Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit (St. Vincent), Daniel Henney (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), T.J. Miller (How to Train Your Dragon), Jamie Chung (Sucker Punch), Genesis Rodriguez (Tusk), Damon Wayans Jr. (Let’s Be Cops), Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids), James Cromwell (Babe), Alan Tudyk (Frozen)
Directors: Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh) & Chris Williams (Bolt)
Writers: Jordan Roberts (You’re Not You) and Daniel Gerson & Robert L. Baird (Monsters University)
Runtime: 1 hour 42 minutes
Release Date: 7 November (US), 30 January (UK)
Having acquired Marvel back in 2009, the idea for Disney to use one of the comic book company’s properties as the basis for an animated feature seemed like a no-brainer. The idea to pick a property so obscure it makes the Guardians of the Galaxy seem mainstream is an odd choice, but then again using a lesser-known set of characters allows for a lot more wiggle room; from what I’ve heard, the adaptation is incredibly loose anyway. Regardless, this isn’t really a Marvel movie. It’s a Disney movie, and I’m judging it based on those criteria. How does it fare?
In certain ways, Big Hero 6’s story is very typical of the superhero genre and in others ways it’s very different. On one hand, it follows the basic structure in several key facets: the tragic backstory, the rise of the seemingly unstoppable supervillain, and our hero learning to overcome his problems in order to save the day. It’s predictable for sure, with several major reveals that will probably shock children but seem ho-hum for knowing adults, but the superhero action and breezy comedy helps soften the somewhat cliché narrative. But at its core Big Hero 6 is very much a Disney film, in that it’s more about sending a strong message to kids. In this case, Big Hero 6 is about dealing with loss; the symptoms it causes, what happens when that loss makes you do bad things, and how to move on comfortably. It’s an interesting subject and one that is handled well throughout most of the film thanks to the strong relationship between Hiro (Potter) and Baymax (Adsit). However, the message feels kind of undercut during the third act of the film. I can’t say too much without spoiling the ending, but all I’ll say is that it affects the motivation of the villain and the film ends without giving proper character resolution to his relationship with both the hero and what he was fighting for. It’s a shame, because the topic is handled with maturity and reality with no sugar coating otherwise, and I felt the ending takes an out that mars what the story is trying to get across.
Where Big Hero 6 mainly shines is in its characters and the comedy that is derived from them. Hiro is a simple but likable and intelligent character who acts just right for his age, being curious and imaginative but still prone to childlike faults. On his own he’s perfectly fine, but it’s when he has to interact with his robotic ally Baymax that the fun really kicks in. Adsit’s voice is perfectly attuned and is what mainly sells the character, getting down the robotic annunciation and inflections that so much of his humour is based around but without losing a human touch. Combined with the way the character is designed and animated, and Baymax is a character that I’m sure many children will fall in love with. If nothing else, I’m sure plenty of kids will start doing their fist bumps in a more ridiculous manner because of him. The rest of the superhero team is well balanced and entertaining as well. They do rely on simple archetypes (the tough one, the excitable one, the scaredycat and the doofus), but their personalities play off each other to humorous effect and they all get enough screen time to be distinctive and memorable characters. Maya Rudoplh’s Aunt Cass isn’t given too much to do, but she’s a joy in every scene she gets as the put-upon but chipper matriarch who can’t help but be pleasant even in anger. It’s a strong cast of characters voiced by perfectly cast actors, and my only real fault in this area is the aforementioned lacking villain.
Where Big Hero 6 probably takes most of its cues from its superhero roots is in the design area. The look of the city of San Fransokyo in particular has a very comic book look to it with cartoonish designs and bright colours, which also translates beautifully to the character designs as well. It’s a very appealing film to look at in still frames, but when in motion it really shines. Disney has certainly taken as many cues from Japanese anime as much from superhero movies in terms of the animation, which is awesome to see implemented in a western film without going too far in a Speed Racer-esque way. It’s fast, funny and full of tiny quirks that show the effort the animators put into constructing these environments and characters. Henry Jackman’s music for the film is also strong, combining traditionally uplifting Disney music, the epic feel of superhero movies (of which Jackman has composed several) and tiny pieces of oriental tunes.
Big Hero 6 isn’t quite on par with either Disney’s latest efforts or 2014 in animation, but that is some hard competition to beat. On its own, it’s a fun and highly enjoyable film for all ages that sends an honest and needed lesson for the younger audience. However, the message does feel somewhat undermined by certain events near the end, and the film does suffer from predictability and an undercooked antagonist. The way the ending played out did bother me a fair bit, but the rest of the film works so well that I can overlook it for the most part.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10
PS: Stay through the credits, especially if you’re a Marvel fan.
PPS: The short that plays before the film, Feast, is amazing. Adorable, charming and beautifully animated, it’s almost worth the price of admission alone.