Movie Review: Big Hero 6
When it comes to the world of superheroes, the animated variety have largely been relegated to the realms of television, or direct-to-video releases. Oddly enough, the one animated arena they have never really cracked into has been feature animation (i.e. the films that screen in thousands of multiplexes every week).
Of those that have been released in the last 10 years, PIXAR’s The Incredibles was the first one out the door, and won acclaim from both critics and audiences. Dreamworks took a jab at the genre with 2010’s Megamind, which was almost like Superman-meets-Shrek with its anti-hero/hero plot.
When word came of Disney acquiring Marvel Studios in 2009, the majority of the public’s immediate attention turned to how the two companies would continue to handle the live-action film division. The new direction Marvel was taking already showed potential with the success of 2008’s Iron Man, but nobody could have imagined that the company would find a partner in Walt Disney Feature Animation.
Walt Disney Feature Animation has largely been known as a company that adapts books and fairy tales to the big screen, but Big Hero 6 would mark the first time they would adapt a comic-book property…albeit, one that is not as widely known.
Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a young boy living in the city of San Fransokyo (a mash-up of San Francisco, and Tokyo). Though a genius-level teenager, he seems to be unable to find a proper purpose in his life.
After the death of his older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), Hiro comes across one of his brother’s last inventions: an inflatable helper-robot, named Baymax (Scott Adsit). It is shortly after this, that Hiro uncovers one of his own inventions having been stolen. The young man intends to get to the bottom of what’s going on, but realizes, that he can’t do it alone.
Action and adventure films in animation are often a mixed-bag when it comes to Disney, let alone ones with multiple characters front-and-center. The last science-fiction-style films Disney used with this major of a dynamic, were Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Treasure Planet, both of which did not fare well with audiences. Though with the attention-to-detail in the studio system today, BH6 fares much better with its character work than those previous films.
A lot has been talked of regarding the ethnic makeup of Hiro and Tadashi’s college-age friends, an eclectic group of “nerds” with their own idiosyncracies. What is really great regarding the film, is that it doesn’t really seem that each one fits into any preconceived stereotype that many would expect a film to shoehorn them into (or at least, what a 90’s film would do). Much like how the filmmakers of Frozen did away with a lot of the tried-and-true tropes, this film has each of the group’s characters really feeling like they are given a chance to shine.
Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams have each had a hand in the director’s chair, since the new regime at Disney began in the mid-2000’s. With their experiences working on 2008’s Bolt, and 2011’s Winnie the Pooh, the story work within BH6 feels like a good mish-mash of the two: a tale that tries to hit the action beats, but keeps a heart beating within.
However, even with a lot of the biff-pow-bam of the story’s superhero angle, the film does have some faults. My biggest gripe has to be in the development/acknowledgement of some of the secondary characters. There are some specific people that just tend to come and go in such a way, that I couldn’t help but wonder, “did they have to cut out certain parts to hit a certain running time?” Some characters were shoved on-and-off screen so fast, I didn’t even catch some of their names.
The speed of the film also feels like it takes away from really getting a decent feel for the environments of San Fransokyo. This is the first time that the company has built such a dense urban environment for a film, that it almost seems a shame when some scenes just fly by.
It’s not to say the film is too dense with storylines, but even at an hour and 48 minutes, it feels like some areas could have been given a little more attention. At the very least, an extra 15-30 minutes might have been nice. To me, the pacing/plotting of the sub-stories, reminds me of my feelings regarding PIXAR’s Up. While many gush and praise the emotional story of Carl and Ellie, there’s a lot going on in some of the background stories that just never seemed to gel.
Though if the directors of Big Hero 6 were told to make a beeline to focus on the beating heart of the story, they have surely succeeded, in the relationship between Hiro, and Baymax. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen one of those “a boy and his ________” stories, but the storyline still knows that you have to buy this relationship, or else the film is likely to fall apart completely. It also helps that through the relationship between both of these characters, Hiro and Baymax both end up teaching and learning from each other.
Hiro as a character has some recklessness, but it’s not quite on the levels of Merida. Mainly, he’s adrift, and needs some guidance, not to mention a way to work through his own grief over the loss of his brother.
Baymax continues the recent tradition of Disney giving us supporting characters that will stick with you long after the film is over. Much like Olaf in Frozen, his innocent nature and wish to help will most likely win him a gaggle of fans. From the gales of laughter at the preview I saw, I have a feeling he may disappear from store shelves this Holiday season…not to mention probably command hour-long lines at the Disney theme parks (I know I considered taking a trip to Disneyland to see him after the film was over!).
Music-wise, composer Henry Jackman continues his association with Disney, scoring his third animated feature for the company. While the score has its moments, it can get a bit generic at times. Much of the score put me in mind of the work Jackman did on Wreck-It-Ralph, making this almost sound like a continuation of that film’s score. I don’t hate the work Jackman has done, but it doesn’t quiet hit me as emotionally as Christophe Beck’s work on Paperman, or even what Michael Giacchino has done for the likes of PIXAR.
Even if the film feels like the back-end elements of the plot may be lacking, one can’t deny that there’s still a fun-yet-emotional journey taking place here. Big Hero 6 continues the proof that Walt Disney Feature Animation is still one of the best studios to go to, if you want to have an emotionally-animated journey.
P.S. If you haven’t doing so for the last few Disney animated features, word of advice: stay through the credits!
The release of Big Hero 6, also continues the traditional inclusion of an animated short before the film starts, this one titled, Feast.
The short involves a hungry puppy, who is soon taken in by a human owner. As the short progresses, we see the little puppy grow up, oftentimes accompanied by some delicious foodstuffs given to him.
All I can say, is that if you find yourself in a theater that doesn’t get at least one “awww” out of seeing the little dog of this piece, you’re either in an empty theater, or noone there has a soul.
The simulated-look programs that were used in 2012’s Paperman short are brought back into play here, though not quite as detailed. Much of the fun comes from the minute animated details put into the dog in the short. I’m being very vague about this one, because it’s definitely something that you have to experience for yourself. Though I will say, there were some moments that did remind me a little of Paperman (which is still my favorite of the newer-released shorts).
*Final Note: The poster included at the top is not an official Big Hero 6 poster, but one done by a UK artist, named Paul Shipper. One of my favorite poster artists is Drew Struzan, and the stuff I’ve seen on Pauls’s Twitter account shows him to be a big fan of many of Drew’s stylistic choices. Check out his Official Site, and I’m sure you’ll see plenty of homages, and great poster artwork that will make you wish some of them were official (like the Guardians of the Galaxy image he did!).