Short-story author Anton Chekhov once wrote:
Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.
I have a lot of respect for stories that lay out the pieces and then use all of them. A good example recently is Guardians of the Galaxy, in which the protagonist’s motivation is entirely represented by a cassette tape (scenes of which neatly bookend the movie). John Lasseter’s films for Pixar and Disney also tend to be very good at this; the villains are driven by a motivation that seems obvious in hindsight, and the heroes save themselves not by finding a convenient gadget but by discovering something about themselves. Nothing’s left on the table. Nothing’s pulled out of thin air. Plenty of room for foreshadowing and plenty of opportunity for the themes of the story to be suggested and interpreted instead of stated outright. Lasseter’s stories are often themed around toys or monsters or racecars or Santa’s elves or other kid-friendly subjects, but the messages apply to all ages. A story which lacks the finesse to handle this well – in which things just happen, and people just react – is just a kids’ story.
Big Hero 6 is a kids’ story.
Before the film even begins, we already know Baymax the big cuddly robot. All the TV commercials have emphasized two fundamental things about him: that he’s a balloon who can reinflate himself when he gets punctured, and that he acts drunk when his battery runs low. So then all through the rest of the film, as we see Baymax fly and Baymax shoot rocket-fists and Baymax scan the city and then Baymax fly some more while carrying five people, I kept waiting to see what happens when his battery runs low again … but, no, nothing; that was just for the laughs in the one scene you see in the commercial. And then finally at the climax of the film there’s a scene where precious moments are lost lamenting the fact that there’s no way to push Baymax through space toward a target. “If only someone had a balloon,” I kept thinking, “then you could just poke a hole in it…”
Meanwhile, the story as a whole is about two people who have each lost a loved one. The bad guy seeks revenge, while the good guy renounces it … except, no, the good guy doesn’t really have any reason for revenge in the first place. He lost his loved one through an accident, not because of any meaningful action on the part of the bad guy. What caused that accident, anyway? (We never find out.) And why is the bad guy so dedicated to revenge? We only met him in one scene before he was revealed to be the antagonist. He didn’t look like he had a dark side. He didn’t even have time to mention this person who supposedly was his entire life, whose loss drove him over the edge. It reminded me a little of Frozen, in which – at a pivotal moment in the story – one of the characters all but says, “Guess what? I’m the bad guy,” with absolutely nothing leading up to that revelation.
Don’t get me wrong – the film contains a handful of moments of pure joy: the first visit to the “nerd school”, Hiro’s demonstration, and Baymax’s first flight. These made the film enjoyable. But I’d also like to have seen teammates and an enemy with real personalities and motivations, and I also wanted to see Hiro take something he learned earlier in the story and use it towards his final showdown with the bad guy. Without that, everyone’s just reacting. I expected more than that from a film with Lasseter’s name on it.