Monday, November 10, 2014

Animated Discussions: Big Hero 6

When Disney acquired Marvel Comics, there was a lot of hand wringing from fandom about how Disney might effect the way Marvel tells stories, but there was also talk of the potential of combining the two media juggernauts. The first real combination was released this past weekend, with the premiere of Big Hero 6 from Disney animation, and I find it an unqualified success. Big Hero 6 combines the heart of a Disney movie, with the slick action of Marvel Comics, and the end result is a movie that is enjoyable to all ages.

Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) is the protagonist of the film. A boy genius, Hiro graduated high school at thirteen, but has no direction. His older brother, Tadashi, no slouch in the science department either, takes Hiro to his college, and shows him the potential of "nerd school." But since most superheroes (and Disney heores) are forged in tragedy, Tadashi dies shortly thereafter in a fire, and Hiro is left with a void in his life. Soon he discovers two things: Baymax, the medical robot Tadashi built, and the fact that the "accident" that took his brother's life was no accident. Now Hiro, along with Baymax and his brother's friends, must team up to stop the man who has stolen Hiro's tech for evil reasons and earn justice for Tadashi.

That description is pretty cookie cutter super hero fair, I admit, but the film is really about the relationship between Hiro and Baymax, and a, pun not intended by me, hero's journey for Hiro, starting out as a callow youth and going through stages of grief and trial into a real hero. Hiro is never a bad kid, just a kid who's too smart for his own good. But when he gets his mission, he goes for it with all his heart and brains. He combines a lot of the traits of the Disney and Marvel hero, and is likable and understandable throughout the entire movie, from his wonder at the creation he has made to the sadness of his brother's death to the rage when confronting the killer to the final beats.

One of the best ideas the movie had was to make Baymax a medical robot, a big squishy vinyl marshmallow who just wishes you to be satisfied with the care he gives you. It would be so easy to give this young kid a robot who smashes through everything and is a warrior. But Baymax, while he does learn to fight to defend Hiro, is at his heart a healer. He cares for Hiro, and while there isn't any Pinocchio imagery (we're saving that for Age of Ultron, apparently), Baymax does grow over the course of the film. He makes decisions, and when presented with a moral dilemma, he acts upon it. I have to give a lot of credit for how endearing Baymax is to Scott Adsit, who voices Baymax, for giving nuance to lines that could have been delivered very flatly and not conveyed any of the emotion, or wackily and lost something as well.

The remainder of the team, Tadashi's friends who befriend Hiro, are all fun characters, but none are as fully realized as Hiro or Baymax. Each has a defining characteristic. Go-Go (Jamie Chung) is tough and always in a hurry. Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) is the character who is always asking if these wild antics are a good idea. Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) is the character who is the emotional one, always trying to make sure Hiro and the otehrs are alright. And Fred (T.J. Miller) is the fanboy, a wild, wacky, geek who wants to have super powers. The rolls are well acted, with some great vocal work, but they serve the roll of the traditional Disney sidekicks, supporting the hero in his or her journey and adding some color, but not having their own arcs.

The design work for the film is stunning. The city of San Fransokyo is a fusion of American and Japanese aesthetics. If you are at all familiar with San Francisco, there are some nice touches, like the cable cars that call to the history of the city even in a future world. But the real highlights are the superhero armors and how well thought out the powers are. In the first scene where you meet the team, you see what each of them are working on, and there is a honest-to-gosh training montage as Hiro weaponizes that tech and the hero's train. The thought put into how those powers would work, and how they would look on screen, is wonderful, and the fight scenes are exciting and visually stunning without having the destructive terror of Marvel's more adult aimed movies; this never stops being a movie that's heart and soul is with kids, but that doesn't stop it from being a visual feast.

Big Hero 6 has a lot going for it; the combination of Marvel and Disney and creators who were involved in the international blockbuster Frozen means that the expectations here are very high. Fortunately, the film lives up to those expectations, with a movie that is a superhero experience with gorgeous visuals, characters you come to really acre about, and the world's softest robot, who I'm sure will spawn bajillions (and yes, that's a technical term) of toys. But even without considering such gross capitalism, it's a fun story with a good heart, and well worth seeing on a big screen. So, gather the kids, or just go alone like I did, and catch Big Hero 6.

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