‘Big Hero 6’ is something of a shared victory lap for two studios at the top of their respective games, Marvel and Disney Animation. The former has cemented the longevity of one of their longest running characters with ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, while simultaneously and bravely launching a whole new franchise based on characters long thought to be permanent residents of the bottom of the barrel in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy. Meanwhile, the later has definitively proven themselves as the defining force in the animated film game, eclipsing the shadow of their little brother Pixar with ‘Tangled’, ‘Wreck it Ralph’, and most importantly, ‘Frozen’. As such, if there was any place for complacency, it was here, as both brands now have a huge built in audience. However, these two forces seem determined to create something great here, combining the originality that stems from obscure comic characters, and combining it with some good ol’ animated charm. Does it work? Let’s see.
The story here centers on Hiro (Ryan Potter), a fourteen year old robotics genius hell-bent on winning every illegal bot fight he can get into for money, much to the dismay of his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), who studies at a science focussed college nearby. When he persuades Hiro to visit, he is blown away, not only by the inventions, but by Tadashi’s kindhearted group of inventor friends, Fred (TJ Miller), Go Go (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr), and Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez). Hiro decides to create a new form of construction/transportation technology using Microbots in an attempt to get into the school, but at the presentation, tragedy strikes in the form of a fire that kills Tadashi. Stricken with grief, Hiro is left only with one of Tadashi’s last inventions, a childlike medical robot named Baymax (Scott Adsit). However, when Hiro realizes that his microbots have been stolen by a mysterious man with a thrust for destruction, he teams up with Baymax and his friends (who all invent combat technology for themselves) to fight the threat.
Going in, I didn’t expect much from Big Hero 6, in fact, I was almost sure that a combination of Disney and Marvel’s respective styles could very well dilute both down to their most basic elements. However, I was almost immediately taken aback by just how utterly enjoyable this film is. There’s a sense of fun and likeability here that is simply infectious. It’s a fast paced, funny, and emotionally satisfying effort that delivers everything that it’s audience could want.
What makes this movie work so well are the characters, particularly Hiro and Baymax. On the surface, this seems like yet another typical boy and his robot story, but there’s actually a great deal going on below the surface. Baymax is, by his programming, a medical robot, and that includes aiding mental health. As such, his commitment to Hiro stems from his desire to aid him with his grief in loosing his brother, and that element always very presently shines through in all of their interactions in a very touching way. Beyond that, these two are just flat out fun together, constantly getting having inventive and funny interactions, mostly fueled by Baymax’s sheer cluelessness. The other characters are fun too, even if they’re definitely a little one note by comparison, mostly coasting on the talents of their voice actors. There isn’t quite the sense of camaraderie that fueled something like ‘Guardians’ but the foundation is certainly laid out for future films to explore.
Visually, this is a gorgeous film both in and out of action. The more high octane sequences are consistently creative, giving me a giddy feeling that took me back to being seven years old, watching nothing but superhero cartoons. Not only beautifully captured, unabashedly comic-bookish and bombastic, they ensure that you should see this movie on the biggest screen you can in 3D, particularly for flying sequences that could rival ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ on it’s best day. The ascetics are also very nice, the city of San Fransokyo becoming a character in the film. It’s a big, goofy comic book brought to life.
The only thing that really brings this down is something that cripples a whole host of animated films: predictability. It is agonizingly easy to call nearly every plot device, or twist here, as everything is really obviously telegraphed from the very beginning. It’s a lucky thing that the character interactions and visuals here are so strong, because with this plot, there was major potential for triteness here.
‘Big Hero 6’ does manage to overcome this predictability though it’s endlessly likable nature. It’s a film that relishes in it’s genre, taking the most fun elements of it to create a story that can be enjoyed by children, while still employing enough complexity in it’s characters that adults will also have a good time, showing that the superhero genre can transcend being dark and violent visual extravaganzas into being cute and cuddly ones. If ‘The Lego Movie’ hadn’t had happened, this would be my favorite animated film in quite some time, and it’s a great choice for anyone looking for a family outing this holiday season.