From the promos, you’d be justified in thinking that Disney's Big Hero 6 belonged to the set of movies that might as well go by the name "Pixar Challengers." They are funny, compelling, and well animated, and they've also got a complexity and a heart that transcends your standard animated flick—the kind of heart that's made Pixar what it is, and which earned Up its Best Picture nod at the Oscars.

'Big Hero 6'
Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

'Big Hero 6'

Movies like this include How To Train Your Dragon, The Iron Giant (directed by Brad Bird, responsible for The Incredibles), Lilo & Stitch, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie, and more—this is just the short list. All these movies are, somehow, more than the sum of their parts—more meaningful and affecting as a whole than just as "moving scenes."

Most children's animated movies lack this quality—whatever it is—and end up as cringe-fests in retrospect. (Try watching Shark Tale or any Shrek after #2 and see what I mean.)

Going into Big Hero 6, I was excited to see if it would fit in with all those other movies. So it's a supreme bummer to report that it isn’t. Big Hero 6 ends up just being a lot like a really good movie.

We’ve got a spunky 14-year-old super-genius Hiro as its hero (aha, the movie insists, get it?). Hiro resembles Spider-Man before the death of Uncle Ben: brilliant, but lazy and opportunistic, preferring to use his skills to win robot fights rather than to make the world a better place.

'Big Hero 6'
Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

'Big Hero 6'

His brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), who might as well have been named “Foil,” is altruistic, thoughtful, and passionate about his research. He's passionate about the medical assistance robot he's developed, named Baymax (perfectly voiced by 30 Rock's Scott Adsit).

After an accident seems to destroy one of Hiro's revolutionary inventions (and takes Tadashi with it), Hiro gets caught up in the mystery of why it all happened; Baymax gets caught up in the mystery of how he can best care for Hiro.

The movie's most glaring problem also illustrates its deepest problem: even from the first five minutes, the dialogue is so expository that it's a challenge to get a handle on any of the characters. This is the kind of movie where people say things like this: "Mom and Dad aren't here anymore, they died when I was three, remember?" (To his own brother! Which, at least in my opinion, is an immediate and irreversible KO from the realm of Pixar Challenger.)

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They also say things like, "You took everything from me . . . and now I'll take everything from you." The background characters never materialize into anything more than just that: background characters.

Hilariously, the character of Go-Go (Jamie Cheung) is in character, appellation, and exact appearance the kind of thing The Lego Movie satirized through the character of Wyldestyle. (I kept wanting to ask, "What, is she a DJ?")

The point here is not just that the writing is bad—it is, the writing is, I mean, it's bad—but that there's a distance between the film's creators and the on-screen people and events. Almost every good moment in the movie seems Xeroxed in from an earlier, better animated flick. It’s like the script was written by a committee of board executives who'd just spend 72 hours watching the best animated movies of the past 15 years, then read Save the Cat, and then got to brainstorming. (The film has over seven credited writers, so this is not a far-fetched theory.)

There's the question of the morality of robots and their capacity to be used as a weapon even if they don't want to be (lifted from Iron Giant), and family drama involving a functional new member of the family (from Lilo & Stitch), and a character design almost traced line-for-line from The Incredibles (if Disney didn't own both films I could imagine a potential lawsuit), the aforementioned structural similarities to Spider-Man, the whole Weird Science-esque lab tour (drawn from Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, but played straight, which feels very weird), the flying sequences from How To Train Your Dragon (as with the Incredibles objection, I'd believe that the scenes were just recolored with a robot instead of a dragon) . . . the list goes on.

Tropes do exist for a reason—and I think a movie could come out tomorrow that has all that stuff I just described and still be better than Big Hero 6. Here is why: though all those themes and moments listed in the movies above were great, they were great in the context of that specific movie. So The Iron Giant is more than just the power of a chill-inducing robot rampage scene—the oomph of that moment is the payoff of a movie that spent 60 minutes valuing its characters qua characters, and developing our emotional investments.

But Big Hero 6 never uses all its tropes in a new way, or does anything with them, it just . . . has them.

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'Big Hero 6'
Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

'Big Hero 6'

This is the product of a writing process with a corporate checklist prerogative. Big Hero 6's defining qualities are its visuals—both of the futuristic East-West hybrid city of San Fransokyo and its humor. It boasts some of the best physical comedy in a kid's movie in the past ten years. Some storyboard artist on the team is, throughout the movie's cliched writing and borrowed moments, preaching a sermon on Three Stooges revivalism, and it's working.

Baymax is this film's core, the metaphorical curl on the forehead of the little girl; when he's the star of the show, it's great, but when he's not, it's a drag.

Similarly, the antagonist's character design—the way he moves and seems to haunt the screen, how he flows in and out of the shot like a flood, the way the camera stays trained on his surreal Kabuki mask while the background zooms by around and in front of him—it's all amazing. That is the kind of stuff you can't find anywhere else. If Big Hero 6 had managed to make its characters or writing half as exceptional as its physical humor or visuals, I'd be championing it for weeks.

So the movie ends up being a good time without ever really being a good movie. It’s a great movie to take kids to see; if my criticism sounds harsh, it's only because Big Hero 6 isn't one of those movies where adults will enjoy it as much as kids.

This one falls staunchly into kiddie territory; given that I think the readership here is mostly adults (I think first graders would have a hard time parsing my semicolons), it's fair to say that this movie isn't a must-see in the same way that Cloudy With A Chance or The Lego Movie or Up was.

But temper your expectations and focus on the movie's good qualities, and Big Hero 6 could be super fun.

Caveat Spectator

Baymax starts listing off the effects that puberty will have on Hiro; Hiro stops him before he can list where specifically Hiro will be growing hair. A character dies in an explosion off-screen, but it's enough that it'd scare younger kids. The movie's got action to it, but none of it is especially violent beyond hit-throw-stand up-repeat—certainly no one dies in the proceedings.

Jackson Cuidon is a writer in New York City. He tweets sporadically at @jxscott.

Big Hero 6
Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(23 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG (For action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements.)
Directed By
Don Hall, Chris Williams
Run Time
1 hour 42 minutes
Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung
Theatre Release
November 07, 2014 by Walt Disney Animation Studios
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