Big Hero 6 combines Disney wonder and charm with Marvel awe and action to deliver a film that exhibits the best of both studios.
Big Hero 6 transports us to the world of "San Fransokyo," an east-meets-west futuristic city where young Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) and his big brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) spend their days (and nights) inventing advanced robotics. However, where Tadashi works on robots that can help better the world, Hiro squanders his gift hustling for cash in the underground robot fighting circuit. Things change when Tadashi finally manages to inspire Hiro towards a greater goal: attending the robotics university where Tadashi and his four friends (Honey Lemon, Go Go, Wasabi and Fred) hatch brilliant new tech designs in their nerd lab think-tank.
Hiro's presentation to the school (mentally controlled micro-robots) turns out to be a massive hit; but that joy is immediately followed by a harrowing tragedy. With Tadashi gone, Hiro's life takes a downward spiral - that is until he meets Baymax (Scott Adsit), the inflatable health care robot Tadashi created as a companion for Hiro. While attempting to help Hiro overcome his emotional pain, Baymax stumbles onto the plot of a mysterious man in a Kabuki mask, who seems to have stolen Hiro's micro-bot technology. With revenge on his mind, Hiro ropes compassionate Baymax and the think-tank nerds into becoming tech-enhanced vigilantes. However, anger and pain quickly prove to be corrosive motivators for justice, and Hiro realizes (too late?) that he may be leading his new friends to their collective doom.
Marking the first real collaboration between Disney Animation and their Marvel acquisition, Big Hero 6 combines Disney wonder and charm with Marvel awe and action to deliver a film that exhibits the best of both studios - even if that mix isn't yet as refined as it could be. Still, this film takes an obscure (and strange) comic book and transforms it into something fun and refreshingly different, with loads of mainstream appeal. That's no small accomplishment.
Visually speaking, directors Don Hall (The Princess and the Frog) and Chris Williams (Bolt) have created the most innovative and sophisticated Disney animated film to date, in terms of production/character design and VFX. From the hair follicles on Hiro's head to the Eastern/Western cultural designs and odes to anime/manga packed into the layout of of San Farnsokyo, Big Hero 6 is a feast for the eyes that outclasses nearly every other animated film to come along in the last few years (including the comparable Incredibles). With the addition of truly immersive 3D, the film draws viewers into the unique world around them, accenting the level of meticulous detail built into every frame. If given the option, the premium ticket price is worth it.
The action sequences are also pretty well in tune with live-action Marvel superhero movies, offering some great battles, chase sequences, and innovative use of tech weaponry that is refreshing to experience in the imaginative freedom of animation. There is a also some great visual and physical comedy - the latter of which is almost entirely mined from the Baymax character and his unique (but hilariously effective) body design. On a directorial level, the film is a strong achievement - especially when it effortlessly oscillates between action-adventure, comedy and more heartfelt character drama.
...To be fair, though, it is actually the character drama that turns out to be the only real weak point in the film. The script had many cooks (Monsters, Inc./Monsters University writers Daniel Gerson and Robert L. Baird; Frozen story writer Paul Briggs; Tangled story artist Joseph Mateo; March of the Penguins writer Jordan Roberts and Don Hall himself), and the result is a lot of inspired narrative turns and gags offered in episodic increments. While each "episode" of the film's story is entertaining in its own right, what's missing from the bigger picture is a consistent thread of development that deepens and enriches the narrative as the characters progress through it.
Sure, we see Hiro and Baymax up to several episodes of hijinks; and we see them bonding after things like a first flight or a cliched moment of emotonal conflict between the two; however, somewhere in the superheroic action bits and comedy indulgences the real emotional narrative (Hiro coping with loss) feels much more extraneous and understated than it should. Therefore, when the film tries to go for some deeper emotional resonance in the climatic showdown, we are ultimately left watching the characters' emotions from a distance, rather than being affected by them. Unlike the best of Pixar's work, Big Hero 6 can't quite tug hard enough at the heartstrings to avoid being anything more than high-quality (if not slightly superficial) superhero escapism fun. It's not a huge drawback (most viewers will be happy with simple action/comedy entertainment), but with some more narrative finesse, this film could've been truly exceptional.
Although the movie itself may not be a bonafide Disney classic, the Big Hero 6 team certainly establishes themselves as here-to-stay icons, and leading that charge is no doubt Baymax. Similar to how Frozen made two new Disney princesses permanent additions to the cultural zeitgeist, Big Hero 6 has created an indelible new character in Baymax, and 30 Rock star Scott Adsit (Pete Hornberger!) proves to be a perfect voice for the lovable inflatable robot. Using his comedic timing and experience, Adsit vocally inspires some memorably enjoyable and lighthearted moments - not to mention more than a few quotables that will surely penetrate pop-culture. (Fist bumping and "blowing it up" will never be the same...)
The rest of the cast is pretty good - even if their respective characters can't match the lovable appeal of Baymax. Ryan Potter is great at giving Hiro life and personality, as is Daniel Henney at endearing us to Tadashi. Damon Wayans Jr. (Let's Be Cops) and T.J. Miller (Transformers 4) have dynamic voices that make Wasabi and Fred fun (and funny) supporting characters; Jamie Chung makes Go Go sound pretty badass ("Woman up!") and it's only the delivery of Genesis Rodriguez (Casa de Mi Padre) that sounds a little off (Latin-tinged pronunciation coming out of a blonde valley girl). Even third-tier characters like Hiro's Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph), robotics scholar Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell) and industrialist Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk) get quality character actors infusing them with energy and emotion. A pretty great cast all around.
In the end, Big Hero 6 is family fun, action and adventure suited for any age (or gender). As stated, it represents the high potential of mixing Disney with Marvel, while still doing enough of its own thing to offer viewers a fresh journey and interesting characters to meet. No matter what the reception of the film, Baymax is no doubt here to stay - but judging from the final product, the entire Big Hero 6 team has a bright future (and plenty of sequels) ahead.
Big Hero 6 is now playing in theaters everywhere. It is 108 minutes long and is Rated PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements.
Want to hear more in-depth discussion of the film? Then listen to our Big Hero 6 episode of the SR Underground Podcast.
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