This year I have not been kind to animated releases in the cinema, I have not seen a single one all year. The last animated offering I saw in theaters was Frozen almost which was a largely enjoyable experience save for the uncomfortable feeling of possibly being the only guy my age in a screening room full of little girls and their parents. Frozen was largely tagged as a return to form for Disney and animated films in general following numerous limp entries but I felt Frozen was a tad overrated especially when you compare it to the highs of the past decade but that’s a discussion for another day. I look back on the year and I don’t know that any animated film really perked my interest and chances are I would have seen the Hobbit movie if it were being screened as advertised but the only new release was alas Big Hero 6.
I admit the film’s trailer had me interested and I thought the primary villain looked cool and titillating but I had some misgivings with Disney jumping on the comic book band wagon following their alliance with Marvel. Big Hero 6 is based on some Japanese manga that introduced the origins of a group of unlikely heroes. It is set in a futuristic metropolis known as San Fransokyo which serves us the mix of Japanese and American culture a place named San Fransokyo would demand. We are introduced to 14 year old child genius Hiro (Ryan Potter) who has already graduated from high school and has an apparent bright future tailor made for robotics but he prefers to feed his infantile whims in illegal back alley robot brawls.
His older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) isn’t bemused by his night time antics and after a run in with the law after one of his illegal robotic endeavors, Tadashi invites him to his college robotics lab where Hiro meets his older brother’s colleague specialists and friends of varying characters, the equipment they work with and the head of the institute, Prof Callaghan (James Cromwell) and this short experience inspires such awe in Hiro. Hiro really wants to work in this environment of endless possibilities and enters a science competition that would gain him admission into the school. He wins with his project involving microbots and some other sciencey stuff to do with magnetics I can’t remember and is accepted into the school but tragedy strikes later that day when a fire gulfs the school and traps and kills Tadashi and Prof. Callaghan. Hiro then begins his period of grief in his apartment where he lives with his jolly aunt as he and Tadashi had also lost their parents.
The opening 30 minutes or so is the kind of thing we’ve seen Disney do packing 3 times the emotional punch but in less time. I never really felt a connection to Hiro and his loss like Disney at its best has done in times past and maybe it’s because I still approach animated films, especially the ones involving Disney, with the highest of expectations. Things pick up when we finally get to spend some time with Baymax (Scott Adsit),Tadashi’s invention Hiro stumbles upon. Baymax immediately evokes Mr. Marshmallow man and it is fitting he is programmed as a medical assistant and is activated by any cry of distress and I don’t know about you but when I get a boo boo, I want the 10 foot tall inflatable Baymax gently lumbering towards me ready to remedy me with his lax mushy embrace. The scenes with Baymax offer the more organic and sincere bouts of humor as Hiro tries to transform Baymax from the marshmallow mascot for medicine to fighting machine that would help him track down the mysterious villain who he suspects started the inferno and stole Hiro’s microbot technology. The one gag to watch out for in this film is Baymax stumbling around like a drunk when his battery runs low.
Hiro assembles Tadashi’s work friends to stop the cool looking Kabuki mask wearing villain who has the makings of an earth bender from avatar with the way he operates his power. Cool looking is unfortunately the best we get from this mystery villain as we are never allowed to properly engage with him or his motives till very late in the film. There is the predictability and mass destruction that comes with comic book hero movies but at least there is some joy in watching a bunch of nerds assemble to battle this antagonist no matter how distasteful their costumes looked.
Big Hero 6 makes some decent attempts at infusing some heart, but like I said earlier, it doesn’t match up to my expectations or Disney’s prior standards. Indeed I found the Animated short, Feast, shown before the main feature more moving. Feast is shot beautifully from ankle level to emphasize the point of view of a hyper doggie called Winston who tries to come to terms with change brought on by his owner’s relationship. I realize now, true to Marvel traditions, there was a post credit scene which I missed and I guess this means we will be seeing a sequel to this. Big Hero 6 is decent comic book and super hero fare but Baymax aside it lacks any poignant moments and memorable characters that other animated films can boast of. Nothing however beat the low of having to see it in 3D though. 3D added nothing to the film and I spent half the time with my glasses off.