The latest movie from Walt Disney Animation Studios is only a few days away as it opens in Swiss cinemas next week. We’ve already seen it. So let’s have a look at it and its rather obscure roots deep in Marvel Comics history.
Pixar is always good for a surprise. So now that they’re owned by Disney, they have a lot more properties to play with, even though who owns what and who’s involved is a bit of a mess. Especially since Disney also owns Marvel. So while this hasn’t had too big an impact on the comics as of yet, other than Marvel getting a few more properties such as Star Wars since Disney owns that too, there hasn’t been that much crossing over. This has now changed. But let’s have a look at the situation.
- Marvel is owned by Disney
- Pixar is owned by Disney
- Big Hero 6 is produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios
- Walt Disney Animation studios is headed by John Lasseter
- John Lasseter is chief creative officer at Pixar
- John Lasseter is also chief creative officer at Walt Disney Animation Studios
- John Lasseter is also chief creative officer at DisneyToon Studios
- John Lasseter is also principal creative advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering
- John Lasseter is executive producer on Big Hero 6
So, while on paper, Big Hero 6 – known as Baymax: Grosses Robowabohu in the German speaking world – isn’t technically a Pixar movie on paper, it’s using a lot of the same resources Pixar movies use, not to mention that the executive producer rose to fame by means of Pixar.
As of next week, Swiss moviegoers will see what Disney headed by a Pixar legend does with a Marvel property. And this is exciting for many a reason, because let’s just have a look back at why Pixar has the reputation they got. In the most minimalist terms possible, because others have written at great lengths about why Pixar is so revered among lovers of animated movies.
- They don’t think their audience is stupid. In fact, their themes are frequently quite mature. This started off with the first Toy Story and really kicked into high gear with Finding Nemo and, at the latest became a staple of theirs by the time Wall-E came out.
- They tackle the big subjects, that people usually think are not kid friendly while making them kid friendly but not taking away the emotional impact. Remember that scene in Up? You know which one I’m talking about. You know exactly which one.
- Pixar pushes the boundaries of what technology can do.
- They don’t seem to sell out… much. Sure, there’s a ton of Cars merchandise, but other than that, they don’t seem intent to make crowd pleasing films. Remember this point well, this comes into play later.
So before we get into the themes and origins of Big Hero 6, let’s have a look at the plot of the movie.
How to Make the Most of Yourself
Big Hero Six is the story of Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), a half Japanese half American child prodigy. He has a brilliant mind for robotics and uses his talent wisely. To engage in robot fights for money, while he could be making the city of San Fransokyo, a mash-up between San Francisco and Tokyo, a better place. Like his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), who pretty much took over the father role after their parents died and forced them to live with their loving aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph).
It is Tadashi, a robotics student himself, who shows Hiro that he could make better robots that are actually more than just fighting machines when the two of them visit the University Tadashi attends and meet Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell) who is both a professor and a bit of a father figure to Tadashi. It’s under his tutelage that Tadashi has developed Baymax (Scott Adsit), a medical assistant robot who inflates himself. Tadashi shares his workspace with Go Go (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) and Fred (T. J. Miller) who’s in charge of nicknaming people at the lab, but doesn’t really do much science himself. The lab inspires Hiro to try out at the next science fair. Should he succeed, he could join his brother at the lab and build robots that help the world.
But something goes terribly wrong. Just as Hiro and Tadashi want to leave the fair, there’s a fire. Tadashi goes back into the fire to save Professor Callaghan, but neither of them make it out in time. And with the two of them, Hiro’s invention is lost…
A few months later, a man in a Kabuki mask appears and seems to use Hiro’s invention, but he seems to do more harm than good. So five young people and a healthcare robot must step up to the mysterious villain and save San Fransokyo.
The Point Never Made
As you can probably guess, the sombre subtheme of the movie is loss and coping with it. Hiro has lost both his parents and his brother. And even though he has a great support network of friends as well as a robot who is designed to help all human beings in all kinds of distress, physical or otherwise.
As it turns out, his antagonist also battles with loss. So really, at its sombre core, it’s a story of how we can live on after our loved ones are gone. This is a pretty strong and important point, because as we get older, our loved ones, grandparents and eventually parents and then, finally, friends die. And this is sad. But it’s part of life. And at some point, children are confronted with mortality. So kudos to John Lasseter and his team for going there.
