Action Adaptation

Non-Threatening, Huggable Film Review: Big Hero 6

November 7, 2014Ben MK

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Real squeal...

Respectively, Disney and Marvel have already cornered the market on lovable animated characters and superheroes. And if Big Hero 6 — Disney's CG-animated adaptation of the niche Marvel Comics miniseries — is any indication, they'll soon have the market cornered on lovable superheroes as well. Granted, it's not new territory, especially for anyone who's seen a little film called The Incredibles. But Big Hero 6 has a secret weapon, something The Incredibles didn't have — Baymax, the non-threatening, huggable, inflatable robot.


First thing's first: Big Hero 6 may have been born within the pages of a Marvel comic, but it's not an officially-sanctioned part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which means moviegoers shouldn't expect any surprise appearances from characters like Iron Man or the Hulk. That being said, the film is more or less your typical superhero origin story — only "Disneyfied" — and there are definite moments in the movie that will call to mind those familiar archetypes (not to mention a very special cameo from a certain Marvel icon himself).

The story centers on 14-year-old whiz kid Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), whose parents (like those of many a soon-to-be-superhero) died when he was very young. Since then, he and his older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), have lived with their aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) in an apartment above her cafe in San Fransokyo, the fictitious, neon-lit metropolitan hub where the movie takes place.

Being the robotics genius that he is, Hiro prefers the excitement of competing in underground bot-fighting tournaments to the boredom of attending classes. But he has an abrupt change of heart when Tadashi gives him a tour of his robotics lab at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, where Hiro becomes acquainted with his older bro's eclectic group of friends, Go Go (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) and school mascot Fred (T.J. Miller), as well as the campus' resident robotics pioneer, professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell).

Each of the students has their own pet project, and Tadashi's just happens to be Baymax (Scott Adsit), a robotic personal healthcare companion whose gentle demeanor and soft vinyl exterior (looking as though he's waddled out of the same gene pool as the Michelin Man, the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man) belies his inner technological wizardry. And soon, Hiro too begins working on his own pet project: pint-sized robots he calls microbots, which he's able to control using brain waves and manipulate en masse to create whatever his imagination can conceive.

But disaster strikes when a fire engulfs a portion of the school, claiming Tadashi and professor Callaghan's lives. Of course, this tragedy serves as the catalyst that causes our heroes to rally together, for Hiro soon learns that the fire was deliberately set. And he calls upon Baymax and the rest of Tadashi's friends — outfitting them each in custom-made, super-powered costumes — to catch the culprit: a mystery man in a kabuki mask, who has now taken control of a swarm of Hiro's microbots and intends to use them for his own nefarious intent.

Big Hero 6 comes to us courtesy of directors Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh) and Chris Williams (Bolt), as well as some of the producers and writers behind such recent hits as Monsters University, Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph. In short, it's got quite the pedigree of talent behind it. And while it may not be a Pixar production, it is bursting with many of the same sensibilities that Pixar have been known to bring to bear in their films, from the thoroughly emotive character designs (this time, with a tinge of anime influence), to the engaging environments (San Fransokyo is truly a sight to behold), to the storytelling (which doesn't shy away from dealing with subject matter you rarely find in kids' movies, such as dealing with grief).

At the same time, however, it isn't perfect. Aside from Hiro and Baymax, most of the other characters only barely qualify as such, with little provided in the way of their backstories and motivations. Instead, most of them — as impressively-animated as they are — exist primarily to fulfill the requirements of the plot or to fill out the ranks of the titular superhero team.

Still, the film is extremely entertaining from start to finish, with ample humor that both the young and the young-at-heart will find appealing, as well as its fair share of exhilarating action sequences. Most importantly, the core of the movie — the relationship between Hiro and Baymax — is solid, and it's handled as effectively as one could have hoped for. In terms of how much it tugs at viewers' heart strings, it ranks right up there alongside iconic big-screen pairings like Elliott and E.T. or Hogarth and the Iron Giant. This is, after all, a movie about the connection between a boy and his big, huggable robot. And in this regard — and in true Disney fashion — it doesn't disappoint.

The Bottom Line Big Hero 6 marks the first big-screen collaboration between Disney and Marvel, but rest assured, it certainly won't be the last. Because while the movie may not soar to the stratospheric heights as some of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it does achieve what it sets out to accomplish, delivering a fun and visually astounding adventure that strikes a rousing balance between action, humor and heartfelt emotion. Hardcore Marvel fans may experience mixed feelings about the Disneyfication of the property, but when the result is a character as funny, as sweet and as endearing as Baymax, it'll take a superhero's resolve not to be swayed.  Ben Mk

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