It’s been 10 years since Pixar’s The Incredibles made their big screen debut, and now Walt Disney Animation Studios has taken a crack at the superhero genre with their acquired Marvel Entertainment property Big Hero 6. Loosely adapted from the comic source material, this animated feature infuses that heartfelt Disney sensibility with Marvel‘s action-oriented storytelling. But as the influx of superhero films plague cinemas, Big Hero 6 presents little to differentiate itself from other superhero origin stories.
Enter Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), a brilliant 14-year-old high school graduate with a knack for mechanical engineering and robotics. (Think Tony Stark meets Peter Parker.) When his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) discovers that Hiro would rather spend his time on back-alley robot fights than putting his genius to good use, he gives him a tour of his school. Here we meet Tadashi’s classmates and fellow science enthusiasts: the tough GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung); the selfie-loving and cheerful chemistry whiz Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez); the particular yet skittish Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.); and the energetic fanboy Fred (T.J. Miller). Inspired by Tadahsi’s friends and professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell), Hiro makes it a top priority to get into San Fransokyo Tech.
However, when Tadashi is killed in an unfortunate accident, Hiro loses all focus and is stricken with depression. Upon activating Baymax (Scott Adsit), a soft spoken, paramedic robot that Tadashi had created, it is soon discovered that his brother’s death may have not been an accident. Calling on Tadashi’s classmates for help along with Baymax – each equipped with supersuits to match their scientific attributes; accompanied with the typical training montage – Hiro concocts a plan to avenge his brother and take down the one responsible.
While the inspiring first half of Big Hero 6 is a wondrous exploration of futuristic science and sincerity, directors Don Hall (2011’s Winnie the Pooh) and Chris Williams (Bolt) struggle to maintain this upward momentum, devolving the later half of the film into Marvel’s go-to superhero formula. And although the action is absolutely dazzling to watch, everything including the emotional beats the story needed to tie up to make a coherent movie are pretty one note.
The relationship between Tadashi and Hiro is unconditionally earnest, but it is Baymax who steals every scene, even when he’s low on batteries. Baymax acts as great comedic relief as well as the true heart of the story, despite not having one himself. Adsit’s delivery and tonal empathy carries weight in every line. You can add Baymax to the growing list of fantastic cinematic, sentient robots such as Bishop (Aliens), Johnny 5 (Short Circuit), Data (Star Trek), Jarvis (Iron Man), and the Iron Giant.
Sadly, the secondary heroes get put on the back burners with surface-level personalities. Fred is given some depth when we are invited into his home, but it’s unbelievable how willing these kids are to put their lives on the line for Hiro. Baymax seems to be the only one with a sense of morality. On the flip side, unlike some Marvel cinematic villains, the Kabuki masked Yokai does have a tragic back story that serves as credible motivation to understand. But we don’t get a sense of how far he’s willing to go to meet his goal.
Continuing to match Pixar’s more mature stories, Disney again utilizes adult undertones, which may go over the heads of the younger audience members. But what I appreciate the most in Big Hero 6, and what kids may find interesting, is its advocacy of science. The theme of “with great power comes responsibility” not only plays into the superhero aspect, but also Hiro’s duty as a scientist. There is a darker moment in the middle of the film that really shakes up our heroes that Hiro must overcome.
I’m happy that this wasn’t yet another “stop the villain to save the world” type scenario, but the story could have had a better sense of urgency to build the tension. The score could have used a little more work too. Coming from Henry Jackman, who wrote the score for Wreck-It Ralph – a wonderfully rich and unique sound to match the game worlds the animators created – I expected more charisma than just the typical “superhero” fair. I also wish we could have seen a little bit more of San Fransokyo. Aside from the fantastic details in the places we do visit, the city doesn’t feel cutting edge at all, especially when there are all these genius kids running around.
It may sound like I’m being awfully harsh on Big Hero 6, but I did rather enjoy it. The direction and pacing were tight, the animation is thoughtfully detailed, the heroes are very diverse and fun to watch together, and the colors are exceedingly vibrant – don’t see this in 3D, it completely destroys how much life the colors give this film. Big Hero 6 doesn’t reach to any places we haven’t been to before, but it hits every note perfectly, making it stand out as one of the better superhero origin movies to come out. And I hope we catch up with these characters again soon.
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Big Hero 6 was directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, with a run time of about 110 minutes. The film hits theaters on November 7, 2014 and is rated PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements.