Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Movie Review: Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6
Directed by: Don Hall & Chris Williams.
Written by: Jordan Roberts & Daniel Gerson & Robert L. Baird and Don Hall based on the comic by Duncan Rouleau & Steven T. Seagle.
Starring: Scott Adsit (Baymax), Ryan Potter (Hiro), Daniel Henney (Tadashi), T.J. Miller (Fred), Jamie Chung (Go Go), Damon Wayans Jr. (Wasabi), Genesis Rodriguez (Honey Lemon), James Cromwell (Robert Callaghan), Alan Tudyk (Alistair Krei), Maya Rudolph (Cass), Abraham Benrubi (General), Katie Lowes (Abigail).

Unlike seemingly everyone else in the world, I am fairly ambivalent to the recent and never ending trend of superhero movies that come out one after another. I am not a drooling fan boy, who loves them all and wants even more, and I’m not someone who thinks they are killing the medium either. Yes in many ways, they are all the same – but for the most part, I have fun with them while they’re playing, and forget them soon after they’re over. What I do wish however is that more was done to differentiate the movies from each other – all the Marvel movies look and feel the same, and have the same basic plot over and over again. All the DC movies, while different from the Marvel movies, are similar to each other – and are starting to take themselves way too seriously. When people say that superhero movies are nothing more than modern Westerns – I find myself somewhat agreeing and disagreeing at the same time. The reason being that superhero movies could be the modern Western – but only if the studios behind them let individual directors take them in different directions – something they are not willing to do, as any director who has a distinct vision (like say, Edgar Wright) are replaced by those who will just do what they say.

All of this has gotten me a little off track to start my review of Big Hero 6 – but there’s a reason behind that. Yes, it is another superhero origin story –this one animated, and aimed at children too young for the darkness and violence of the either the DC or Marvel movies. Yes, you can argue that this is nothing more than a savvy corporate product from Disney – to get kids hooked on superhero movies from an even younger age, and you would not be wrong in arguing that. Yet, even with all those knocks against the film, I couldn’t help but be thoroughly charmed and entertained by Big Hero 6 – which is smarter and more fun than just about any other superhero movie in recent years.

The movie takes place in the near future – in the ingeniously named and designed city of San Fransoyko, which isn’t quite San Francisco, and isn’t quite Tokyo but a combination of the two. The hero of the movie is named, appropriately enough, Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) – a 14 year old robotics genius, who has already graduated high school, but instead of going off to university is wasting his talent in illegal “bot fights”. Like all Disney children, Hiro is an orphan – being raised by a kindly Aunt (Maya Rudolph), who idolizes his older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney) – who does go to university, where he studies under the brilliant robotics pioneer Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell). Hiro, finally seeing the lab, decides he also has to go there – but needs to come up with a project to blow Callaghan away – and he does, when he creates “microbots” – thousands of tiny robots, that he can control and can do anything he tells them to. Then tragedy strikes – Tadashi and Callaghan are killed in a fire, and Hiro goes into deep mourning. He is helped out of it when he discovers Tadashi’s project – named Baymax, a cuddly, marshmallow-like robot who is programmed to heal people. Together they discover a man in a kabuki mask, who has stolen Hiro’s microbots, and may be responsible for the fire. Hiro teams up with four of Tadashi’s friends, three of whom are robotics geniuses themselves, and one their wise cracking sidekick, to try and stop him.

The story of Big Hero 6 is, admittedly, rather predictable from beginning to end. Like many superhero origin stories, the film has to spend so much time setting everything up that the last act of the movie has to jam so much plot points in, right alongside the action, that everything feels rushed. But it isn’t really the plot that charmed me so much in the film – it was the characters themselves. Hiro may be a genius, but he’s also a teenager, one who has experienced more loss than any 14 year old should have to – and his grief turns to anger – an anger that could destroy him. But Baymax follows his programming – and tries to heal Hiro. He is so sweet and lovable, and programmed only for good that the film ends up having a unique – but welcome – message for non-violence. This is a movie that values brains rather than brute strength. While the supporting characters are not as well defined as Hiro – they leave an impression as well. If more kids want to be like them, rather than their more violent counterparts in most superhero movies, that is a good thing.

Big Hero 6 is thoroughly charming from beginning to end. Yes, in many ways it is a typical Disney movie, and a typical superhero movie and it would have benefitted from pushing a little further away from the clich├ęs that define both of those genres. But it does enough different to make it an excellent animated film – it looks and sounds great – and finds a few different beats for a superhero movie. I’d rather see a sequel to this than almost any other superhero movie out there right now.

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