For all intents and purposes “Big Hero 6” is an animated superhero movie aimed at kids too young to sit through the violent theatrics the Marvel universe offers up. The main difference, and the thing that makes the movie special, comes in the form of an empathetic blowup doll who could give the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man a run (or maybe just a waddle) for the title of Cuddliest Causer of Mass Destruction.
Set in San Fransokyo, the story focuses on fourteen-year-old robotics genius Hiro Hamada (voice of Ryan Potter). His brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) is also a whiz kid but has taken a different route. Hiro spends his time making robots to fight in illegal bot wars while Tadashi studies at the “nerd school” and has built the inflatable health care companion Baymax (Scott Adsit). Realizing his potential is being wasted Hiro puts his big brain to work to create microbots with a Borg-like collective consciousness that impresses the university’s Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell) so much he offers Hiro a scholarship. Before he can enroll, however, a tragedy claims the life of his brother. Compounding his heartbreak, Hiro discovers his technology has fallen into the wrong hands. Finding out who took the tech leads Hiro down a dark path of revenge, but with the help of Baymax and Tadashi’s friends Gogo (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) and Fred (TJ Miller) the young genius can get some closure and discover his inner super powers.
There are set pieces in “Big Hero 6” that rival anything from the Marvel imaginations. Characters fly, breath fire and do battle with lasers. Buildings are leveled and there a giant time travel hovers in the air, threatening to transport everything in sight to another dimension. It’s big, impressive stuff, but the thing people will remember when they leave the theatre is Baymax, a rudimentary inflatable robot who walks like a baby penguin. His “nonthreatening huggable design” makes him look like a roly poly vinyl snowman with ovals for eyes. He’s nondescript, like a bloated crash test dummy, but he is the heart and soul of the movie.
Without him “Big Hero 6” would mostly be a series of slickly rendered—the animation is really lovely—action sequences, catchphrases and plot threads about revenge and life lessons. With him, however, the movie has real heart. The balloony Baymax doesn’t just rescue Hiro’s humanity; he gives the movie a large dose of it as well.