Big Hero 6 - One Thing I Would Change
In many ways, Big Hero 6 is terrific (gorgeous animation, a wonderfully original robot sidekick), and in other ways less than exceptional (some by-the-book plotting, superfluous characters and action). This said, if I could change just one thing, one issue that I think would have the biggest impact overall - it would be the emotional story of the main character, Hiro.
Building on concepts already in the movie, I’d greatly amp-up Hiro’s relationship with loss, making changes to improve the character’s inner conflict and drive. Using these adjustments, I’d also look to patch up some plot holes along the way.
Big Hero 6 starts with the Disney cliché that the main character is an orphan. This stock backstory is given a quick pass of dialogue, placing Hiro at age three when his parents died, making this overused trait additionally irrelevant, as Hiro doesn’t remember them at all, showing no emotional connection to them. It’s strange that a movie about “dealing with loss” would make this undramatic choice. Not only does Hiro seem unphased by their loss, as a funny, joyful, physically fit, super-genius kid, who aced school and has nothing but free time, he has no real troubles or responsibilities. With a loving aunt, a safe home, his endlessly supportive older brother - Tadashi, and easy and fun way to make tons of money, Hiro has less problems than more than 99% kids in the world.
It’s true that in many fantasy films, being an orphan isn’t as much obstacle as it is a ticket for adventure, where a kid with little-to-no parental guidance can run off, discover themselves. But in Big Hero 6, the lack of exploration of Hiro’s mourning is a missed opportunity to launch the story on much more powerful footing. Compare Hiro to Carl Fredricksen, the main character in PIXAR’s Up. Carl is an old man who we quickly learn is struggling with the loss of a woman he loved deeply. Learning how much he misses his wife is enough to break one’s heart. Carl is an irascible old man, with plenty of faults - since his wife’s death, he’s become cranky, bitter and stubborn. Not only do we forgive Carl these character weaknesses, we enjoy watching him all the more because of these colorful traits.
(Carl Fredricksen remembers his wife, in “Up”.)
Imagine changes to Big Hero 6’s story where Hiro loved his parents deeply, lost them a few years back, and has been acting out since because of it. This adjustment could lead to key changes improving the script overall. Needing more specificity as to who Hiro’s parents were; one obvious choice would be they were brilliant inventors - Hiro and his brother becoming the genius they are because of them. It is possible that after their passing, Tadashi created a robotic care worker as something that could have helped his parents. Conversely, Hiro deals with their loss by shutting down. Instead of heading to college, Hiro embarks on a path of destructive behavior. He squanders his talents by creating a toy robot, primarily for monetary gain. Unable to deal with loss, with unresolved anger, Hiro creates his minimalistic robot so it can’t be destroyed. Pleased to vent his anger, Hiro takes joy in his battle-bot creation demolishing all challengers.
Much of this ties in neatly with elements already in the script. As noted with Up, Hiro doesn’t have to be consistently “nice” - we can enjoy watching him act out, especially if we understand where he’s coming from. With this new set-up, when Tadashi entices Hiro to consider college, then Professor Robert Callaghan tips the scales, it can be a much bigger deal for Hiro. Now Hiro has found another brilliant, nurturing parent figure.
This new paternal mentor could mean the world to Hiro. (It may even be that Callagahan collaborated with Hiro’s parents, further connecting Hiro to this happy time in his life.)
These improvements are then amped up further after the loss of Hiro’s brother, and the seeming loss of Professor Robert Callaghan. Almost saved from his destructive tendencies, Hiro gets worse. His anger can drive him, fuel his creative efforts. This could help fix another weakness in story: in Big Hero 6 too many of the characters are inventive geniuses, who, once the story gets going, invent nothing.
In no way set up as being less intelligent than Hiro, Professor Callaghan, Go Go, Wasabi and Honey Lemon are all older, wiser, and a more supportive environment with greater resources - and yet, once they meet Hiro, he easily invents a storm around them, creating not just world-changing mind-control nanobots, AND the world’s first superhero, but SIX super heroes at the same time (expanding exponentially on the other’s previous inventions).
Yes, this is a kids’ movie, and it’s fine for Hiro to be the most brilliant and most productive character, but it would still help the film to have some explanation. While part of the solution could be making the others continually inventive, Hiro’s emotional story can provide an explanation as well: Hiro’s anger, building for years, drives him to work that much harder than everyone else.
Currently, in one of the story’s more important twists, Hiro goes from a sweet kid, to murderous. Unfortunately, this reveal of Hiro’s mindset is not believable as more than a “in the heat of battle” tantrum. Giving Hiro a foundation of anger that increases throughout the movie can make this murderous side much more believable. Unable to deal with the loss of his parents and brother, crushed to have his world-changing invention stollen, and distraught over the loss of his new parental figure Professor Callagahan, imagine how Hiro would feel uncovering that not only is Callagahan faked his death, but that Callagahan stole Hiro’s invention and killed his brother. Callagahan could even be tied into the death of Hiro’s parents.
Fueled with these changes we race towards a climax with a considerably more dramatic weight.
Abandoned by his friends, Hiro can get even angrier. Eexploring these changes further, instead of having Hiro see the error of his ways and have his friends rejoin him before the climax, we can have a climax where Hiro continues to override Beymax safety controls, directing him to kill Callaghan. This way, the rest of the Big Hero 6 team doesn’t just have to stop Callaghan’s evil pan, they also have to stop Hiro (and Baymax) before he makes a terrible mistake. In this much more compelling climactic sequence, we can imagine that Go Go, Wasabi and Honey Lemon cause Baymax to reboot in the nick of time, saving Hiro from committing murderer. It is here a restarted Baymax can provide Hiro his big lesson (one that already works well in the movie): showing Hiro footage of his loving and always productive brother, and inspiring Hro to find a more possitve way to deal with loss. This sequence could also be a great place to reveal footage of Hiro’s parents working with Callaghan - potentially in a way that allows Hiro to gain compassion for Callaghan - and his loss - as well.
Currently, Hiro sends the nanobots through the dimensional portal, as a clever, seeing things from “a new angle” idea. But with the above changes, this idea could also be tied to the issue of loss. With a new , more constructive understanding of loss, Hiro can send the microbot pieces through the portal as part of “letting go” of his invention. (In keeping with the theme of loss, one could even explore the portal being one between “life and death”... but that’s not an easy change, and could cause problems as well.) Now Hiro can better help Callaghan see there’s a more positive way to grieve, and together they can discover Callaghan’s daughter. At the last moment, Hiro can let Baymax sacrifice himself - for now Hiro can not only productively handle loss, he’s learned enough to understand as a potential choice, “letting his best friend go”. The movie’s climactic scene, as well as its resolution, are potentially much more touching now, because of the greater emotional depth that grounds it.