It’s Debate Day on Trope and Dagger! This week we’re discussing our favorite computer animated (non-Pixar) Disney film. We’re going to cover traditionally animated Disney movies and Pixar films in the next few weeks, so stay tuned! To read the correct opinion, continue on, but to read Aaron’s totally lame ideas, click right here.
Disney’s come a long way since old Walt was in charge. In the past two decades we’ve seen a shift from 2D animation to computer generated animation as the gold standard for the industry, thanks to Pixar’s revolutionary Toy Story. Disney’s animation studios have shifted their focus so much that it’s rare to see a 2D movie from them anymore — The Princess and the Frog was a rare departure from the status quo. Disney’s CG films got off to a rough start (the less said about Chicken Little the better), but lately they’ve had some real gems, such as 2013’s mega-hit Frozen and 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph. But when I ask myself what the best computer generated Disney film is, I find myself coming back to Big Hero 6, this year’s Oscar-winner for Best Animated Film. When I first saw it, I was blown away by how charming, funny, and cool the entire experience was.
Plot spoilers ahoy!
A movie is only as good as its main character, and Big Hero 6 has a wonderful protagonist. 14-year-old robotics genius Hiro Hamada starts off as an arrogant whiz kid, too bored with life to take anything but underground bot battling seriously. His older brother, Tadashi, pushes him to challenge himself with a project that would get him into the robotics program Tadashi attends at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. Just as Hiro unveils the microbots, his blue ribbon entry, Tadashi and the head of the program, Professor Callaghan, get blown up in a mysterious explosion.
This sets up a really satisfying arc where Hiro deals with his grief by using his brother’s last creation, the healthcare robot Baymax, in an obsessive quest to find justice for his brother. He drags his brother’s inventor friends into his burgeoning superhero team, but nearly destroys the group when he loses himself in lust for violent revenge. This is a pretty dark turn for a Disney character. Hiro reprograms Baymax and nearly forces him to commit murder, and is only narrowly stopped by his teammates. The rest of the movie sees Hiro work selflessly to redeem his mistakes, ultimately growing into a true hero.
Hiro’s relationship with Baymax is the crux of the movie, and it works perfectly. Hiro’s dark cynicism and Baymax’s childish innocence balance each other nicely. They bring out the best in each other, and their affection for one another is completely earned by the end. Baymax’s’ sacrifice at the end is a true tear jerker. At the film’s conclusion, Hiro has learned compassion and Baymax has come to appreciate Hiro’s battle ‘upgrades’. They’re an amazing superhero duo, and the scenes of them soaring through the air together are some of the most breathtaking in the movie.
One thing I really like is that Tadashi stays dead. It would have been easy to take the wimpy, copout approach of having Tadashi be secretly alive but captured the whole time, and I honestly expected them to take that approach. When it’s revealed that Professor Callaghan, and not Tadashi, survived the explosion, I realized sadly the he was really gone. I love that the movie doesn’t pull this punch, because it creates some real emotional weight of the kind we haven’t had since Mufasa’s death. It also establishes Callaghan as a villain with believable motivation — his daughter was lost in a portal experiment and he faked his death to steal Hiro’s microbots and exact revenge — so we empathize with him as well as loathe him.
Of course, gravity sucks without levity, and Big Hero 6 has it in spades. Most of the comedy comes from Baymax and Fred, who take very different but equally satisfying approaches. Baymax delivers lines with a goofy naivete, leading to lots of unintentional hilarity when he misunderstands something simple, like how to do a fist bump. His physical gags are great too, with tons of yucks as the portly, squishy bot attempts to squeeze clumsily through tight spaces. Beymax’ best scene is when he gets low on batteries and starts acting like a drunken maniac. I was cracking up for this entire sequence, especially his run in with Mochi the cat.
Fred, aka Fredzilla, is hilarious in a completely different way. His antics are self-aware, and he behaves like a comic book character who knows he’s in a comic book. I loved that he had no science ability and was just the mascot for their lab, making it fitting when his ‘superpower’ is a monster suit that lets him jump high and shoot energy blasts. The twist that Fred is secretly rich with a comically deadpan butler was excellent, and it couldn’t be more perfect that his dad is Stan Lee.
A movie about superheroes needs action, and Big Hero 6 delivers. I love how we see our heroes talents/inventions early on, and that they develop over the course of the movie until the team is wielding their abilities with expertise in the climax. The microbots that Callaghan uses look great and get put to lots of imaginative uses. My heart was pounding when Hiro first encountered the masked man and barely escaped with his life. That made it all the more satisfying when the team worked together at the end to smash Callaghan’s bots and clobber the mad doc himself. The action looks awesome, but it has that extra emotional punch behind it that really makes it stand out from the pack.
No movie is without flaws, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out a few in Big Hero 6. The supporting cast (the other four in “Big Hero 6”) aren’t very well fleshed out (except maybe Fred). GoGo, Wasabi, and Honey Lemon all have the potential to be well-rounded characters, but most of the emotional development focuses, appropriately, on Baymax and Hiro. Hopefully the inevitable sequel will deal with the rest of the team more.
Big Hero 6 also cribs a lot from other media: a surreal outer dimension that the hero nearly dies in, as in The Avengers; a merging of Tokyo and San Francisco (San Fransokyo) as in the Phoenix Wright English localization; and a portal device as in Portal. But honestly, they’re all implemented so well that I don’t even mind.
If you haven’t seen Big Hero 6 yet, and you’re even the tiniest fan of animation, do yourself a favor and check it out. It isn’t too silly, nor does it get too heavy with emotion. Every element is perfectly balanced, creating a massively enjoyable cinematic experience. If Disney can keep up this level of quality, they’ll have my money for years to come. Big Hero 6 is undoubtedly the best CG movie Disney has ever produced.
I’m right, right? If you agree, sound off in the poll below! If you don’t agree, that’s cool too, I guess.