One important side effect of Big Hero 6, the new Disney animated film which opens areawide on Friday, is the extent to which it makes science and tech cool. College kids becoming superheroes to fight bad guys in a futuristic San Francisco-Tokyo hybrid would seem to be enough, plotwise, to secure the attention of most 6- to 12-year-olds, but it's nothing most millennials haven't already seen 100 times in Power Rangers. However, STEM savants at an elite tech institute inventing their own high-tech heroes based on their individual areas of research is more original and more fun, and it suggests to kids that superheroism isn't necessarily the exclusive province of Marvel Comics.
Hiro Hamada is a robotics prodigy, but at the film's outset he's long lost his academic drive and spends his time pitting advanced combat bots against lesser opponents in the San-Fransokyo underworld. His saintly older brother convinces him to apply to the local tech institute, which he also attends, and Hiro is smitten. After an inexplicable accident at a new-student showcase, Hiro wises up to a criminal conspiracy among the techy luminaries and barons of San-Fransokyo and enlists his brother's nerdtastic friends as allies.
Hiro's biggest ally, though, is his brother's latest project, a Pillsbury Doughboy-esque artificially intelligent nurse named Baymax (who has doubled as the film's central marketing device). Hiro equips Baymax, Matrix-style, with kung fu uploads and 3-D-printed armor, but Baymax remains a lovable, huggable friend committed to helping people in any way he can. In an ingenious creative choice, Baymax assumes the physical and mental attributes of an extremely drunk person when his battery is low, and though this seems aimed at the chaperone demographic, it turns out young kids are just as tickled.
Note: This isn't Pixar-ish magnificence on display, but the film does well what a lot of Disney animated films do well: provides strong concept, distinctive (if not quite mind-blowing) visuals, diversely appealing characters, and some instructive morals for American — and increasingly, global — youth.
Disney and Pixar, both under the creative supervision of mastermind John Lasseter, have been raising the bar on children's entertainment since the '90s. And though Big Hero 6 likely won't make Lasseter's pantheon, good on the Disney team for envisioning a world where young people admire people like Steve Jobs as much as, say, LeBron James.