When I was in junior high, geeks were making choices. Did they want to be the eggheads and confined to the junior high version of the nerd herd or did they want to break out and be cool. Being cool mean studying a little, but more likely mean dropping down a level or two and taking easy classes while skipping class, doing drugs and even getting pregnant. In classrooms, the geeks easily got bored. When the school district decided it was better to integrate scholastic classes (as opposed to team sports), things were almost unbearable and I read full novels and did my homework in class. Of course, when I was in high school Asian Americans were expected to be head geeks and we weren’t cool. We didn’t have heroes who were Asian or Asian American, but the new Disney Pixar “Big Hero 6” corrects that and I couldn’t be happier for this new generation.
“Big Hero 6” centers on a 14-year-old orphaned Japanese-American genius who has his brother Tadashi and his aunt looking after him, but he is a handful. After graduating from high school at 13, he gotten into a sweet little con game that takes the legal competition of robot fights from the local schools to the back alleys and adds an illegal element–gambling. When the adults get wise to his con, Hiro’s brother comes on a motorcycle and saves him, but that’s temporary. They both end up in jail with their aunt bailing them out and then resorting to stress eating donuts.
There are, I’m guessing, a lot of nerds and geeks–particularly at Caltech, who can fully related to Hiro’s dilemma. He’s smart, but he also wants to be cool and he has found a way to make money. His robot and the one belonging to the mark, Yama, are much better than anything you might build for the Bot Wars, but this is also a cartoon with character that began life in the Marvelverse and are now sliding into the family-friendly universe of Disney. Turn up the cute and cuddly (and merchandising possibilities) and turn down the adult situations and super-etched muscles.
There are a few things that sets this group of superheroes and their origin story apart from the usual.
We have a less than model minority family. Good kid older brother Tadashi (Daniell Henney) is trying to bring going-bad-kid-in-the-fastlane younger brother Hiro (Ryan Potter) and Tadashi decides he should take the wayward Hiro to his school, San Fransokyo Institue of Technology, and introduce Hiro to his friends. Tadashi’s friends are a diverse group. You have a cute positive woman with long blonde hair and glasses called Honey Lemon (Genésis Rodriguez) who is a chemistry genius (although the chemistry in the movie’s introductory scene doesn’t make sense). Then there’s a gum-chewing, short-haired tough adrenaline junkie Asian American gal, Go Go Tomago (Jamie Chung) who is working on make a faster bike. Her name probably really should be Go Go Tamago. The broad-shouldered neat-freak who works with lasers is called Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) because he got wasabi on his shirt one time. Then there is Fred (T.J. Miller) the comic book expert who is the school mascot by day and the school mascot by night. He also has some secrets in his family closet although he’s prone to sharing too much information like how long he wears his underwear.
Tadashi’s research project is an inflatable health care robot, Baymax, that has a figure like a sumo wrestler but the marshmallow cuddly factor and his chubbiness and helpfulness are the source of much of the physical comedy.
Tadashi and his friends are under the supervision of Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell), the head of the robotics program at SF Tech.
When Hiro, helped by Tadashi and his gang, presents his science project, the one he hopes will get him into SF Tech, we meet the pioneer entrepreneur and cost-cutting Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk). Yet while the presentation ends well and wins Hiro a chance to enter SF Tech, a fire kills both Tadashi and Callaghan. Eventually, Hiro suspects that Krei caused the fire and stole his invention. During his investigation he mistakenly activates Baymax who contacts Tadashi’s friends. Together, they go after Krei who they believe is the mysterious kabuki-mask wearing dude who now is the master of a micro-bot army.
This strays from the original Marvel comic book but as a kid-friendly and multicultural origin story, I found it fun and refreshing. Sure the hero is still a boy, but both the women are brilliant in their own way. The team member with the street savvy is a gal. They have a slacker dude who is not totally stupid but provides comic-book commentary and has his own surprise or two. This is a superhero comedy in the same tradition as “The Incredibles” and yet totally different. I’m hoping that there will be sequels and they will be worthy ones. Go with your multicultural crew, go with your comic book geek pals, go with your family and even go with your cosplay friends. I expect to see Big Hero 6 costumes at the next SD Comic-Con. Get in on the fun now. I’ve already bought my own Baymax and will probably buy a GoGo Tomago as well.
The movie follows a fun animated short, “Feast,” which while making dog moms and dads cringe everywhere, still has a happy ending and plenty of the adorable factor, particularly if you like Boston Terriers.