The Betrayal of Hiro Hamada

written by David Steffen

Note before you read any further that this article will definitely include spoilers for the Marvel/Disney movie Big Hero 6, so stop now if you don’t want it spoiled. (It was previously reviewed here, as well as an essay about Baymax) If you haven’t seen the movie, I would recommend it! It is one of my favorites–fun, funny, flashy, action-packed, and with an overall very likeable cast of characters. The purported protagonist of the movie is the focus of this article: Hiro Hamada.

This is also a followup to a previous article “Is Baymax Really Compassionate?” focusing on the character of Baymax.

The course of this movie has a lot of ups and downs for Hiro. He starts the movie out as a bored teenager who has graduated from high school several years early and fills his bored spare time illegally gambling on black market bot fights, using bots of his own invention. His brother Tadashi helps him find more productive ways to channel his inventiveness by getting him to join his own college for gifted inventors, a dream that is abruptly cut short with an explosion at the college that kills Tadashi and their beloved Professor Callahan. During the long grieving process Hiro discovers the healthcare companion robot Baymax that his brother invented, and Baymax tries to help him find closure over his brother’s death in various ways, including by helping him investigate the cause.

As the movie goes on, in many ways Hiro finds more than just a nurse in Baymax, but a friend. Hiro spends much of his time apparently convincing Baymax that dressing up as superheroes and engaging in increasingly dangerous behaviors is helpful for Hiro’s mental well-being.

A major turning point of the movie is when Hiro and Baymax and the rest of the team discover who is responsible for Tadashi’s death and Hiro orders Baymax to kill him and Baymax refuses, which is the only point in the entire movie when Baymax says no, drawing a boundary and telling Hiro that he can’t cross it. Hiro reacts by forcing Baymax to follow his order by removing his healthcare companion programming chip so that the only programming left to him, the combat programming that Hiro had given him, leaving him a frightening shell of himself, an automatic killer. When his full programming is restored to him, Baymax reasserts this boundary and they end up working it out, Baymax apparently forgiving him for it.

I do find it troubling that the movie seems to give Hiro a pass on this. It’s understandable that Hiro was tempted to do this, considering he is in the throes of grief at his brothers untimely death. But the fact that he sees Baymax’s boundary, which is clearly stated, and effectively alters this intelligence, which he had shown signs that he considered Baymax a friend. It would be like asking a friend for something, and when they say no, you forcefully give them a lobotomy and then make them do it anyway. I don’t think that’s simply something that should be so easily forgiven with no consequences, just because Baymax is an artificial being. It is in Baymax’s nature to be forgiving, but I don’t understand how their friends aren’t more troubled by Hiro’s cavalier disregard for other people’s boundaries. And, like is too often the case in real life, Hiro Hamada’s predatory tendencies are forgiven and forgotten by everyone around him because he is considered a genius and accomplishes impressive things.

Maybe that’s why there hasn’t been a second movie (albeit there is a TV show), because it might be a hard sell for a kid’s show to be about the Trial of Hiro Hamada.

Is Baymax Really Compassionate?

written by David Steffen

Note before you read any further that this article will definitely include spoilers for the Marvel/Disney movie Big Hero 6, so stop now if you don’t want it spoiled. If you haven’t seen the movie, I would recommend it! (it was reviewed here previously) It is one of my favorites–fun, funny, flashy, action-packed, and with an overall very likeable cast of characters. The most likeable character in the story is the topic of this essay: Baymax.


Baymax, in his own words, is a “personal healthcare companion.” He is a prototype designed by Tadashi Hamada, a resident of San Fransokyo, who died tragically young in a building explosion before he could do more than private experiments on the prototype.

After his death, Tadashi’s brother Hiro finds the robot in their shared bedroom and Baymax with his medical skills discovers that Hiro is grieving and attempts to help him, by connecting him with his and Tadashi’s mutual friends from a college of advanced technology, and by helping him find the person responsible for Tadashi’s death.

Baymax develops more and more of a superhero-persona as Hiro tries to reinvent him as a powerful superheroic juggernaut with martial arts powers, jets, and projectile fists. Baymax goes along with this on the thin premise that this is all part of Hiro’s treatment to prevent depression and largely goes along with whatever Hiro wants until Hiro asks too much and asks Baymax to take a human life and Baymax refuses. Blinded by grief, Hiro removes Baymax’s nurse chip and the rest of Hiro’s friends narrowly prevent Baymax from killing while he is not himself. This is a major turning point in the movie as Baymax draws a personal boundary and refuses to let Hiro cross it, not allowing Hiro to access his programming chips again afterward. But in the end Baymax forgives him and they join forces again to win the day, and Baymax even gives what can be considered a selfless act to save Hiro’s life (while also doing his best to prolong himself).


Throughout all of this, Baymax is very empathetic, funny, sweet, and helpful. Hiro’s well-being is his primary concern, as much of his actions in the movie are justified by helping Hiro find closure, as well as combating depression with adrenaline rushes. Baymax’s programming is focused around caring for others and it shows in the way he nurtures his team, including acting as a flotation device when the whole group drives a car into water, and then helping them warm up by generating his own heat.

There’s no question that Baymax is likeable. But, is he likeable because he can’t possibly be otherwise? Is he simply a product of his nature? He was designed to act as a nurturer and healer, does that mean that he is actually compassionate, that he is a good person?

He certainly is a nurturer and healer in effect–he never harms a human being in the film, and others are often in better health or better mood because of him. Even when he’s not directly working in a clearly healthcare-related way, his attempts to empathize bring him closer to the people who surround him. In one scene, as he is watching fireworks with Hiro, Hiro has his legs extended in front of him and swings his feet back and forth in an idle motion, and Baymax imitates him in a show of connecting with him.

But, deep inside, is Baymax really compassionate? Or is it merely that he can’t help but take compassionate actions? Does Baymax feel anything or is he just a process of his programming?

I think there is some evidence that Baymax goes outside of his programming in the course of his film. In particular, the fact that he is so easily convinced to take Hiro on dangerous actions, to a degree that I don’t think is fully plausible if healthcare is his only concern. I think that if that were true, then Baymax, instead of giving in to almost all of Hiro’s demands, would be questioning Hiro’s increasingly risky behavior and whether it signals some kind of mental condition that needs treatment for the safety of himself and others.

These questions have often crossed my mind since I watched this movie, and more and more I have come to the conclusion that: it doesn’t matter. When we deal with our fellow human beings, we can’t see into their minds, we can only judge a person by their words and their actions. Baymax is no different. Or, if he is different, he’s simply easier to judge as having a compassionate effect because it’s easier to take his actions as not having ulterior motives since we know what he was designed for.


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?”