Film Review – Big Hero 6
Big Hero 6
Walt Disney Animation has been making interesting choices in the last few years. The studio known for traditional fairytales has stepped out of the box as of late. Wreck-It Ralph (2012) tried something different, and even Frozen (2013) took well-worn tropes and flipped them to a certain degree. And now comes Big Hero 6 (2014). Adapted from the comic book by Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle, the film takes two themes audiences love – superheroes and robots – and mashes them together to create a colorful entertainment. But while this a fresh look at those topics, Big Hero 6 also gets bogged down by the limitations that come with them.
Let’s start with the good. One of the more interesting elements is in the world building. The screenwriters (Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, Jordan Roberts) and directors (Don Hall, Chris Williams) developed a hybrid of American and Japanese aesthetics. The city of “San Fransoyko” looks like San Francisco, but with Japanese and other Asian influences sprinkled all over. Technology has advanced considerably in computer animation, and the backgrounds rendered look near photo-realistic. A particular chase scene is inserted for the obvious purpose of showing off the city, and rightfully so.
I also liked how our protagonists are science nerds. Go Go Tomago (Jamie Chung), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), and Fred (T.J. Miller) are college students – most of them anyway – with a passion for science and technology. The main character Hiro (Ryan Potter) is the smartest of all. A prodigy who isn’t old enough to drive a car, Hiro is so advanced he could enter college and be right in step with everyone else. When he enters a science expo in hopes of being enrolled, his project captures the attention of everyone in the room. How many times have we seen a film tell kids it’s cool to be interested in science and education? Heck, even Peter Parker had to be bitten by a radioactive spider before he made science fun!
The best thing here is Baymax (Scott Adsit). A plus sized, inflatable robot, Baymax has the cuteness level turned up to eleven. Built by Hiro’s brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), Baymax was created for the purpose of healing. The best scenes are when Baymax tries to treat characters for illnesses, even when they don’t have any. The design of the robot is humorously inefficient. Big and slow, I wonder if Tadashi realized Baymax’s size wouldn’t be helpful if he physically cannot get into certain areas. No matter. All in white with only two black dots and a line to distinguish a face, there is a very lovable quality in Baymax. When the adventure begins and Hiro drags Baymax with him, Baymax goes along with a mundane acceptance. He is simple minded, but that’s what makes him so endearing.
As fun as the characters are and as striking as the art direction is, the narrative gets trapped beneath the restrictions of the superhero genre. This is an origin tale, showing how Hiro and his friends use their smarts to become crime fighters. We’ve seen this before, and as the plot progressed, my attention started to wane as we see the characters take the familiar journey to become their alter egos. I enjoy a good superhero movie, but we’ve seen so many in such a short amount of time that filmmakers need to take risks if they want to stand out. This is why sequels (The Dark Knight, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Spider-Man 2) are often better than the first outing, because writers and directors aren’t handcuffed with how their characters came to be. Instead, they can focus on telling an interesting story.
Disney has always been a sentimental studio. They like to tug at our heartstrings and bring out our emotional sides. The problem with Big Hero 6 is that, in an effort to draw a reaction, the filmmakers went with the most overused, cliched way to get it. It’s hard to describe without giving away spoilers, but I will say that it involves “removing” certain characters from the plot. Not only do they exploit this choice, they do it no less than three times. It’s the central motivation for both the main protagonist and antagonist. The effect is watered down, instead of a making a dramatic emotional impact it feels cheap and easy. I walked away thinking those elements were sappy rather than moving.
I’m sure many people, young and old, will go into Big Hero 6 and enjoy themselves. I just wished there was more going on here. Disney has had a history of risk taking. This is the same studio that created a feature-length film doing nothing but interpreting classical music (Fantasia). In terms of the superhero genre, it’s not as good as The Incredibles (2004), and in terms of robot characters, it’s not as memorable as Wall-E (2008). Don’t get me wrong, I had a fun time, but ask me again in a few years about great animated movies, and I’m not so sure I’d pick this.