There was a time, not so long ago, when Disney animation was a rudderless, sinking ship, taking on gallons of water as they tried to remain the number one name in family entertainment. Computer-generated 3D animation began taking over a medium they helped create and perfect. Their own traditional 2D animation seemed almost laughable compared to the works coming out of their own Pixar division (a smart buy), and from upstarts like Dreamworks and Blue Sky. Though the king of the animated feature for generations, their own movies seemed antiquated in the digital age.
“Big Hero 6” is the third film in a row for Disney that shows how the mouse got its groove back. The animation label is starting to look like the slick upstart, while 20-year-old Pixar is starting to look like the cellphone Zach Morris used on “Saved by the Bell.” Two years ago they delivered the very funny, kid friendly “Wreck It Ralph,” which successfully tapped into the zeitgeist of a video-game generation without feeling hackneyed. Last year they unleashed the ice storm that was “Frozen,” a movie that had every girl under the age of 8 screaming, “Let it go!” to anyone who would listen. It banked a billion dollars globally. Now, with “Big Hero 6,” they’re proving that this new found hipness isn’t just luck.
Like all good family films, “Big Hero 6” excels at appealing to both kids and adults. It is very much the product of the current surge of comic-book-inspired movies. The hero of the film is the aptly named Hiro (Ryan Potter), a teenage robotics prodigy who can engineer amazing cybernetic creations with ease. Unfortunately, he’s using his skills to compete in underground robot fighting. He is arrested and taught by his older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), his only chance to rehabilitate is to start using his talents for the benefit of mankind. Tadashi’s contribution is Baymax (Scott Adsit), a medical robot that looks like the bastard love child of the Michelin Man and the Stay Puft marshmallow man. (Yes, I realize two men cannot produce a child, but since both are fictional beings made of rubber and marshmallow, I figured I could get a pass just this once.)
After his brother tragically dies, Hiro struggles to handle the loss. When he discovers that his robot designs have been stolen and mass-produced, his investigations lead him to a masked villain named Yokai. So. Hiro takes the obvious solution to design some super, high-tech armor to convert his brother’s robot into his crime-fighting partner, and even recruit his friends to form a superhero team straight out of the funny books.
While the logic is pretty standard in our current cultural climate, “Big Hero 6” does a good job of feeling fresh. The world created here is a beautiful blend of Eastern and Western art. The film is set in a fictionalized version of San Francisco, where Chinatown became malignant and overran the rest of the city.
What amazed me about “Big Hero 6” is its polish. Technology advances so quickly in show business; the amazingly slick visuals and virtual cinematography looks light years ahead of movies just released a year or two ago. The action is ludicrous: The collection of characters help Hiro form his super team, but they also manage to capture a lot of personality and even some (gasp!) real human emotion into this sugary confection. I was impressed how human an animated superhero movie seemed compared to its live-action counterparts.
“Big Hero 6” isn’t going to win any awards for originality, but it’s a perfectly executed family film that has enough for every demographic to appreciate. Chances are your kids are going to be asking Santa for a Baymax of their own. He’s a fantastically engineered character that proves simplicity is the key to design.
So, if you have a family and you like them enough to spend 90 minutes in a movie theater with them, check out “Big Hero 6.” Even in our oversaturated comic-book culture, the film successfully mines enough material from movie, television, comic books, and video games to feel unique.
Big Hero 6
Starring Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit and Jamie Chung
Directed by Don Hall and