Archives for November 2014

On Top of the World! Disney’s Big Hero 6: Review

Big_Hero_6_film_posterby Aaron Einhorn
In some ways, it’s weird to see Big Hero 6 being heralded as the first ever Disney/Marvel collaboration. We are now closing in on it being half a decade since Disney purchased Marvel, which means that every Marvel film since The Avengers has been solely produced and distributed by Disney, and we’ve seen Disney take control of Marvel-related animated series on their cable networks. Big Hero 6 is also not close to being Disney’s first work with superheroes, being proceeded by The Rocketeer, The Incredibles and Sky High.

It may be the first time Disney has brought an animated feature film to the screen that is based on Marvel characters, but to be honest, the team of Big Hero 6 bears only the loosest resemblance to the heroes from the comic pages. (So much so that Marvel has even said that they have no plans to reprint those issues, because the characters found there are not going to be the ones that movie fans are looking for.)

So, let’s get the whole issue of “the first” aside, because at the end of the day, that question is really only of interest to comic book wonks. What we really want to know is, did the studio which has brought us The Incredibles and The Avengers deliver with Big Hero 6? Read on to find out.

Synopsis

From Walt Disney Animation Studios, the team behind Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, comes Big Hero 6, an action-packed comedy-adventure about the special bond that develops between Baymax, a plus-sized inflatable robot, and prodigy Hiro Hamada. When a devastating event befalls the city of San Fransokyo and catapults Hiro into the midst of danger, he turns to Baymax and his close friends; adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago, neatnik Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred. Determined to uncover the mystery, Hiro transforms his friends into a band of high-tech heroes called Big Hero 6.

BIG HERO 6The Feature

Big Hero 6 is an interesting mix of being a classic superhero story and a fairly traditional Disney film. We have the Disney protagonist (young, orphaned, ready to go off and have their adventure), but we also have a very typical superhero origin story that could have been taken from the script for Iron Man (genius inventor finds that his technology is being used by an evil mastermind, uses technology left by his deceased family member and his own developed super suit to do battle against his own tech).

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This makes for a film that is both extremely satisfying from the point of view of action and spectacle (the scenes of Baymax and Hiro flying through the skies of San Fransokyo are right up there with those of Stark flying in his Iron Man armor, and the battles between the team and Yokai are easily as well done as those of the Avengers facing against the Chitauri), while also giving us plenty of time to explore the family dynamics and relationship between Hiro and his brother Tadashi (and then later, Baymax).

The team of heroes, including Hiro and Baymax, and rounded out by Honey Lemon, Wasabi, Go Go and Fred, round the cast out nicely, with each character having enough personality to be distinct characters, and their various super suits are varied enough to keep the heroes from being redundant. Other members of the cast have certainly enough personality to keep them interesting and make them more than just background, and they’re all fairly consistently developed, which is certainly a plus.

On the downside, one of the glaring missteps that we noticed was that the friendship between Hiro and the rest of the gang is almost completely left off-screen. We have it clearly established that they were all very good friends (and classmates) with Tadashi, and it is implied that Tadashi told them all about his genius-prodigy-younger-brother-who-has-been-wasting-his-time-with-bot-fights. There is a montage that has the potential to establish that Hiro has begun forging friendships with the rest of the gang, but their appearance in that montage is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short. Similarly, they’re present at the memorial for Tadashi, but we don’t really see them interacting with Hiro, yet by the time we get to the second act, we’re supposed to just accept that they are all the closest of friends, and that the idea of putting on super suits and fighting Yokai is something they will all just go along with.

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A lot of this is simply a result of a badly balanced script. While establishing the relationship between Hiro and Tadashi is vital, a bit too much time is paid to it, and therefore not enough time is left to create the bonds between Hiro and Go Go, Honey Lemon, Wasabi and Fred. In fact, for all that they are each developed a bit, and each character has distinct personalities and interests, we don’t see a lot of time given to any member of the team.

It’s a tough thing to balance, and certainly something that creators of other ensemble superhero films have struggled with. But one only needs to look at The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy or X-Men 2 to see where it works well. Big Hero 6 falls just a little short on that regard.

But what balances this misstep and makes the film delightful is Hiro and Baymax. Baymax is, perhaps, Disney’s most successful “cute sidekick” creation of the past two decades. He’s adorable and cute, but is also absent of the more annoying traits of the cute sidekick. Although ignorant of many things, Baymax is never dumb. His voice is calm and soothing instead of loud and grating. And he absolutely is vital to the plot, in a way that cute sidekicks never are.

Little kids will want a plush Baymax to cuddle. Older kids will want an armored-up Baymax to play with and to fight alongside the Avengers and Justice League and Incredibles. And parents will wish they had a Baymax to send out in to the world alongside their children.

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The Good

We have great action, inspired character design, and a really touching story about two brothers. Add in a villain with a complex motivation, and some great moral lessons and Disney delivers again.

The Bad

Insufficient time is given to four members out of the six heroes to make them fully-realized characters. They’re great sketches, but that’s all they are.

The Ugly

If you’re a big fan of the appearances of the Big Hero 6 from Marvel Comics, then this movie is not for you. Their names and powers are (mostly) the same, but the characters couldn’t be much more different.

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Final Thoughts

Again, Big Hero 6 is not a perfect movie, and it would be very easy to fall prey to letting this movie become a victim of over expectations. Which would be a shame, because what Big Hero 6 is, is a lot of fun. There’s a good heart-warming story at the film’s core, accompanied by some great action, incredible visuals, solid voice acting, and lovable characters.

Don’t overthink it. Sit back, relax and enjoy the film, and I think you’ll find Big Hero 6 to be a worthwhile experience. We really enjoyed it (the girls even said that they thought it was better than Frozen, which is an astonishing claim – although Christina and I didn’t think it was quite as good), and are even planning to take them to see it again.

Also, don’t forget that this is a Marvel movie. Look for the requisite Stan Lee cameo appearance, and be sure to stick around for the post-credits stinger.

Bonus

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Disney has typically included an original short film before their films, and they’ve really been knocking it out of the park with the last few animated releases. Wreck It Ralph featured the exquisite Paperman and Frozen gave us the hilarious Get a Horse. Big Hero 6 one-ups them with Feast, which is both incredibly funny and heart-breakingly sweet. The story of one man’s life through the dog he adopts – seen entirely from mealtimes. If Feast doesn’t tug on your heartstrings, then you’re made of stone.