Too often in superhero tales, science falls in the realm of the baddies. The scientists are the cackling madmen (and almost always men) in white lab coats. They’re irresponsible with their genius. Meanwhile, the hero has their superpowers thrust upon them. What they lack in smarts, they make up for in determination. Big Hero 6 flips the script by making science cool, but never loses the cute and nerdy heart of heroes who are still out of their depth. Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, Disney Animation Studios’ new movie is filled with gorgeous designs, exciting action, and endearing characters—especially the cuddly robot Baymax (Scott Adsit)—but its most noble deed is getting younger audience members to see science as heroic.
Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a robotics genius in San Fransokyo wasting his time gambling on robot fights. His also-brilliant older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) hates seeing Hiro squander his talent, and shows him how much cooler it is to attend college. Hiro becomes taken with the idea and to prove he’s worthy of being accepted to the university, he invents “microbots”, a genius creation that has multiple applications from transportation, construction, and beyond. When tragedy strikes, Hiro is left adrift with only Tadashi’s gentle nursing robot, Baymax, for comfort. The two discover that a mysterious figure has stolen the microbots and intends to use them for nefarious purposes. To stop the masked villain, Hiro teams up with Tadashi’s nerdy classmates Go Go (Jamie Chung), Fred (T.J. Miller), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), and Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), and they use their scientific skills to become superheroes.
There’s nothing wrong with seeing people who unexpectedly acquire superpowers. Superman didn’t choose to be powered by the sun. The X-Men didn’t choose to be mutants. Even scientifically-minded heroes like Peter Parker and the Fantastic Four didn’t acquire their definitive powers through active scientific discovery. It was entirely accidental, and all of the characters were faced with the choice of how to responsibly use their unexpected gifts.
Arguably, all of the heroes in Big Hero 6 have a “power” in that they’re science geniuses and not everyone can be a prodigy. But what sets them apart is that their projects become the basis for their superpowers. They wouldn’t even have a chance of stopping the bad guy if they hadn’t pursued STEM fields in the first place—their selfless investment in science ultimately makes them superheroes. It’s wonderful when family films go beyond a willingness to just entertain, and put forward a specific message that doesn’t come off a preachy. Kids will probably pick up on science being cool, and maybe some will be inspired to work harder at science class because they want to be like Wasabi or Go Go (side-note: it’s also fantastic that the movie encourages girls to embrace science since women are drastically underrepresented in STEM fields).
But even if kids don’t pick up on the movie’s message, they’re still going to be entertained because Big Hero 6 is big, colorful, and outright fun. I imagine most audience members will fall in love with Baymax, not only because he’s so huggable, but because he’s so sweet and naïve. He’s the funniest character in the movie, and his relationship with Hiro also provides the film’s heartbeat. Although it’s obvious to see where their relationship (and even the overall story) will go, I was still tearing up by the end. The film stresses not only the greatness of science, but how saving people isn’t just about stopping evil, but also about healing pain.
Even though Big Hero 6 carries the weight of pushing academic lessons and dealing with grief, it’s a still a breezy picture that celebrates design as much as any other value. San Fransokyo is gorgeous and even the villain isn’t really a character as much as a visually stylish ability. The microbots are an amazing power, so they’re neat to watch even if we don’t care much about the person wielding them. Perhaps it’s not too surprising that in today’s environment of computer-driven animation we should see a movie that celebrates both art and technology.
While it doesn’t reach the heights of Frozen, Big Hero 6 is yet another strong outing for Disney Studios Animation as they continue to show commitment to telling socially conscious stories featuring gorgeous animation and driven by funny, charming characters (I wouldn’t be surprised if Baymax is an incredibly popular toy this holiday season). Their movies aren’t only enjoyable; they’re also admirable, and while other family films have no problem letting kids turn off their brains, Big Hero 6 shows brainpower is a superpower and being a superhero is only a lab room away.