November: Big Hero 6

I figured it would be nice to get light with this month’s movie of the month and there aren’t all that many movies as light, colorful and exciting as Big Hero 6 (2014).

Big Hero 6 is the story of a middle-school or early high school boy inventor whose nanobot invention is stolen by a mystery super villain. Along with his deceased brother’s four college friends and a robot nurse, the boy, Hiro, solves the mystery of the stolen nanobots, the super villain, and the super villain’s missing daughter. Baymax steals the show with his face based on a Japanese bell, and his gait inspired by a toddler walking with a full diaper.

Okay, okay, it isn’t entirely light and chipper. The main character is surrounded by a pile of dead relatives. His brother is blown up and their parents are mysteriously out of the picture, presumably dead. This is a Disney cartoon, the parents are supposed to be MIA so that the kids can discover themselves and not have to rush back for bedtime. Hiro does have a loving aunt played by Maya Rudolph who seems to have become a mother figure before she was ready to be “motherly.” She’s still the fun aunt who does take care of Hiro well, although he doesn’t have any problems getting around her light authority.

Big Hero 6 is the product of Disney’s acquisition of Marvel. Disney animation was looking at the properties that were newly available for adaptation and came across a comic called Big Hero 6. The comic property of Big Hero 6 apparently is only loosely related to the film, the names of some existing characters were used but the setting of San Fransokyo and the origin story were cinematic inventions.

It makes sense that Disney would take comic books to translate into animated films. From the earliest days of doing animation, Disney has shown great interest in cartoonifying popular children’s stories. First it was fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White, then it was older literary properties like The Jungle Book, and Big Hero 6 comes from comics.

It wasn’t the most well-known comic franchise to turn into a movie. They weren’t exactly capitalizing on hot IP, but using a template available to expand in whatever creative and controllable way that they could. Big Hero 6 came out the same year that Disney took a big risk on Guardians of the Galaxy as a new installment in the MCU. Guardians was another title from Marvel that wasn’t especially well known. I read a lot of comics and even had a full set of collecting cards of characters in the ‘90’s and the title didn’t ring a bell.

The Guardians of the Galaxy movies use a lineup of heroes that were not the original cast of the title, and changed a few major aspects of the characters to make them work better in a cinematic universe. In the comics, Drax the Destroyer is actually from Earth. His family was killed by Thanos and Drax is stuck in a loop of constantly trying to kill Thanos, often getting killed then showing back up, perfectly alive, back at his scheming to kill Thanos. Peter “Star-Lord” Quill’s father in the comics is not Ego the Living Planet, it is J’son, the emperor of the universe, or something ridiculous like that. Director James Gunn said he changed Quill’s parentage because he would have trouble making the name J’son sound serious and he wasn’t too attached to the original story. It was a wise choice.

While the Guardians of the Galaxy format of comedic antiheroes and a jukebox soundtrack was attempted by DC with Suicide Squad, that was a cinematic disaster. Marvel saw some things in Big Hero 6 to port over to the MCU like the Captain America: Civil War introduction to the new Aunt May of Marisa Tomei. This was notable because after decades of Aunt May being elderly and on the brink of death from slight shocks to her system, Aunt May was suddenly a generation younger, comedic, brunette and a fan of takeout food. She comes from the same cookie cutter of aunts that Maya Rudolph’s character creates in Big Hero 6.

San Fransokyo may not be a city in real life 2018 but not all Marvel movies live in the present day. The first Captain America movie and handful of X-Men (the First Class incarnation) and Wolverine movies take place in past decades and it appears that the upcoming Captain Marvel movie will do that as well. Days of Future Past, Logan and maybe Deadpool 2 take place in the future, and Days seems to have nullified the dismal future in favor of one that looks pretty similar to the present. The MCU+ viewing order merges chronologies of the Avengers movies, X-Men (excluding the original trilogy) and Spider-Man movies (Amazing Spider-Man 1 and the Tom Holland movies) in a way to make them fit into one unified film universe.

While Big Hero 6 seems mostly in the here and now, it seems that the technology in the college lab paired with the location of San Fransokyo just might place the movie in the future, perhaps even a distant future. It takes place in time where there aren’t super villains and the idea of superheroes is far fetched when Fred (TJ Miller’s character brings up the concept). Superheroes and villains seem to be something purely from the pages of collectible comic books in Fred’s man-child cave.

Another movie in the Marvel movies introduces the existence of comic books as something that tells stories of superheroes and their possibly factual or embellished exploits from a futuristic past. The titular Logan from “Logan” finds Laura has been using old X-Men comics to lead the mutant kids to safety. He is no longer a superhero and villains are no longer entities to be fought. Perhaps after years, decades perhaps, of super villain attacks, the heroes won through the attrition of baddies who are no longer a threat. Logan is a limo driver because superheroes no long have business to protect, when there is no one left as adversaries.

Through the MCU+ there have been many cities that have sustained devastation even with victories by the good guys. Aliens, gods and robots still cause serious damage to infrastructure even when they are foiled. Cities of New York (a couple of times), London, Washington DC (a couple of times), San Francisco, Sokovia, Cairo, Wakanda, Knowhere, Xandar and Stankonia have all faced pretty extensive damage in Marvel movies.

Before the future of Big Hero 6, something pretty devastating must have happened to San Francisco… more than Ant-Man dropping an office building on the pier… and Tokyo. Either the cities merged because one or both of them geographically moved to overlap each other, or they were both destroyed and both relocated to form a single city. This monumental event of destruction or of space and time must would have been a greater event than anything other than Thanos’ finger snap.

The relative lack of crime and amount of reconstruction in San Fransokyo places Big Hero 6 at the end of the MCU after the uses of superheros. It’s a bit of an epilogue for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and MCU+ . Big Hero 6 is the end, or the beginning of the end, where the superhero universe has moved from dystopia to utopia and into the kingdom of Disney animation.

Letterboxd Review

Avengers Infinity War Movie of the Month

MCU+ List

Movie of the Month List

Next Month (December): Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven. The 1960 movie, Ocean's Twelve, Thirteen, Logan Lucky and Eight will be touched on as well.

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