Big Hero 6 tells the story of what would have happened if Japan had won World War II. Set in San Fransokyo (a blend of California and Kanto), a young boy who is also a genius must use his knowledge of robotics to defeat somebody who is even more knowledgable about robotics. In this robot versus robot clash, the boy learns that simulated affection is an adequate substitute for human affection because aren’t humans just organic robots?
Big Hero 6 is an eerie film. Cartoonish enough to avoid setting off the audience’s uncanny valley gag reflex, the CGI is so expressive, fluid, and realistic enough that you can’t help but wonder if this is where all films will eventually end up. Will audiences always want to see real people expressing real emotions? Or will CGI faces be enough to satisfy us?
The same question is being played out in the plot. Hiro (weirdly pronounced by Genesis Rodriguez) is a teenager who graduated high school when he was 13 and therefore knows everything, especially about robotics. He and his brother — also a robotics genius — are orphans, which you know because Hiro makes snarky one-liners about how his parents are dead.
While Hiro has been making robots that can win underground robot fighting tournaments, his brother has been making a giant, cuddly medical droid that can diagnose any problem and spray an appropriate remedy. When the brother passes away and Hiro’s brand new robot is stolen, Hiro teams up with the medical droid to save the day. The medical droid has detected that Hiro’s brain chemistry is out of whack, on account of going through puberty. Thus, Hiro is in need of the medical droid.
What the medical droid doesn’t realise is that it is in need of karate skills in order to defeat the evil person who has stolen Hiro’s robot. Thus, Hiro reprograms the robot as a fighting machine in order for the medical droid to get over this disability.
The robot makes a point of not being able to grasp or experience sentiment, and yet Hiro’s entire journey through this film is to form an attachment to the robot. The robot plays footage of Hiro’s dead brother, the robot gives hugs, the robot effects a smiling face… but all of these things are calculated activities designed to influence Hiro’s brain chemistry. Both the robot and Hiro are ‘corrected’ through technological fixes, through reprogramming of various kinds.
This is a fun film. It’s bright, shiny, and very funny, but the pervasive positivism is weird and probably reflects what we actually think about the grieving process: that it’s a hormonal imbalance that needs to be fixed. The image of the robot taking over the duties of caregiver are becoming more comfortable, and the film seems to make a point of making the robot the primary source of affection in the movie. At the same time, here were CGI models taking the place of actors, causing the audience to relate to these fabricated creatures as if they were human. The simulated actors performing a play about simulated emotions.
Go see the film; it’s a laugh. Then weep that this is the future and we got what we wanted.