WRITTEN REVIEW – Big Hero 6 (2015)
Big Hero 6
Directed by: Don Hall & Chris Williams
Written by: Jordan Roberts, Dan Gerson & Robert L. Baird
Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr. & Genesis Rodríguez
Music: Henry Jackman
Release Date: January 30th 2015
Over the past few years, the Walt Disney empire has been expanding with its purchase of The Muppet franchise, LucasFilm, Pixar and, of course, Marvel Comics in 2009. One of the reasons for this, supposedly, is that while Disney have had an impeccable track-record appealing to the young female demographic with their acclaimed Disney Princesses, they’ve not had nearly as much luck appealing to young boys (at least as far as marketing and merchandising is concerned). In lieu of creating characters to appeal to males, Disney simply bought them. Bold strategy.
This strategy in their in-house animation department is coming to fruition as one year after ‘Frozen‘, their biggest animated film of all time which focused on two sisters, comes ‘Big Hero 6‘ which is about two brothers. Loosely based off the Marvel comics series of the same name (very loosely), ‘Big Hero 6‘ is the first of what could potentially be an animated superhero franchise but is there enough substance to the material or, like its loveable co-lead, is it just full of hot air?
Set in the futuristic fictional city of San Fransokyo, 14 year old boy genius Hiro Hamada (Potter) isn’t utilising his gifts in robotics, instead committed to becoming an champion in illegal underground bot-fighting. However, his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) convinces him to make the most of his talents by inventing a nano-machine technology named “micro-bots”. But a freak accident results in the death of Tadashi and the theft of the micro-bots. Hiro and his brother’s robot-nurse, Baymax (Adsit) whom he has inherited, assemble a team of other science prodigies to discover the identity of the kabuki-mask wearing thief and bring them to justice.
While the “Big Hero 6” comic series was created in 1998 by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau, this animated adaptation draws most of its visual inspiration from the 2008 run by Chris Claremont as well as a few character names. The result is probably the most distant Marvel comics adaptation to date but a movie with a very unique identity.
‘Big Hero 6‘ finds its centre in the relationship between Hiro and Baymax, with Hiro having to move on after the death of his brother and Baymax literally acting as his doctor/nurse in order to help him recuperate. It’s an on-the-nose metaphor, but the relationship between the two rings true and Hiro is a likeable character with Ryan Potter getting a lot of emotions out of his vocal performance. Despite Hiro’s incredible intelligence and levels of maturity, it’s the moments when he’s forced to come to terms with his inexperience in life that are often the most compelling as he struggles to deal with the loss of his brother. The relationship between Hiro and Tadashi feels genuine with a wonderful bond between the two being established in the first 20 minutes of the movie allowing the audience to understand why Tadashi was so important to Hiro, not just as a brother but as an influence.
Of course, it’s Baymax, however, who steals the entire movie. Baymax is a masterclass in character design who is simultaneously huggable and safe, but still clumsy and cumbersome. The way he waddles around knocking furniture over, observing everything around him as well as his expressionless face is a sight to behold. Baymax’s inflatable design is inspired by real-life Japanese robots that need to be soft enough to not harm their owners or patients if used in a medical capacity and Baymax is easily the most authentic portrayal of Artificial Intelligence since the titular robot from ‘Robot & Frank‘.
There’s no indication in the movie that Baymax is capable of human emotion despite his ability to learn new things and comprehend human behaviour. Baymax simply goes along with Hiro’s plan to form a superhero team because he thinks that it’ll help Hiro’s emotional recovery. This ultra-literalism approach of Baymax is a clever screen-writing tool in that Hiro has to learn by himself what he wants to do because Baymax, despite being very functional, is a follower and not a leader. It’s held together by a wonderful deadpan vocal performance by Scott Adsit which makes Baymax one of the most lovable animated characters in a long time.
“Fist bump. Balalalalalalala”
While the relationship between Hiro and Baymax is far and away the best part of the movie, ‘Big Hero 6‘ also has four other members which make up the diverse team. T.J. Miller voices Fred, the laid-back surfer dude who is a big comic book nerd as well as a school mascot. Out of all of the team members, save Baymax, he probably gets the funniest lines as he’s the one to most wholeheartedly embrace the superhero aesthetic. Damon Wayans Jr. is a lot of fun as the neat-freak Wasabi and acts as the straight-man to the nonsense around him. Jamie Chung is the tough-girl GoGo Tomago whose also a fan of motorbikes with a punk-rock design and Genesis Rodríguez is the quirky Honey Lemon who is easily the most compassionate and thoughtful of the group.
