Stephen David Miller

Startup cofounder, AI researcher, podcaster, person, etc.

Review: Big Hero 6

When I saw the trailers for Big Hero 6, I had zero desire to seek it out. Techie kid and his giant goofy inflatable friend turn into superheroes? It looked like Disney was trying to cash in on the Marvel magic while simultaneously getting some cheap How To Train Your Dragon boy-and-his-pet cuteness in the mix; but since dogs, dragons, and aliens had already been used, they went for the Michelin Man. Kids won’t care about the particulars, just make sure he falls down a lot and makes funny noises.

I’m glad Chris was adamant about reviewing this film, because it would have been a huge shame to miss. Big Hero 6 was fantastically entertaining — an easy contender with the LEGO movie for my favorite animated film of the year. It centers around Hero, a gifted hacker whose brother urges him to apply to a robotics lab and put his skills towards loftier aims than personal gain. Enter the inflatable Baymax, a robotic nurse with infinite reserves of patience and a refusal to leave until you are satisfied with his treatment. Far from being the contrived Stay Puft Marshmallow Man my knee-jerk cynicism expected, the character is absolutely inspired: he’s earnest, naive, and a constant source of (uncannily accurate) humor about the limits of robotics. The relationship he forms with Hero is on par with any between Toothless and Hiccup, but with an arguably more interesting dynamic: he’s a blank slate, a vehicle for good-intention with no motive. It’s up to Hero to use him for good.

If the relationship is the centerpiece, the supporting details really make the film. The setting, San Fransokyo, is brilliant: what could have been a one-off portmanteau becomes a totally well-defined universe (unlike some other universes depicted in big-budget movies this weekend…). Every detail is carefully considered, and there’s a genuine sense of geography which would put Godzilla to shame. Supporting actors are just barely two-dimensional enough to keep adults laughing while keeping kids entertained, and even if the plot and villains are a little cookie-cutter, the energy and message make it impossible not to root for this film. It’s a charming counterpoint to both the anti-tech activism here and the one-guy’s-violent-genius-makes-him-a-superhero simplicity of the Marvelverse down south. Each character’s talent brings a unique strength to the film, but heroism is about where they choose to put it.

See my review on Letterboxd