It’s been over a month since Disney’s first Marvel property adaptation of Big Hero Six directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams entered theaters and thus far domestically in the US it has made around $186,474,712 dollars. For a film that cost $165 million for production budget it made back the money and a nice lump of $21 more million dollars stateside. These aren’t Frozen numbers at all and some probably would consider this borderline but it’s definitely not a flop, and it’s definitely not terrible. I was finally was able to see it last Saturday, and for me, it’s a suitable franchise launcher but it’s admittedly not perfect. So let’s go through the motions shall we?! (WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD)
The world in which it was set was gorgeous, populated, and looked intricate and lush, a sharp contrast to Frozen‘s backgrounds and environments which seemed flat, and unfinished. The animators weren’t kidding with this one, or rather, they were given much more time to finish their work and the cinematography was much, much better. Lighting effects, shadow (is that scatter effects? Particle effects?) and people’s elasticity were all far better than Frozen. Hiro (Ryan Potter), and Tadashi (Daniel Henney) were in general pretty great characters and I liked their designs. I could tell they were mixed race according to their names and designs, particularly Tadashi. The “team” of Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), GoGo (Jamie Chung) and Fred (T.J. Miller) were likewise extremely likable if not underwritten (more on that later). Baymax (Scott Adsit) was of course a scene stealer and what people in our audience most reacted to, aside from Mochi the cat.
I liked the situational humor vignettes with Baymex in between the action, I liked the personalities of all the cast. Aunt Cass was extremely funny and also a minor scene stealer. The action; pretty good too. It’s fun and relatively safe. It’s not without it’s problems however.
I won’t say “bad” because in general the film was solid; but ultimately the writing and some choices did hurt it. I think the film fell to quite a few cliches (rainy funeral, sleazy CEOS) and had many elements that other films like The Iron Giant and The Incredibles (Hmmm Brad Bird) have already tackled and already did better.
RACE AND REPRESENTATION
First, while beautiful, the fictional San Frantokyo is questionable at best, it seemed like “Let’s make it Japanese but….not too Japanese” which is an attitude that is generally applied to the entire film. The original comic, which admittedly is pretty awful and racist, was set in Japan (for the most part) and did feature an entirely Japanese and Ainu (a native Japanese people) cast. For their version Disney racebent all the main characters into a Half-Japanese, Half-white main lead, an African-American, an average white guy, supposedly Korean (not Japanese) and implied Latin-American. This kind of diversity is awesome, but it almost felt like the wrong movie to do it for. It’s Japanese themed but no one in the film is 100% Japanese. Aside from the moderator at the battle bot ring I don’t think any other Asian characters, Japanese or otherwise were given speaking roles? Did the cop at the police station have to be white? Granted the crowd scenes are very diverse and hip but it’s still somewhat suspect. That’s kind of…eh.
I understand why they did however, because American tastes and I can’t complain about the diversity it does provide for the Western market, it just feels a bit erasing when Western media is particularly not very serving to Asian characters to begin with, particularly male leads. Hiro nevertheless is one of the few Asian-American male leads in any Western movie, like, ever since forever and probably not again for a while. That fact is really disappointing
Having Aunt Cass be from their white side of the family (but apparently not because her last name is Hamada too!) while innocuous wasn’t particularly needed; they could have easily made her Japanese and not have changed a thing script or personality wise. The person I was with, most likely because of Aunt Cass, did not realize Hiro and Tadashi were mixed because of this. Honey Lemon while I figured she was Latin-American due to her accent, she is pretty white passing so they could have easily snuck in a line to make it clear that she’s not white or not fully, at least. She’s loads better than her comic iteration in how they treated her, however. I will give them kudos for cleaning up a pretty problematic comic into something digestible.
REUSING CHARACTER MESHES
To me it was pretty clear that Aunt Cass’s head mesh was a variant of Rapunzel/Anna/Elsa and their mother of some kind as was Honey Lemon’s though hers was less so. Honey Lemon was rather controversial, her design was criticized for looking quite like the last three princesses and while her design is safe and does look a lot better and different on film (she’s tanner, with darker/oranger hair and willowy looking on the verge of extremely stylized in film), she’s still pretty “typical” and definitely of the mold. Surprisingly Aunt Cass I think is much more of a copy-paste and the oddest of choices GoGo also seems to have a lot of her mesh based on Elsa’s face. There are times when it was clear they worked on all of these ladies further, but I couldn’t help but seeing a lot of similarities and I feel they need to give these base face meshes and that style a rest.
