ESSAY: Tadashi Hamada’s Legacy

written by David Steffen

This is an essay contemplating the Marvel/Disney movie Big Hero 6 (reviewed here), an excellent animated superhero mystery comedy with one of my favorite characters of all time: Baymax, the inflatable healthcare companion android who gets (improbably) recruited to be part of a superhero team by teenage genius Hiro Hamada. I have posted previous essays about Big Hero 6: Is Baymax Really Compassionate? and The Betrayal of Hiro Hamada. This will include spoilers for the movie, do go see it if you get the chance!

Baymax, one of the main characters of Big Hero 6, is a robot built by Tadashi Hamada, designed to be a healthcare companion. From Baymax’s tone of voice, health scanners, medical database, to his easily sanitized soft and non-threatening exterior and gentle way of moving, everything about Baymax’s design is meant to make him good at this one purpose. Baymax is a prototype that Tadashi intends to change the world by making it easier to provide general healthcare services–a robot like this could compress in the corner of an apartment building or a school and provide health services on demand, or be a long-term and compassionate caretaker for people who would otherwise not be able to live on their own due to age or disability.

Tadashi is still young at the beginning of the movie (maybe 18 or 20 years old?), and enrolled at what his brother Hiro calls “nerd school” for advanced students which seems to be focused on practical applications of cutting edge technology. Tadashi is so surrounded by advanced students with big ideas that even with the invention of Baymax, Tadashi doesn’t stand above his classmates.

Tadashi dies a young and tragic death, apparently before he took his plans for Baymax to the next level to try doing beta testing and eventually find a way to finance broader production, and with the destruction of the school where it was produced it seems unlikely that anyone else has the information to produce any more. Except Hiro. After Tadashi’s death, Hiro discovers the Baymax prototype, and much of the rest of the movie revolves around the connection between the two–Baymax tries to help Hiro recover from the death of his brother, and when suspicious details start to arise Hiro uses Baymax’s compassion and willingness to help to start a technology-powered superhero team with him as the inventor and strategic leader. He reinvents Baymax from the slow and gentle balloon animal he is, to a powerhouse with (removable) armor.

I can understand why Hiro feels a connection with Baymax. Baymax is amazing, and compassionate, and funny. I want him to be my friend, too. And it certainly makes a great movie. But… I can’t help thinking about how Tadashi left behind everything that Hiro would’ve needed to finish the incredible humanitarian legacy that Tadashi had started, that was part of Tadashi’s original design, and all part of why Baymax is so amazing (his empathy and compassion are part of his medical programming, even though they also make him a great friend). Hiro never even seems to consider this possibility, focusing only on himself and on his own needs, and selfishly keeping Baymax to himself, and even reinventing him as a combat robot when starting from scratch with a new robot would honestly make more sense–the inflatable body alone is a major combat liability.

He could have helped finish his brother’s vision of a world where healthcare could be available to everyone (not that there wouldn’t be downsides to it as well, mostly involving job losses in the healthcare industry, as happens in any industry when robot labor becomes a possibility), but something like this could make healthcare available to everyone universally–and not just in developed countries, Baymaxes could go to famine-stricken countries and could perhaps help develop solutions to famine and other major issues that cause health problems. I don’t know how much a Baymax costs to build but I’m guessing the R&D involved to make the first one far outstrips the cost of making one based on existing blueprints.

Instead Baymax is an individual, making a difference where he can in his home city. And I love Baymax, but it makes me sad to think that he has not been able to fulfill the purpose he was designed for. And I think it would make Baymax sad too, he wants nothing more than to help, and he could help so many more people that way.


written by David Steffen

Big Hero 6 is an animated action comedy science fiction movie released by Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2014, which is loosely based on the Marvel superhero team of the same name.

Hiro Hamada is a 14-year old high school graduate  living in San Fransokyo (a combination of San Francisco and Tokyo apparently?), who spends his free time building robots to fight on the illegal underground bot fighting circuits.  His big brother Tadashi shows him to the advanced research lab where Tadashi has been spending his time inventing a balloon robot with nursing capabilities, and Hiro quickly makes friends with the other young researchers as well as the lab’s director Robert Callaghan who invites Hiro to apply to join the lab by entering something in an inventing competition.

Soon after, a disaster at the lab takes the life of Callaghan and Tadashi, and Hiro is left to pick up the pieces of his life.  But Baymax was in Tadashi’s bedroom at home at the time of the accident, and activates to help Hiro cope with the loss of his brother.  Hiro recruits Baymax’s help, and the help of his friends, to get to the bottom of the accident at the lab.

Baymax is lovable and hilarious from the first minute he’s onscreen, in part because of his unusual architecture as an inflated balloon built around a flexible skeleton, built to be nonthreatening to help with his healthcare functionality.  Even as he gets pulled further and further away from his core purpose for the sake of the story, Baymax’s focus is always on helping Hiro heal from the loss of his brother.  This is both funny and sad.  Funny, because Baymax is always so well-meaning, he is always looking out for others at all times, that he interrupts action scenes to verify that what he is doing is helping Hiro feel better.  Sad, because he is so trusting and Hiro honestly takes advantage of someone he calls a friend, by pretending that a quest for revenge is equivalent to grief counseling.

Spoilers in this paragraph: I normally don’t discuss big plot points in reviews, but in this case I wanted to talk about a particular point that did bother me, although I like the movie as a whole.  This ongoing choice to take advantage of Baymax comes to a head during one of the major climaxes of the show when Hiro asks Baymax to kill in the name of his quest for revenge, and Baymax can’t harm a human being because of his programming.  Instead of trying to understand this, Hiro removes his healthcare programming chip, which is like lobotomizing a friend because your friend doesn’t agree with you.  I feel like that was more than just a mistake, that was a mind-rape of a friend who trusted him, and while the movie made it clear that was a bad choice, I felt that it glossed over the consequences.

But overall, loved the movie, lots of fun action, lots of funny stuff.  Great for kids too.  Since we watched the movie, my 4-year-old asks me on a daily basis “Do you remember the Baymax movie?”