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Film Review: Big Hero 6

My first review is an animated Disney superhero movie – who’s surprised?

If you haven’t seen this one yet, you should. It’s still in theaters, and it’s great. Big Hero 6, directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, is based on a lesser-known Marvel comic that Disney dug up and reinvented. Ryan Potter and Daniel Henney lend their voices as brothers Hiro and Tadashi Hamada, who are half-Japanese-half-Caucasian American (Potter and Henney are themselves of mixed heritage) living with their aunt in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo. While the brothers’ mixed background is implied, both Hamada parents are deceased and never shown. I suppose actually depicting an AMWF couple on screen would have been too much awesome for one movie…sigh.

Superhero is one of my favorite genres. Unfortunately, it’s also a genre that habitually fails the Bechdel test, Deggans rule, etc., even in the rare cases when the women or minorities are among the superheroes themselves (#ChoForBatman). Big Hero 6 bucks this trend. The team includes not just one, but two female superheroes who, like their male counterparts, are STEM research students at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology who use their skills to invent superhuman powers for themselves. Along with a huggable robot named Baymax, adorably voiced by Scott Adsit, the team attempts to apprehend the villain responsible for Tadashi’s death. The women fight alongside the men and (gasp!) actually shout tactical instructions to one another on occasion.

Big Hero 6 doesn’t exactly smash the patriarchy – all exploration of emotional depth is assumed by male characters, primarily through Hiro, Tadashi, the villain, and even Baymax. However, the film does include diverse representations of womanhood, from the traditionally “feminine” Honey Lemon to the more “badass” Go Go (who actually uses the phrase “woman up” in one wonderful scene to encourage Hiro), without implying that either woman is more or less capable than the other or any other character. If the film struggles with the Bechdel test, however, it passes the Deggans rule with ease. The team is composed of African-American, Korean-American, Hispanic-American, and Japanese-American individuals. The lone white male member of the Big Hero 6 team, whose life goal is to become a fire-breathing lizard, is not a science student but rather a somewhat dim-witted “science enthusiast” who serves primarily as comic relief.

When’s the last time we got all that from Marvel?

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5 Comments

  1. While I agree that it was very refreshing to see such a diverse superhero team, especially now when comic book movies are so popular AND homogenous [insert joke about three blonde-haired blue-eyed actors named Chris], watching Big Hero 6 still deeply bothered me.

    I suppose it’s because given the chance to showcase an Asian country and its people Disney opted to instead offer up a more “palatable” alternative, that being a deeply Americanized picture of what was originally a fully Japanese cast. If you have the time, I wrote about all that in much more depth in two separate blog posts:

    http://culturewarreporters.com/2014/11/07/order-up-parable-asian-viewers-big-hero-6/

    http://culturewarreporters.com/2014/12/05/5050-fallacy-big-hero-6-firefly/

    All in all, though, it’s great to see someone else who not only loves Selfie but appears to really care about diversity in media. I’ll be sure to check back in from time to time for sure.

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  2. Hi Evan,

    Thanks for reading and sharing your opinion!

    I read both your great articles, and I agree that Disney should have taken this much farther – for example, I would have loved to have seen Hiro’s parents (presumably a white mother and fully Japanese father) on screen. I studied abroad in Japan in college and would also have appreciated more authentic representation.

    That said, I can’t complain about Hiro and Tadashi being half, as I so rarely see characters that represent my own family on screen. I guess I would have taken more issue with it if I was familiar the original story and thus really felt the extent of the whitewashing (*cough* 47 Ronin *cough*).

    Here’s to hoping for a samurai movie without Tom Cruise! ;)

    Cheers,

    Em

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    • I definitely see what you’re saying about enjoying the fact that Hiro and Tadashi were half-Caucasian half-Japanese as they were representative of, like you said, your own family. And that’s definitely indicate of how important diversity is in all media, because all we really want is to see some part of ourselves reflected in what we see in pop culture. I mean, think about all of the Black children [and adults] who saw Wasabi and felt included in this fun animated flick, that’s pretty great!

      The reason it rubs me the wrong way, and I totally apologize if I’m repeating what I wrote in the posts which you told me you read, is that the decision was made to diversify an all-Asian cast. Hollywood execs, or whoever it was, thought that this was the film to make more ethnically diverse. There are dozens upon dozens of all-White casts but this is the movie we’re singling out.

      But again, it’s tough. Clearly the Hamadas resonated with you, as I’m sure Honey Lemon’s character struck a chord with Latino people, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a step in the right direction, but maybe a step taken from the wrong starting point.

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  3. Pingback: TV Review: Fresh Off The Boat (season 1 finale) | Fiction Diversity

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