I really enjoyed the “nerdy” team of Tadashi’s classmates and their role in forming the team, and I loved it when they stopped him and Baymax from literally going villain. But in general they were there to advance Hiro’s plot and the whole “team” film is a bit of a misnomer. It is Hiro’s film, and did that well, to the expense of the rest of the team.They’re not particularly round characters. The character we find most about is Fred, the slacker white dude who slums it and watches everyone do science because he loves it and, as we learn, he can afford to. We see them at Tadashi’s funeral, we see them leaving messages for Hiro, we see them picking Hiro up in the car. What we don’t see for any of them were their own independent struggles with Tadashi’s passing or any particular narrative struggles or insecurities of their own that they overcome by the end of the film. They had no independent narrative arc outside of helping Hiro besides Fred finally becoming the fire breathing dragon like he always wanted to be. Helping Hiro is a good main narrative, but they could have had more to it. GoGo could have a chip on her shoulder for a reason. Honey Lemon feels like no one takes her seriously because she’s girly (etc). Compare the character growth you see in Dash and Violet in The Incredibles to the growth for the team in Big Hero Six and it becomes pretty clear they’re lacking.
This could have been easily fixed a little with a short scene showing them struggling with their schoolwork or independent projects following Tadashi’s death. GoGo is uninspired and can’t work, Wasabi starts becoming messy or disorganized, Honey Lemon starts making rather scary compounds, Fred just doesn’t show up anymore. Something to show that they were affected and despite moving on (unlike Hiro) as they are shown as doing, they too have their share of problems. Had they been able to pull off full character arcs for all the characters, it would have been really good writing and probably a richer viewing experience. Disney is confusing personality and quirks with character. They ran into this problem with Anna and Elsa, and they ran into it again here.
THE BAD GUYS AND THE DAMAGE THEY MAKE
I was iffy on the bad guys. There are only two options, the person who went with me guessed wrong, I guessed right. I admit since I work at a library I was spoiled by a picture book but it was pretty easy to see where it was going. I would have liked more choice or red herrings and more sense of danger and immediacy. I really wish there was just a bit more to the plot. How? Not sure. But let’s take a stab; The world of Big Hero Six seems like it’s pretty comfortable with pretty advanced technology, are other superheroes already a thing? Or is them suiting up highly irregular? Judging by Fred it’s irregular. But technology is pretty advanced.
I think rewriting the island experiment with Abigail as causing much more damage (a la Evangelion’s finding Adam at the South Pole; the experiment already was an obvious nod to Yui Ikari to me) to the entire area about ten years prior, and have Hiro and Tadashi’s parents being involved as scientists on the top secret project and dying in that incident might have been a way to help the film’s plot. This would explain the adoption by Aunt Cass and some of San Frantokyo’s current infrastructure. The swallow symbol could then have been more mysteriously ubiquitous in Hiro and Tadashi’s life and a further mystery to unravel when it starts appearing again. I think if the recorded footage showed the Hamadas helping shut the experiment down as best they can to save Abigail at the cost of their own lives (possibly activating her sleep stasis mode) it could have immediately threaded everything together and gave Hiro an additional personal connection to what he was viewing.
I noticed that the movie also lacked some response from the city regarding this creepy dude with a wave of nanobots destroying a lot of property while he chased Hiro and the gang, which was conveniently lacking a lot of cars and pedestrians. A little more reaction from the city around them would have done wonders, although I will admit the action in that scene was far better animated and “shot” than anything in Frozen was. Also when the large building was being sucked up, some shots of civilians responding in horror would have been nice to see. You really can’t skimp on these reaction shots!
I almost want to say they shouldn’t have killed Tadashi?! I understand it produced an awesome example of how adolescents deal with grief gives weight to Tadashi being recorded (and thus living on) and having his name on Baymex’s chip, but in a way it felt excessive particularly with their parents having already died and with the Abigail narrative feeling like an incomplete juxtaposition to something. I think I’d have preferred the explosion leaving Tadashi in a coma (one of the few times the coma trope I think could work) instead and possibly have him lose a leg. Having Tadashi there but “gone” and showing no signs of waking up (and Baymax unable to help him) could be just as hard on Hiro with more or less the same reaction as seen in the final product. Pulling Abigail out of the dimension could have offered a great parallel “coming out of it” moment as well if you wanted to be sentimental. A wheelchair bound Tadashi being outfitted by GoGo and the others during the credits with super wheels etc would have been amazing and also a great example of visible disability on film. He could also have been their “gadget guy” in future films too.
I feel there was just a lost opportunity there regarding his character and this is coming from a guy who killed an adolescent in his own film script to send his friend, the lead, a boy a little younger than Hiro, reeling. Perhaps my total dislike of him dying is exactly what they intended. They succeeded in creating a character we do care about and don’t actually want to see dead, which is somewhat the point. It was rather melodramatic, nevertheless, and I think I heard some snickering between gasps when it occurred. I do think a gentler less…fatal approach could have really worked.
I know. I know. That’s a lot to ask for when it comes to a children’s film. This makes me seem like I didn’t enjoy it much, but I did. I just wish there was more. I’m curious to see what the sequels will be like! I think this go around while they got the technical stuff much better, the writing is what still needed a few more drafts in order to be really great.
As is Big Hero Six was about a C+ to a B-. I think the script could have had a few more drafts to really be….super…..(groan). I anticipate sequel or serialized sequel material where everyone can grow and get additional narratives!