All six make a great team with wonderful chemistry and interactions with each other. However, this great strength of ‘Big Hero 6‘ is also a weakness because it’s not until after the halfway point that the team comes together and despite their plot-specific role of helping Hiro in his rehabilitation, they don’t really contribute much overall other than providing a lot of the action-beats in the 3rd act thanks to their technological skill-set, costumes and gadgets that Hiro devises for them.
This is such a shame because the moments that they’re all together on screen really pop and they share wonderful chemistry. There are deeper and more complex characters just under the surface that are demonstrated in subtle visual moments (Honey Lemon is often the one to notice the tiny details, for example) but they’re not given much time or breathing room to expand. When it comes to their role within the story, they just seem there to fill out the roster.
This wouldn’t be so bad, but ‘Big Hero 6‘ moves at a incredibly quick pace and only clocks in at 92 minutes, including the credits. There’s no reason another 10 or 15 minutes couldn’t have been included to flesh out Fred, Honey, GoGo and Wasabi, especially their friendship with Tadashi prior to his death. Around the halfway point, GoGo says that Tadashi was their best friend, but it doesn’t come across like that with their limited interactions with him beforehand. It’s also disappointing because in a white-washed landscape of movies, to have such an ethnically diverse cast of heroes comprised of black, white, boys, girls and a robot, is just so refreshing to see on the big screen. ‘Big Hero 6‘ really needed to make the most of this and it really doesn’t.
Of course the focus of the movie is the relationship between Hiro and Baymax so naturally most of the screentime will go to that, but with the frenetic, BAM BAM BAM pacing which doesn’t allow slower moments to sink in as well as a mad-dash one-thing-after-another 2nd and 3rd act that feel incredibly rushed, ‘Big Hero 6‘ is great in the moment but light on substance upon reflection. Also, despite the finale providing a lot of emotional heft, the identity of the micro-bots thief is way too obvious, even for a children’s film. Though his/her motivation lays interesting groundwork for Hiro’s development so it’s not all bad.
If ‘Big Hero 6‘ is to be judged as a style-over-substance film, thankfully the style is brilliant with the production values you’d expect from the House of Mouse. The city of San Fransokyo along with the animation and the art design begs for a pause button whilst watching as the level of detail is impeccable with gorgeous neon-lighting, scenery, costumes and the unique spins on modern-day technology that are on display in ‘Big Hero 6‘. The merging of Eastern and Western cultures works seamlessly from the architecture to the hair styles of Hiro and GoGo and makes for an 3D animated movie that looks nothing like its contemporaries.
The colours on screen just pop, most of which coming from Honey Lemon’s colourful, explosive chemical mixtures. The first flying sequence with Baymax rivals ‘How To Train Your Dragon‘ in terms of high-speed thrills and Henry Jackman’s score is, once again, right on point. Jackman has been on a roll recently with comic book movie scores such as ‘X-Men: First Class‘, ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘ and ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘, and he does great work here combining the orchestrations we’ve come to expect while also utilising techno-beats and synth sounds. It’s something we’ve not heard from Jackman before but he’s more than up for the task.
‘Big Hero 6‘ is a gorgeous, stylish and fun animated movie that’s bound to be loved by kids of all ages. It has a very strong emotional centre with Hiro and the lovable, huggable Baymax and I’m sure the movie will resonate with children who have lost family members in the past. But its constrained run-time means that its complex emotions don’t have much time to sink in, combined with the near non-stop action of the 3rd act which also leaves the other four heroes of the Big Hero 6 team in the dust. Still, what the movie does get right, it gets incredibly right with Baymax sure to become an iconic animated character and hopefully sequels will be able to expand on the foundations established here. Though no announcements have been made for a sequel despite it being a box-office success, so who knows if we’ll see the Big Hero 6 again anytime soon.
I give ‘Big Hero 6‘, 3 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted: 3rd Feb 15