*** (3 stars)
d – Don Hall, Chris Williams
w – Jordan Roberts, Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson (Based on the Characters Created by Duncan Rouleau, Steven T. Seagle)
pd – Paul Felix
m – Henry Jackman
ed – Tim Mertens
p – Roy Conli
Cast: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph
In reading other reviews of Big Hero 6, the 54th feature film from Walt Disney Animation Studios, many critics seem to be pestered by the film’s association with Marvel Studios. The Marvel brand has, in this day and age, become a classification of its own. The movie has flying jetpacks, a gigantic city under destruction, a superhero who self-sacrifices and a Stan Lee cameo – all things that have become tiresome tropes in big-budget Marvel moviemaking. Many have identified these aspects to explain their drudging experience.
This was not the experience I had. The experience I had was one of childlike glee and stupefied respect; respect not for comic books or longstanding properties but for the Disney artists who have made, I feel, their best film since the criminally undervalued Meet the Robinsons (2007).
Big Hero 6 is based on an obscure comic book with the same name that was discovered by director Don Hall, who previously directed Winnie the Pooh (2011). Mr Hall pitched the idea to the studio in the wake of The Walt Disney Company’s purchase of Marvel in 2009. He co-directs the film with Chris Williams, who previously directed Bolt (2008). Interestingly, the comic and the film have very little in common outside of the characters’ names. Mr Hall, Mr Williams, screenwriters Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, Jordan Roberts and the Disney story team have instead created a joyous mix of deep empathy, captivating characters, unnerving situations and some Anime principles (particularly that of Katsuhiro Otomo and Hayao Miyazaki) that is better than any movie Marvel has ever made.
14-year-old Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a technological prodigy who wastes his knowledge on beating people at robot fighting for money, without a care for his own future or in using his abilities to help others, much to the consternation of his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney). Hiro and Tadashi’s parents are dead, which is clearly the basis of Hiro’s lack of ambition. This changes when Tadashi takes Hiro to his university, or in Hiro’s words “nerd school”. There he meets what would become the other members of Big Hero 6, GoGo (Jamie Chung), an adrenaline junkie who works with electromagnetics, Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), a neurotic neat-freak who works with lasers, Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez), who is peppy, vivacious and works with chemicals and Fred (TJ Miller), who is merely the school mascot and an outrageous comic book fan.
Tadashi also introduces Hiro to his project, a robotic healthcare companion named Baymax (Scott Adsit). He is encompassed by a puff of white vinyl, devoid of emotion yet full of personality and has been programmed to offer a variety of healthcare selections from chest defibrillation to Band-Aids. He activates when he hears that a person is hurt and will not rest – or in his case, deflate – until the patient is completely satisfied with their care. He is the soul of Big Hero 6 and an inspired CG creation.
He serves as a sibling for Hiro, someone who will always protect him but who Hiro also needs to educate in the basic customs of society. He’s The Iron Giant meets Totoro. Through a series of plot machinations, which are admittedly not as sophisticated as other superhero films like The Incredibles (2004), they try to uncover the craven motives of a mysterious dark man in a kabuki mask, who Hiro believes stole is his own science project, Microbots, which he developed as his entrance exam for the college.
Big Hero 6’s primary intent is to deal with loss and how to move passed it. When people don’t have love they do stupid things; we know this. But what makes the film so invigorating is that Mr Hall, Mr Williams and the Disney artists transcend this as a mere message and spin off into boundless fascinating directions. In a time when most of us in mainstream society are so ruled by our emotions – our wants – that we become numb to common sense, Big Hero 6 awakens us to the power of thought, seeing things from a different angle and using ideas and understanding to connect with others.
Big Hero 6 is also one of the most culturally mindful American animated films, with many of the characters being from different races. The film is set in the city of San Fransokyo, a hybrid of San Francisco and Tokyo. It’s a gorgeous conception, headed by the always exceptional Paul Felix. Again, many critics have dismissed this aspect of the film as erroneous and unprogressive because no real context is given as why these characters or their city are the way they are. I find this terribly disturbing. For me, the fact that there is no context is the progression.
Disney had their biggest financial hit of all time last year with Frozen (2013), a film I commend with reservations. Big Hero 6 is, however, the level that I always wanted them to be at. Their late arrival to CG animation has, I feel, always given a tense quality to their character rigs and a stiffness to their effects – something that’s not the case with Dreamworks or Pixar. Those concerns are now no-more. Both the character and effects animation in the film are exquisite, the art direction is gorgeous, the layout is rousing and the pacing of the story is well handled with many surprisingly quiet/mundane moments. Big Hero 6 is a delight and I would like everyone at the studio to know that I am satisfied with my care.