Moviegoers everywhere are still chanting “make mine Marvel!” and with the announcement of Marvel Studios’ exciting Phase 3 slate, it seems this chanting will continue. Here’s something a little different: the first Disney animated film to feature Marvel characters.
Hiro Hamada (Potter) is a 14-year-old robotics prodigy living in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo with his older brother Tadashi (Henney), under the care of their aunt Cass (Rudolph). Tadashi convinces Hiro to turn away from illegal bot-fighting and to put his intellect to good use by enrolling in the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. Hiro is introduced to robotics pioneer Professor Callaghan (Cromwell) and Tadashi’s friends at the institute: the tough, no-nonsense Go-Go Tomago (Chung), the bubbly and eccentric Honey Lemon (Rodríguez), the heavily-built but timid Wasabi-No-Ginger (Wayans Jr.) and laid-back comic book geek Fred (Miller). Hiro befriends Baymax (Adsit), a healthcare robot invented by Tadashi. When a masked supervillain named Yokai threatens San Fransokyo using microbot technology developed by Hiro himself, these friends must put their scientific knowledge to use, assuming the role of superheroes.
Big Hero 6 is a loose adaptation of the source material by writing collective Man of Action and one of Marvel’s weirdest super-teams (yes, even weirder than the Guardians of the Galaxy) has been transformed into a cuddly bunch packed with plenty of kid-appeal. For example, Baymax is a shape-shifting robot/dragon in the comics and is not at all cute. Here, he is a comforting, eminently huggable, marshmallow-like medical care robot. The simple, charming character design takes inspiration from the field of “soft robotics” and his face is based on a Japanese suzu bell. Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams have created a crowd-pleasing animated film with fun action sequences, rib-tickling jokes and a good measure of emotion – plus a sprinkling of Tony Stark-style “building the tech” montages. While it is a very familiar story with plenty of plot devices and character types we’ve seen before, Big Hero 6 acknowledges and embraces this and doesn’t feel like a soulless re-tread.
The design team goes wild with the opportunity to mesh San Francisco together with Tokyo, resulting in amusing, eye-catching touches such as the Golden Gate Bridge with Japanese torii gates in place of its usual towers. While the action is fun and a sequence of Baymax soaring in-between the skyscrapers of San Fransokyo is sweeping and beautiful, there is a lack of truly memorable action set-pieces. The titular team, despite being diverse, seems somewhat homogenised, fulfilling the requisite character types every bunch of rag-tag heroes must possess. There’s the tough chick whose catchphrase is “woman up”, the lanky, hyper nerd, the big guy who’s meek and cautious on the inside and the slacker dude. To the film’s credit, it’s able to keep the energy up enough such that we can go along with the clichés instead of having them pull us out of the experience.
The voice cast is effective and entertaining. While these certainly aren’t unknowns, there doesn’t seem to be any blatant celebrity stunt-casting going on. Japanese-American actor and martial artist Ryan Potter gives a fluid, affecting vocal performance, managing to make Hiro sympathetic in his moments of grief without coming across as brooding and angsty. Scott Adsit is marvellous as Baymax, conveying endearing warmth and care within the confines of having to sound sufficiently robotic. T.J. Miller has been the comic relief dude bro in a number of films, and he sticks to what works for him here, the geeky Fred providing a dose of genre-savvy winking at the audience. Jamie Chung doesn’t have too many lines since Go-Go is the strong, silent type but she does convincingly sound like someone who won’t take any guff from anyone, playing somewhat against her sweet public persona. Interestingly enough, Génesis Rodríguez’s Honey Lemon is the only character who pronounces Hiro’s name accurately, with a Japanese accent, which is neat.
While Big Hero 6 falls a little short of the emotional depth and dazzling imagination of Wreck-It Ralph and is not as clever a take on the superhero genre as The Incredibles was, it still is well-made family entertainment. It’s easy to see why Baymax is the centre of the film’s promotional material – the movie is titled Baymax in Japan. He is loveable in just that right way, without being cloying or too obviously, artificially cute. He’s a robot who is programmed to care and the bond that forms between him and Hiro does give the film a good deal of heart. Feast, the short film preceding the feature, is about a Boston terrier who experiences his owner’s romantic relationships by sharing in all their meals. It’s not quite as sublime as Paperman, which ran before Wreck-It Ralph, but dog-lovers will find it utterly irresistible. Also just as with the live-action Marvel movies, be sure to stick around for a great post-credits scene.
Summary: Not particularly cutting-edge but still entertaining, funny and sufficiently moving. This holiday season, kids will be quoting Baymax rather than singing “Let It Go”.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars