Big Hero 6

Movie: Directed by Don Hall, Chris Williams.

Inciting Event: Tadashi, the older brother of thirteen-year-old genius Hiro, takes him to his university and shows him the project he’s working on: a personal medical assistant named Baymax. Hiro also meets the professor of robotics, Callaghan, who challenges Hiro to stop wasting his intelligence in bot fights and instead join the program. Hiro, who has been resisting this Call to Adventure throughout the first half of the First Act, feel inspired.

There’s a difference between complex structural turning points (see Iron Man) and cluttered ones. Complex structure brings multiple lines of plot together and ties them into a single whole. Cluttered structure just piles thematically unrelated elements into the same space in the plot. Big Hero Six is regrettably inclined to the latter.

My biggest beef with this movie is that the main superhero conflict feels shoehorned in after a delightful first third of the movie about Hiro’s struggles to feel challenged, to overcome the loss of his brother, and to forge a relationship with Baymax. A large part of the reason for the shoehorning is because that conflict is set up too vaguely here at the Inciting Event. Even though it introduces Callaghan—who turns out to be the main antagonist—it doesn’t so much as hint at Callaghan’s potential for villainy. That’s okay to a point (no need to tip the story’s hand too broadly), but the worst aspect is that there’s not even a hint of Callaghan’s huge personal motivation regarding his daughter. (Even when that motivation is finally broached at the First Plot Point, it’s done in such a sidelong fashion that viewers have no idea it’s being broached.)

The Inciting Event must always ask the question that will be answered by the story’s Climactic Moment. The Climactic Moment is what ends the main conflict. Therefore, the dramatic question and the conflict should go hand in hand. Here, they do not. The Climactic Moment is about Hiro’s relationship with Baymax—which does tie back to this Inciting Event—but it is not a direct answer to anything that happens in the main conflict with Callaghan as antagonist.

Frankly, this story would have been much better had it dumped the superhero stuff and done a better job expanding upon its true heart: Hiro and Baymax.

First Plot Point: After Hiro is accepted into the robotics program, thanks to his brilliant invention of nanobots, the school blows up—killing Tadashi and (apparently) Callaghan. Again, since there’s no hint whatsoever that the explosion was caused by an outside source, this doesn’t tie in well with the Callaghan plot. At this point, this seems to be a story about a boy dealing with grief: no bad guys needed. Which means it’s thematically jarring when there turns out to be a bad guy.

Even just a tiny scene with the police indicating arson would have helped correct this problem. Or Hiro noticing something amiss (even if he shrugs it off as nothing for the time being).

First Pinch Point: Hiro and Baymax use his single remaining nanobot to discover a hidden lab, where the nanobots are being replicated by the thousands. A strange man in a kabuki mask chases them away.

And now, suddenly, a third of the way into the movie, we finally meet the main conflict. Because it is introduced so late in the story, this feels like a hairpin turn in the plot at this point.

Midpoint: After outfitting Baymax with armor and fighting skills, Hiro reencounters the man in the kabuki mask out at the harbor. He gains a clue to the man’s identity (a very weak Midpoint revelation) and teams up with Tadashi’s college friends. This does, however, signal a shift from reaction to action as Hiro outfits his friends with superhero suits so they can take on the kabuki man.

Second Pinch Point: Hiro finds the kabuki man’s location on an island. There, he and his friends see that a machine allowing objects to be transported through space is being reconstructed. They watch videos in which they learn the first human test subject for the transporter was Professor Callaghan’s daughter—and that she was lost. This is a huge bit of plot information. At this late date, however, with no significant foreshadowing or context to speak of, it ends up feeling far too coincidental.

Third Plot Point: The man in the kabooki mask attacks. Hiro gains his mask, with which he controls the nanobots (false victory), and learns the man is (surprise) Professor Callaghan. Hiro feels betrayed, especially since he holds Callaghan responsible for Tadashi’s death. He goes berserk, turns off Baymax’s “good” protocol, and orders him to kill Callaghan. His friends stop him, and Callaghan escapes.

Back home, Hiro must finally face his grief over his losing his brother and choose whether or not he will let his anger and vengeance rule him. Here, the plot momentarily returns to its true emotional throughline—and is all the better for it.

Climax: Hiro, Baymax, and his friends discover that Callaghan is going to use his reconstructed transporter to punish the man responsible for his daughter’s disappearance. Hiro and his friends fight Callaghan and render him helpless (faux climax—proving this story was never really about the outer conflict with Callaghan). Baymax’s sensors reveal someone is alive inside the transporter, so he and Hiro risk their lives to retrieve Callaghan’s daughter.

Climactic Moment: Baymax uses his rocket robot arm to propel Hiro and Callaghan’s daughter to safety before the transporter blows up. He is destroyed.

Resolution: Hiro returns to college and discovers that Baymax’s protocol/personality chip survived the explosion.

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