Review by Daniel Blackaby July 6, 2022
Baymax! (Christian TV Review)
Verdict: A head-scratching slog of a show that seems designed to normalize sexual ideologies and explore adult themes rather than entertain its young audience.
About The Movie
Disney’s Big Hero 6 (2014) is a surprisingly well-crafted and engaging superhero story that can be enjoyed by parents and children alike. The story continued with Big Hero 6: The Series (2017-2021). Now it’s returning once again, but perhaps not in the way most audiences expected. Gone are the exciting superhero elements as Baymax—the inflatable nurse robot sidekick—receives star treatment. This is not the first time Disney has taken an iconic character from a beloved movie, placed him in a different context, and then overshadowed the story by sparking a heated conversation about sexuality in children’s entertainment (cough…Lightyear…cough).
Baymax! is a minimalistic, low-key show that would likely not have caused much of a ripple if not for several controversial elements. We’ll get to those below. First, about the show itself. Baymax! consists of six short episodes (each one clocks in at no more than 7 or 8 minutes, excluding the credits). The show is episodic rather than a unified narrative, with each of the first five episodes focusing on a different patient Baymax assists before bringing them all together in the finale.
There are a few heartfelt moments and some occasional humor (the spunky elderly lady in episode 2 is good for some chuckles). But for the most part, it’s as exciting as you might expect a story about a robot helping people with medical problems to be. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the show’s target audience.
In episode one, Baymax helps a driven single mom overcome the external and internal pressure to be a workaholic and instead look after her own mental health. In episode two, he assists a grieving widow. Episode three features a 12-year-old girl getting her first period. There is nothing necessarily wrong with any of these scenarios, but by stripping the story of the superhero elements that endeared it to children and focusing instead on more mature themes that go beyond a young viewer’s own experience, it becomes a show that some adults will praise and most children will tune out. These issues are consistent throughout the entire season, but the most egregious are episodes three and four, which take the show from a head-scratcher to something more nefarious.
On the Surface
Sexuality: A transgender character, a same-sex relationship, and an episode focused on menstruation (see below for more).
Beneath The Surface
Engage The Film
Episode three is about Sofia, a 12-year-old girl who gets her first period while at school. As I discussed in my review for Turning Red, normalizing menstruation is not concerning. The controversy is less about the subject matter itself than about whether entertainment aimed at young children is the most appropriate vehicle for exploring it. Far more concerning is the way sexuality is included elsewhere in the episode.
Much of the episode occurs in a clearly marked “All Gender” bathroom. Baymax goes to the store to by tampons and asks other customers in the aisle for recommendations. One of these shoppers is a transgender character (wearing a shirt emblazoned with the pink, white, and blue transgender flag to remove any ambiguity).
Episode four is about Mbtia, a gay man carrying on his family’s fish soup business, who suddenly develops fish allergies. Mbtia resists all change. He continues to serve fish soup (no bread or sides) just like his father did. “Sticking with tradition,” notes one customer in a playfully condescending tone. Realizing that change is inevitable, Mbtia confesses, “But fish is all I know. My parents were courageous, but I’m just not.” Baymax comforts him, “Fear is a natural emotion when dealing with change.” He challenges him to be courageous. It’s a wholesome theme but also an overt metaphor for Mbtia rejecting tradition and embracing his homosexuality.
Mbtia has a soup spoon, inherited from his father, that is inscribed, “Love. Life. Fish.” The spoon becomes a symbolic representation of “tradition.” Later in the episode, the spoon snaps, leaving just “Love. Life.” The implication is that loving life ultimately comes from breaking free of restrictive traditions. The episode is bookended by a romantic subplot with another male vendor. In the opening scene, Mbtia is left flustered by him. In the final scene, after finding his courage, he successfully asks him on a date. The final moment involves the vendor offering Mbtia an apple. Whether any deeper meaning is implied (the character is an apple vendor, after all), the scene is a fitting ending to the episode about rejecting restricting tradition and relishing in the proverbial forbidden fruit of sexual liberty.
Setting aside the issues of sexuality, the show contains a positive message about the power of helping other people. Baymax assists individuals of different ages, genders, social classes, ethnicities, sexualities, and even species (the last patient is a cat). His kindness leaves a trail, both in a literal sense (he gives red lollipops to everyone he helps) and a figurative one. When Baymax needs help himself in the final episode, all the characters he has assisted rally together to help him.