On a storytelling level, this works well all the way through until the very end. It’s a constant struggle for both Hiro and the antagonist (and yes, he does have a name, but no, I’m not giving it away), but both deal with it differently. At some point, Hiro with all the support from his friends and the antagonist, who deals with it differently, have a talk. They talk about how they deal with it and Hiro seems to make a point in telling his opponent that it’s okay and normal and that they’re not gone unless we forget those we’ve lost and abandon their ideals. A wonderful point to make.
So when it eventually turns out that the person the antagonist has lost is actually still alive, the point is completely pointless. What’s the point of the entire movie apart from being a pretty slugfest with the occasional comedy relief? And it comes so out of nowhere, too. It’s literally a two minute subplot tacked on at the end. It’s so not-fitting that I suspect some kind of editorial meddling where some executive decided that the movie would be too dark if everybody would be dead.
Still, despite all this, it’s a valuable point to make and an important one at that. It’s not just for children, but also for adults. The same goes for the classic point of «Make the best of yourself», which is either valuable as a child or can serve as a bit of a wake-up call as an adult.
The Comic Book Origins
As hinted at above, Big Hero 6 are not an original Disney or Pixar creation. In fact, the Japanese superhero group who isn’t Japanese in this movie, has been around since the late 1990s. Okay, I admit, they’re a fairly obscure bunch having had a miniseries called Sunfire and Big Hero 6 in 1998 and then again in a miniseries in 2008. All in all, Big Hero 6 have appeared in a grand total of 30 comic books since then. That’s basically nothing. To compare, Batman appears in at least 17 comic books in December 2014.
Apart from the name and some of the names, the Big Hero 6 of the movie have little in common with the Big Hero 6 of the comics. You know how they usually go «The book was better»? Well, here this isn’t the case. Because the 2008 miniseries written by Chris Claremont and drawn by David Nakayama. Claremont is famous for making the X-Men what they are today, because he wrote the flagship book Uncanny X-Men for 17 years until 1991. And therein lies the problem. While it’s undeniable that Claremont did great things for the medium of comics, his writing didn’t age well. There is too much writing on pages as Claremont mixes speechh bubbles, thought bubbles and narration boxes that occasionally also contain thoughts by characters and he has absolutely no finesse when it comes to tropes and defining national characteristica of his characters. Of course the sushi-chef is a superbadass samurai warrior who must avenge the food that got destroyed in a ninja attack while speaking in the awkward para-Japanese voice that makes up this odd trope. Pair that up with the manga-esque art by Nakayama and you have an incredibly wordy mash of lots of text and hyperdynamic art, even if we look past the fact that manga art with western colouring just doesn’t seem to work.
The Big Hero 6 on the silver screen are completely revamped. Baymax has less colour on his body and looks way less threatening. The cast looks way less like the same person cloned a few times and the story is actually engaging as opposed to the standard hero-blah Claremont produced a few years ago. So feel free to skip the comics and stick with the movie. In fact, hoping for a comic book version of the movie’s Big Hero 6 isn’t the worst of ideas.
Great Fun for an Eventless Afternoon
I’ll be honest, if I was nine years old again, I would love this movie. It has everything nine-year-old me loved. Kickass robots, wacky humours, a really cool villain, a decent mystery, plenty of allusions to comic books and big heroes that save the day. So if you have kids, a smaller sibling, a cousin or something, go see it. Get the popcorn, lean back and have fun. It’s a fun ride. And the kids will like it. A lot.
However, as an adult, this movie isn’t quite the Pixar-festival we’re all waiting for when we hear that there’s a new high-profile animated movie is hitting. It doesn’t have the emotional impact of Up or Wall-E. And if we’re going to compare it to other Walt Disney Animation Studios movies: It isn’t as touching as Wreck-it-Ralph and probably won’t have the impact of Frozen, but it’s a good movie to watch when you’re bored on some rainy or snowy afternoon and need some distraction. You will be entertained, you will laugh, you’ll be touched and you’ll end up going «Huh. So that was that.»
And to close this off, here’s a trailer. Enjoy.