Big Hero 6by Alex Stroup, staff writer
Big Hero 6 was a Marvel comic book series that came along at the tail end of the cyberpunk boom of the '90s. Translated to film by directors Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh) and Chris Williams (Bolt), it is inspired more by the comic book than a direct adaptation. The action takes place in an alternate universe where Japan and the United States are blended into San Fransokyo. While visually interesting—the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge are now Shinto torii gates—the result is still mostly the United Statres as decorated by an aggressive Nipponophile.
Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a young robotics genius who graduated high school at 13 but is more interested in hustling underground bot battle tournaments than using his skills towards more useful ends. His brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), is concerned about the risks of this, and is also a robotics expert. He takes Hiro with him to his lab at San Fransokyo Institute of Technology in the hopes of inspiring Hiro to shift his attention to more useful, and safe, pursuits.
At the lab, Tadashi is working on a medical robot called Baymax (Scott Adsit) that you'll recognize from all the ads and billboards. He's essentially a puffy balloon because Tadashi has designed him to be completely non-threatening, and he's been programmed to be relentless in pursuing treatment for wounds both physical and psychological.
Also in the lab are Go Go (Jamie Chung), who is working on a new mechanism for super-fast bicycles; Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) has a high-tech slicing laser going; Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) is working on matter with interesting new properties; and Fred (T.J. Miller) is a dilatente who hangs out at the lab hoping they'll invent fantastical things for him. The whole lab is run by Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell), a founding father of robotics.
In awe, Hiro does decide he absolutely must attend the school and join the lab. In what may be the weirdest academic admissions program ever, Hiro must win a robotics science fair to gain admission. This he does with great showmanship, but it is here that the movie's "Bambi's mom" moment happens, and the group is redirected into the life of superheroes ("Big Hero 6" refers not to Baymax, but to the entire group).
In a way, Big Hero 6 is an amazing feat of corporate synergy as it brings together many of the fiefdoms within Disney: Walt Disney Animation Studio and its workman writers and directors from there, Pixar leaders (who are now essentially running that shop as well), and the whole thing came to Disney via Marvel. If they'd figured out how to fit in cameos by Jar Jar Binks and Jerry Bruckheimer, then everybody would have had a seat at the table.
With something that looks so crassly commercial, made up of plug-and-play parts with an eye on merchandising more than story, it is further impressive just how good it is. The pieces aren't particularly original, but they're combined well with both a good sense of the visual and the humorous. There is real emotional heft (if also a bit too much manipulation) in a couple of scenes, and the action sequences are exciting without sacrificing comprehensibility.
Unfortunately, Big Hero 6 doesn't quite have that second "adult" layer that has come to be expected from the best of Pixar. Hiro (and to a degree, Baymax) is really the only charachter that gets any real development. Everyone else is just an attribute necessary for building out a comic book story. The ragtag team members, each with a unique skill and power. The villain driven by a single overriding motivation. There's even Maya Rudolph as Aunt Cass taking care of the kids; clueless as to what is really happening but providing minimal adult supervision (for some reason Hiro and Tadashi's parents are dead, perhaps for no other reason than to meet the minimum Disney Corporate Standard for Animated Dead Caregivers).
As such, it is hard to strongly recommend Big Hero 6 unless you're specifically interested in animation or have kids in tow—but for kids, it should be plenty of good, clean fun. There are a few moments of pretty intense danger (and as mentioned, there is a "Bambi's mom" moment) but for the most part, the young children at my screening took it all in stride.
Even if it isn't an instant classic like Frozen turned out to be last year, Big Hero 6 is fun and should have good legs, both in the theater and eventually at home. It'll certainly be easy to merchandise (personally, I'm foreseeing a lot of Baymax balloons at Disney parks). All in all, a good addition to the Disney library.
In other news, attached to the movie is a new animated short called "The Feast." Personally I just found it mildly charming, though others in the audience seemed to quite enjoy it. If watching a dog eat sloppily is a favorite pastime, you'll enjoy it as well. Though don't be surprised if some humorless animal activist group is soon issuing a press release about what you shouldn't feed to your dog.
Lastly, you may want to sit through the end credits.
- Big Hero 6 is a Walt Disney Pictures release.
- Wide theatrical release on Friday, November 7, 2014
- Directed by Don Hall, Chris Williams
- Screenplay by Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, and Jordan Roberts
- Starring Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell
- Running time: 108 minutes
- Rated PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements.
- Alex's rating: 8 out of 10