Exciting, funny, touching and beautifully designed, Big Hero 6 marks a turning point in
Disney features. The artists are challenging the big ticket live action superhero/
comic book movies that occupy such an important place in contemporary popular
culture, just as they challenged the fantasy films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg
three decades ago.
Big Hero focuses
on Hiro Hamada (voiced by the very engaging Ryan Potter), a 14-year-old Japanese-American orphan
living in the metropolis of San Fransokyo with his warmly patient older brother
Tadashi (Daniel Henney) and their ditsy Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph). Hiro, who
graduated from high school at 13, is a brilliant techno-geek, with a flair for creating
amazing mechanical devices, including fighting robots. When Tadashi shows him
the über-cool devices he and his friends are inventing at their “nerd school”
of San Fransokyo Tech, Hiro can’t wait to join them.
For his application project, Hiro creates “micro-bots,” tiny
robots that can combine to form anything the person wearing the controlling device
wills them to. But Hiro’s triumph at the school audition turns to tragedy when
Tadashi is killed trying to rescue his favorite professor from a burning lab.
The heart-broken Hiro is left with Baymax (Scott Adsit), the blank-faced, touchy-feely
robot-physician Tadashi built to aid people in need of care. But when Hiro discovers
that his brother’s death may not have been an accident, he joins Tadashi’s misfit
friends–fanboy/school mascot Fred (T.J. Miller), speed-obsessed GoGo (Jamie
Chung), neurotically cautious Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and maladroit Honey
Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez)–to hunt down the corrupt industrialist they believe is
Hiro uses his talents to ramp up the devices the college
students were developing: GoGo’s wheel-skates go faster, Wasabi’s lasers become
hi-tech swords, Honey Lemon’s molecular transformation devices are weaponized.
Fred contributes boundless, simple-minded enthusiasm in a rubbery suit modeled
after a low-budget 50’s movie monster. Hiro even converts Baymax from a pudgy physician-substitute
to a battle-ready robot in the Gundam
The newly formed team’s pursuit of the masked villain is more
dramatic and exciting than anything Disney has animated in decades. As Dean
DeBlois did in How to Train Your Dragon 2,
directors Don Hall and Chris Williams create a world with real threats, where
characters can be injured or even killed. In some ways, Big Hero is closer to an anime adventure than the namby-pamby world
of many American animated films, where Tex Avery-style comic “takes” trivialize
what should be climactic battles.
At the center of the story is the touching and funny bond
Hiro forges with Baymax as a substitute brother. Adsit plays the robot as
hilariously clueless and literal-minded. When his battery runs low, Baymax
turns into the mechanical equivalent of a staggering drunk. Some of the most polished
animation the Disney crew has done in CG support–and plus–the vocal
Visually, Big Hero 6 is a delight. Production designer Paul Felix and his crew create a familiar yet
intriguingly alien city that fuses such iconic San Francisco landmarks as the Transamerica
Pyramid, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Ferry Building with Tokyo’s equally
famous Odaiba Rainbow
Bridge and the glittering skyscrapers of the Shibuya district. Fans will
be discussing the details of the cityscape on line for years to come.
For all it strengths, Big
Hero 6 is very good movie, rather than a great one. It owes a little too
much to Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant
and the How to Train Your Dragon
movies. Big Hero recalls the earlier
films of the Disney Renaissance, from The
Great Mouse Detective through Little Mermaid,
when the artists sought prove that animation could present fantasy in a modern,
compelling film as compelling as the work of Lucas and Spielberg.
Similarly, Big Hero 6 challenges the Iron Man/Avengers/Spiderman franchises, reminding audiences that these iconic characters
were initially drawn. Big Hero ends
with Hiro and his friends ready to tackle the next foe. It’s the perfect set-up
for a sequel audiences will want to see. With any luck, the Disney artists will
push the medium further in the next film, as they did in Beauty and Beast, Aladdin
and The Lion King, and assert the
unparalleled strength of animation to create worlds and characters that come
alive from the pages of comic books.