Friday, November 28, 2014

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6
Dirs. Don Hall and Chris Williams

3.5 out of 5

Disney's acquisition of Marvel Comics, while a surprise at the time, looks like a shrewder investment every day - not just because of the financial rewards and infusion of adaptation-ready IPs, but also in its tacit recognition that superhero stories are the fairy tales of the modern age.  Nowhere is this clearer than in Big Hero 6, a film that combines the whiz-bang of manga-influenced comic book action with the sentimental through-lines of a traditional Disney animated feature.  

In the futuristic Pacific Rim metropolis of San Fransokyo, science prodigy Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) spends his time constructing "battlebots" and hustling adults in the city's underground robot fight clubs, despite the scolding of his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), a student at the local institute of technology.  Concerned that Hiro is wasting his talents, Tadashi introduces him to Baymax (Scott Adsit), a robotic healthcare assistant developed by Tadashi himself.  When a mysterious masked individual starts committing acts of techno-terrorism, Hiro and a spunky cohort of other young inventors must transform themselves into a ragtag group of avengers using their own cutting-edge science.

Though the plot turns on a sudden tragedy that pushes Hiro into pursuing cutting-edge research as a coping mechanism, Baymax is clearly the linchpin of the film.  Combining the polite, servile attitude of Siri with the huggable body of the Michelin Man, Baymax guides the young protagonist on a journey of emotional self-discovery thinly disguised as a standard superhero vigilante story.  Big Hero 6 covers a lot of familiar ground - it borrows heavily from Brad Bird's superior animated classics The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, as well as the "boy and his dog" story archetype - and character development is simplistic bordering on clunky, taking a step back from the more complex relationships of recent Disney films like Frozen.  (At one point, Hiro informs his own brother that their mother died when he was a toddler.)  

But what in lacks in narrative originality, Big Hero 6 makes up in sheer energy and colorful, kaleidoscopic visuals: the metropolitan mash-up of San Fransokyo is just as whimsical and detailed as any fairytale realm, and much more diverse to boot.  It's also heartening to see a film determined to rev kids up about science, with heroes applying their intellect to save the day.  In this, the movie is admittedly as nuanced as mixing baking soda and vinegar inside a clay volcano.  But passion for a subject feeds off an emotional enthusiasm.  You've got to dream it before you can do it, and Big Hero 6 gives a kinetic kick-start to the imaginations of a plugged-in generation.

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