Among Disney’s selection of modern animated movies, Big Hero 6 is criminally underrated. Marvel fans may occasionally bemoan Disney’s influence on the MCU, but the House of Mouse’s purchase of Marvel Entertainment in 2009 did at least produce the wonderful Big Hero 6. Based on the little known comic of the same name, Big Hero 6 tells the story of young Hiro Hamada, who teams up with his deceased brother’s college friends and a giant white cushion to reveal a conspiracy and take down a shady businessman. Naturally, the group achieve this by using their scientific and engineering know-how to create a series of wacky superhero suits and gadgets.
Big Hero 6 earned a wide range of plaudits from fans and critics, praised for its slick animation, colorful cast of characters and an emotional, grounded story foundation onto which the superhero action and comic book antics are layered. This success culminated in a huge Oscar win for Best Animated Feature, fending off stiff competition from How To Train Your Dragon 2. In addition to a slew of loving reviews and awards nods, Big Hero 6 turned a decent profit at the box office and was the highest grossing animated movie of 2014, although it should be noted that no Pixar films were released during the year.
Given the across-the-board success Big Hero 6 enjoyed, it’s somewhat surprising that there hasn’t been a proper sequel. Instead, the franchise (and its original cast) were transferred to the Disney Channel for a TV series that followed on directly from the film. Compared to other modern Disney animations, this is a strange fate for such a successful film. Wreck-It Ralph made less money on a similar budget, and yet Ralph Breaks The Internet hit theaters earlier this year. The reason Big Hero 7 (?) hasn’t happened also can’t be to preserve the integrity of the original, otherwise the TV series would’ve never been produced. In addition to the lack of a sequel, it could also be argued that Big Hero 6 has, for some reason, faded from the public memory more than the likes of Wreck-It Ralph and Disney’s Pixar output have.
For this reason, Big Hero 6 is perhaps Disney’s most underrated modern animation, despite being so successful upon release, and there are several key qualities that often get overlooked while Ralph is breaking the internet or Elsa sings “Let It Go” for the thousandth time. Firstly, Big Hero 6 takes far more risks than the average animated venture, especially those released under the Disney umbrella. In addition to a fairly comprehensive plot based around corporate espionage and vengeance, the impact of Tadashi’s death on Hiro reverberates throughout Big Hero 6 in quite a profound way for a “kids’ movie” and the addition of Baymax allows the story to touch upon the subject of mental health, while also providing a cute merchandise-shifter that makes everyone cry.
Big Hero 6 is perhaps also the best example yet of Disney and Marvel working harmoniously. Core comic elements are given an animated makeover and a sprinkling of Disney magic, but without dumbing down the more mature elements of the story or its darker moments. In a similar way, Big Hero 6 blends Japanese and Western cultures to great effect with its San Fransokyo setting, honoring the source material while still proving a more familiar locale for viewers in the U.S.
Achieving that delicate balance between a family-friendly animation and an intense action-packed superhero movie is a fine art, and one of Big Hero 6‘s crowning achievements. Unfortunately, this might also be the reason the film seems to have slipped out of the mainstream consciousness in recent years. Big Hero 6 doesn’t neatly fit into a single category; too cartoonish and kid-friendly for most of the superhero crowd and too intense and serious for the usual Disney contingent. While sitting perfectly positioned between these two genres may have aided Big Hero 6 in appealing to different crowds, it also means that the Oscar-winner doesn’t have a natural home and could be difficult to spin out into a multi-film franchise.
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