Big Hero 6

Genre: Animation

Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams

Writers: Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, Jordan Roberts, based on the comic by Duncan Rouleau, Steven T. Seagle

Voice Cast: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph

Running Length: 108 minutes

Synopsis: An action comedy adventure about brilliant robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), who finds himself in the grips of a criminal plot that threatens to destroy the fast-paced, high-tech city of San Fransokyo. With the help of his closest companion—a robot named Baymax (Scott Adsit) – Hiro joins forces with a reluctant team of first-time crime fighters on a mission to save their city.

Review: We have all gotten used to the short film that precedes most animated films these days, but this could possibly be the first time that I feel a feature presentation has been somewhat hurt by the short film before it. While Big Hero 6 is a fun romp for both young and old, the emotional depth (nowadays more commonly referred to as “the feels”) actually pales in comparison to its companion six-minute short Feast, which is an excellent short film. And while this is a good, if somewhat unexpected, addition to the Marvel Comic Universe movies, the fact remains that there is a better superhero animation in the Disney/Pixar stable (no prizes for guessing which).

As always, I will touch on the short film first. Feast is a recounting of the relationship a Boston terrier has with his master over 12 years, except via the unusual angle of his food. It seems like such a simple conceit, but like the best of animation, it is evocative and manages to tell a very engaging story. There is a good chance that many animal lovers or pet owners will choke up (like I did) over Feast, which is high praise given that it unfolds in such a short span of screen time. If this is what writer-director Patrick Osborne can achieve in under ten minutes, I am definitely looking forward to his first feature film (surely not too far away).

Perhaps it’s a direct result of Pixar’s stellar output over the years (and to be fair, a smattering of animated films from rival studios) that expectations for animated films have risen dramatically. It doesn’t help that technology has advanced to a point that spectacular visuals are almost a given in any computer animated film these days, and often the differentiating factors come down to the storyline, the number of A-list actors in the voice cast, and the production design. The need to sell animated films with Hollywood actors has become almost a liability however, because not all name actors are necessarily good in voice roles. Thankfully, Big Hero 6 eschews this, going instead with a bunch of relatively lesser-known actors that do pretty well in their roles.

As for the visuals, there’s really nothing to complain about, except once again this is not a film that needs to be seen in 3D. The character designs are uniformly excellent, with some truly colourful and creative flourishes, and the setting of San Fransokyo is wonderfully imagined, creating an inventive mashup between San Francisco and Tokyo. Then, there’s Baymax – Disney has created a surefire marketing phenomenon with the most cuddly robot design I’ve ever seen, and despite straying far, FAR away from the source graphic novels, will capture the hearts and minds of audiences of all age groups.

This is not the first movie in the Marvel Comic Universe to work with a relatively obscure Marvel property, as Guardians of the Galaxy lays claim to being the first. There’s also an interesting parallel between the two movies, since both are about a motley crew of unlikely heroes, and also touches on grief and loss. I would say that the themes are better handled in Guardians of the Galaxy versus Big Hero 6, but this is a somewhat unfair comparison given that Big Hero 6 is aimed at a much younger audience. Given that there will be a lot of young ones watching the movie, the concept of death is actually quite elegantly handled, even more so than How to Train Your Dragon 2 (I’ll keep things vague although the full trailer does give part of this storyline away).

Most of the film stays pretty light-hearted with a number of fun action set pieces, and it would take a heart of stone not to be somewhat taken by Baymax and his lovable antics, so it is not difficult to recommend the film, especially for younger audiences. There are a number of more affecting moments, to be sure, but Feast manages to do better in this aspect than the whole of Big Hero 6 (hence the earlier comment about the short film hurting the feature film, something that I have not experienced prior). Although the superhero origin story is done to death at this point, Big Hero 6 offers a somewhat fresh perspective, even if it doesn’t match the narrative strength of The Incredibles, still the gold standard for animated superhero films a decade after its release.

P.S. The end credit sequence is a blast, and features one of the best cameos I have seen to date, particularly so for fans of the Marvel universe. Definitely worth staying through the credits for.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

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