Tadashi - what his brother wanted for him and that he encouraged and loved him. It's a really sweet moment.
(or maybe I'm just being sentimental about this whole movie, given what my younger sister posted on Instagram some weeks ago. Either way - I've already started creating (in my head) a Tadashi/Hiro cosplay for us - if we ever both make it to Comic Con)
Beyond that - like I said, the visuals and creativity of the setting are amazing. The characters are likable and fun (Fred is a hoot - second funniest character to Baymax). I would love to see sequels of this, just to create more within the Big Hero 6 universe (though I think that this was a one-time dip into this particular franchise. Still, it's cool that Disney is making use of some of the lesser-known Marvel titles). As this is a Marvel movie (sort of), Stan Lee does make a cameo appearance. Also, as this is a Marvel movie, stay for the post-credits scene (oh man, I laughed so hard at this one). The music's pretty good too - Immortals has already made it to my 2015 playlist (I bought it on my phone even before I left the movie theater lobby).
Other than that - just go see this movie. Disney Animation is kicking all kinds of butt at the movies lately and they keep it going with this one. It's time and money well-spent.