Big Hero 6 is a perfect summer action film. With Pixar taking the year off, and most other films underperforming, this could have been the animated hit of the season. A good movie will find an audience any time of year, though, so I hope that is the case here. While it has its story faults here & there, this should be another winner for Walt Disney Animation Studios (though not on the success-level of Frozen but, then again, what is?).
At its core Big Hero 6 is a story about a boy and his robot. In that sense I have taken to calling it a PG version of Terminator 2. Baymax is not a killer-robot (quite the opposite in fact, save for one well-executed & emotional scene in the middle) from the future, but he does spend the entire movie attempting to protect the main character – 14-year old Hiro Hamada. Throughout the course of the movie Baymax learns to understand grief, loss, comfort & sacrifice. And while it’s not “hasta la vista, baby,” the hand gesture & vocal response he learns brings the house down every time Baymax uses it.
The trailers do a serviceable job setting up a sort of alternate world where San Francisco & Tokyo have morphed into one and it’s an awesome sight to see, as long as you’re willing to suspend a great deal of disbelief. They also let you know that Baymax’s inventor was Hiro’s older brother, Tadashi, who passed away at some point. SPOILER ALERT What they do a great job of hiding is the fact that Tadashi is alive for a good 20-30 minutes and the beginning of the movie and his relationship with Hiro, combined with the later relationship with Baymax, give the film a strong emotional current that resonates the entire length. SPOILER OVER These core relationships elevate the film above standard action-hero flicks even while succumbing to obvious “twists” and predictable hero/villain “revenge plots.”
Hiro Hamada is a 14-year old genius who graduated from high school just the year before, but rather than continue on to college he spends his evenings participating in bot fights. He has a change of heart after visiting his older brother’s lab at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology and meeting the cast of characters (Tadashi’s friends – students only known by their nicknames) who later form the titular 6. The easiest way to admission to SFIT is by inventing something impressive and debuting it at some sort of showcase at the school (that wasn’t explained in detail but you just go along with it). Hiro’s invention (seen in the trailers: mind-controlled microbots that can build/form anything your mind thinks of and are virtually indestructible) is so over-the-top amazing it’s hard to believe he could come up with it on such short notice. But it’s an animated movie in, for all intents and purposes, an alternate universe so anything is possible. Let’s move on.
Shortly after the showcase an accident happens that drives Hiro & Baymax together and rallies the other students to Hiro’s side. Along the way Hiro continues to flex his mental power and helps his brother’s friends augment their intellect with physical prowess as they unwittingly form a superhero team to find out who stole his microbots and what evil plans to be done with them. Inventive action sequences & locales, as well as standard training montages, round it all out.
I found it refreshing that really big name stars were not used as voice actors on the film. Not that these actors haven’t had measures of success in their own right but outside of James Cromwell as Professor Callaghan I really couldn’t place anyone else (and Alan Tudyk just disguises his voice so well). Stan Lee makes a 2-second cameo in a unique way that had the audience applauding (as did the post-credits scene. It’s kind of a Marvel movie so stick around). My lack of familiarity allowed me to focus even more fully on the characters as they appeared and developed on screen and not who was behind them.
Ultimately I found it more satisfying than The Lego Movie, though I’m not sure Big Hero 6 has the same box office potential. It never winks at the audience (except with the aforementioned Stan Lee appearance) and certainly pays off the investment you put into the main characters. The simplistic & predictable plot skews this movie toward the younger crowd, but the violent battles, SPOILER ‘evil’ Baymax scene END SPOILER and some “grown-up” emotional/relational situations may give pause to parents of this same demographic.
I saw it in 3D and it was bright & colorful and enjoyed some added depth, but it isn’t necessary in order to enjoy the film. (The San Fransokyo landscape looked phenomenal in 3D though.) I laughed at many of the funnier scenes and successfully held back tears until the very end when my heartstrings could be tugged no further without breaking (“I am satisfied with my care” is the new ‘thumbs-up from a vat of molten metal’).
My grade: B+
NOTE: Feast is the opening short about a stray dog who loves to eat. It’s clever, endearingly sentimental, and uniquely animated. Highly recommend!