I don't know why, but at some point Hollywood decided that every movie it puts out—regardless of its intended audience or even genre—needs to end in war. Remember that angry pit in your stomach after you left Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland? That's because she had a friggin' sword in her hands. I'm not the kind of person who wrings his hands over what the film industry is teaching the youth, but it is concerning to think that every filmgoer, regardless of age, has come to expect a giant climactic battle at the conclusion. It's become the screenwriter's go-to plot event once he or she runs out of ideas. Even The Best of Me, the dopey Nicholas Sparks movie, ends in a fight scene of sorts.
So why do I bring this up in a review about Big Hero 6, Disney's first animated Marvel comics movie? Because, like How to Train Your Dragon 2 from earlier this year, BH6 has more than violence on its mind. Both films espouse non-violent approaches to conflict resolution, with the implication that—perish the thought—killing each other doesn't solve anything. Of course, these films conclude in (spectacular) fight scenes, but at least they considered other options along the way. In the tradition of older and better Disney animated films, BH6 is about themes of grief, mourning, and how to move on with your life once you've lost someone you love.
The main conduit for the emotional healing on display here is Baymax (30 Rock's Scott Adsit), a nine foot-tall vinyl marshmallow of a robot whose raison d'être is to provide care to human beings in need. Baymax makes it his life's goal to help Hiro (Ryan Potter) after his older brother and idol Tadashi (Daniel Henney) dies suddenly and senselessly. Hiro is a fourteen-year-old whiz kid who graduated from high school at thirteen but doesn't have ambitions beyond competing in illegal, underground robot fighting. Tadashi gives Hiro direction by convincing him to attend the local robotics university to make something of his life. Hiro's project—micro robots that can transform into anything the user can think of—is stolen by a mysterious individual who wears a kabuki mask, whom Hiro believes is responsible for Tadashi's death. With the help of Tadashi's nerd friends (T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez), Hiro wants to hunt down the kabuki man and avenge his older brother.
This is where the superhero stuff starts happening. Against Baymax's better robot judgment, Hiro repurposes him to become a machine of destruction, complete with a blood-red, Gundam-style suit. Hiro's friends also convert their various science projects into suits that give them various abilities like laser cutting, fire breath, and incredibly cool super-speed wheels. And while everyone gets caught up in the excitement of their empowerment, it becomes apparent that Hiro is out for blood, which is not what the team signed up for, particularly the gentle Baymax. This calls into question the entire philosophy of violence that has become inextricably linked to the superhero genre, one that is simultaneously espoused and rejected by films like the Dark Knight trilogy, Man of Steel, and Captain America. The fact that directors Don Hall and Chris Williams bother to include such ideological wrestling in a movie ostensibly aimed at kids sends this one at the top of the heap.
In terms of its production, there are all the hallmarks of a Disney animated movie: breathtaking animation, colorful characters, and terrific work from the voice cast, especially from Adsit, who plays Baymax as if HAL 9000 had been reprogrammed with better bedside manner. Although I did not see the movie in 3D, BH6 seizes plenty of opportunities for the gimmick, as there are explosions and flying sequences to spare. The main problems with the film are its slightly overlong running time, which could have cut a rather pointless chase scene early on, and some painfully unfunny lines from Miller, whose character is a tired cliche of comic book nerds, one who acts like he knows he's in a superhero movie.
Big Hero 6 is charming, smart, and emotionally satisfying, fitting in well with 2014's run of above average movies for children.