For a movie about a 14-year-old genius and his inflatable robot nurse, it’s a little surprising that Big Hero 6 is mostly about death and revenge.
Big Hero 6 is an impressive achievement for Disney. It’s common to find animated children’s movies blending kid-friendly slapstick humour with more sophisticated jokes for parents, but Big Hero 6 goes further, exploring hard, bleak themes through squishy characters and rich backdrops.
Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) is an orphan who lives in the half-Japanese, half-American city of San Fransokyo. He and his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) are robotics prodigies, and when Tadashi is killed in what appears to be an accidental fire, Hiro suspects foul play and vows revenge. Tadashi’s personal healthcare companion robot Baymax (Scott Adsit) is unable to harm any human, but naïvely helps his “patient” Hiro apprehend whoever is responsible in the belief it will help Hiro’s wellbeing.
Disney is in the middle of a winning streak. After kicking goals with Bolt (2008), Tangled (2010), Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and the global smash hit Frozen (2013), Walt Disney Animation Studios is experiencing the most success it’s had in more than a decade. Although Big Hero 6 doesn’t reach quite the same heights as Frozen, it measures up admirably and continues Disney’s move away from romantic storylines to deal with deeper issues and complex characters which subvert stereotypes.
Although he is highly intelligent and understands how to help humans cope with loss, Baymax fails to grasp that revenge will not actually help Hiro come to terms with his brother’s death. Hiro and Baymax help each other to understand and forgive, which is the central theme of the film, but Big Hero 6 is also a celebration of proactive curiosity and learning. When characters encounter obstacles they encourage each other to find a solution by looking at things “from a different angle”.
Big Hero 6 is proof that Disney’s willingness to explore new ground in its animated films is paying off. It deserves its Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature and, much like Baymax himself, this movie is big and easy to love.