“I’m a huge Beatles fan” is one of my least favorite phrases. Seriously, if liking the music the Beatles made makes you a huge Beatles fan, then who isn’t a big Beatles fan? If knowing the chronological release order of the albums makes you a huge Beatles fan, then still, who isn’t a big Beatles fan? My point is, everybody is a big Beatles fan, and I need you, the reader, to understand that I do not fall into this category. If a pedestrian knowledge of the Beatles makes you a huge Beatles fan, then I am (or at least used to be) of some level much higher than that.
When I was in grades 5-8, I got my hands on every book, disc, and film pertaining to the Fab Four. I had two passionate interests: The Beatles and Disney. I truly loved the Beatles (and I still really enjoy their music), and so when the Beatles’ edition of Rock Band was being released on 09/09/09, I built up my excitement for nearly a year and a half awaiting the release of that game. As you may have guessed, playing the game that first day wasn’t all I had imagined it would be. A lot of the songs I wanted to be featured were missing, it really wasn’t all that difficult, and after a few hours I just got bored with it. Gee whiz, that day kind of sucked.
Ever since this incredible let down, I have been careful not to attach my hopes too strongly to any product. I was careful to do this with Big Hero 6 as well. About a month before its release, I was visiting Disneyland with a friend when I noticed an extended preview for the film featuring Baymax in the Magic Eye Theater. Honestly, Baymax and his buddies had really been sitting on the back-burner of my mind up until that point. Normally, about a month before a Disney release I tend to get truly excited for the upcoming film. I remember Wreck-it Ralph had me researching video games on Wikipedia for hours in anticipation of viewing it. However, this time as we walked by the posters, I felt a sort of dread in my stomach. It was highly unlikely that anything could top the success of last year’s Frozen, but it wasn’t really the success of the film I was worried about, rather just me actually liking the story.
Long story short, I went in with low expectations, and I came out moderately satisfied.
Three major problems I had with this film were: 1) Disney is taking the Pixar approach now of forcing emotion through loss and death, 2) there was a grossly underdeveloped group of semi-major characters, and 3) it overall felt like a re-hashing of a Scooby-Doo episode.
First, Pixar has this strange habit of killing characters or artificially creating a sense of loss so that the audience emotionalizes with the film. Maybe its a Lasseter thing because it’s popping up in Disney animation now too (the past three Disney animated features have all created a major sense of loss in the last ten minutes of the film). Before those, take for example Monsters Inc. (2001). In the final moments of the film, the audience suddenly has this big scare that Sully will never see Boo again after her door is shredded. Never fear, though! Mike is able to reconstruct the door and allow his buddy to re-visit his toddler pal just before the credits roll. Heartwarming, isn’t it? But wait, didn’t we just see this again? Big Hero 6 closes off a portal, and poor Hiro will never be able to see his buddy Baymax again after it closes. Once again, looks like events work out just perfectly so that he can rebuild the robot and restore his programming so that they can continue having adventures together. This death scare ending is also seen in Finding Nemo (2003), WALLE (2008), Toy Story 3 (2010), Tangled (2010), Brave (2011), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), and Frozen (2013). Admittedly, it’s a solid tactic to force the audience to buy into the story. It gains sympathy and interest for what’s taking place on screen, but in reality it’s an empty sense of loss. The loss of Tadashi — one of the few characters in the film that is actually somewhat developed before he is killed off — pales in comparison to the loss of Ellie in Up (2009) that Carl experiences very early. However, maybe it’s not fair to compare this film to Up given that the strong emotion that opening montage provokes is rarely found to be executed so quickly and expertly in any film. Take then Ratatouille (2007), a film that contains the death of two characters, but the difference is each take place from the outset of the film, so there is no artificial, forced sense of loss, nor is any character’s action or motivations really driven by these deaths. A wonderful story follows without any part of the plot hinging on impending loss. Clearly, it’s possible for Disney Animation (currently under the control of Pixar staff) to execute a story without reminding its audience of mortality, so that’s a change I’d certainly like to see in the future.
Another issue I had with this film is that several of the characters remain incredibly underdeveloped over the course of the film. As I mentioned before, the character of Tadashi actually quickly works his way into favor with the audience before he is rubbed out. It seems like the writers wanted so badly for us to accept and embrace Tadashi before they killed him that they forgot to develop the rest of the story after his death (which is a major 2/3 chunk of the film). I honestly have a difficult time recalling each of the characters’ names in Hiro’s band of crimefighters, pointing to their lack of presence in the film and the origin story of this group. Fred, Honey Lemon, Go Go, and Wasabi, the four others in this band of six, simply seem to exist so that we can follow Hiro as he struggles through coping with the loss of his brother. The problem is that the film is a self-described “origin story,” so focusing instead consistently on struggling through loss confuses the identity of the movie: is it a film about a single character’s maturation or about how a group of characters came together to form a super team. Clocking in at 102 minutes, it really doesn’t have time to be both. It’s attempting to do so makes the time fly by, and ultimately leaves the audience feeling not even the satisfaction of a cliffhanger, but the disappointment of a film that never found what story it wanted to tell.
Finally, what I felt was the strangest qualm I had, and I only noticed this after the credits had rolled, was it seemed as though this was a revisitation of the Scooby-Doo concept. A group of kids gather together with a robot replacing the canine in order to solve the mystery of who is behind the crimes being committed. For crying out loud, they take a mask off of the villain. If that doesn’t scream “zoinks” then I’m not sure what will. Don’t get me wrong, I love Scooby-Doo, but would you really pay $20 to sit and watch an hour and a half of a reincarnation of those meddling kids? Maybe its an unfounded, opinionated criticism, but once I noticed the similarities, the film lost a lot of depth for me.
All-in-all, as I said before, it’s a mediocre film in terms of story. In terms of business, Big Hero 6 is doing nicely domestically, crossing its $165 million budget in stateside gross this past weekend. Internationally, it’s accumulated approximately $225 million, according to Box Office Mojo. It’s no Frozen, nor is it even hitting the numbers Maleficent put up this past summer, but with little competition ahead these next few weeks in terms of family fare, the film should do plenty of business. It’s beautifully animated, especially the fluffy, spongy Baymax, but for what it is, the money it has earned thus far is a little more than it maybe deserved. It was an enjoyable feature that I hope Disney has the decency to resist making a sequel to.