Are Disney and Marvel a match made in corporate heaven?
Take it from a self-proclaimed geek chic chickadee: some of the best storytelling graces the pages of comic books. Be it ingenious titles like The Dark Knight, classic villains getting their due in X-Men: “Dark Angel Saga,” or everyone’s favorite Rachel’s numero uno title: The Amazing Spider-Man #121 (*tears), comic books weave sophisticated and exciting tales full of complex characters and high stakes. When movies like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America sucked in the almighty box office dollar to exponential degrees, the House that the Mouse Built took notice. It wasn’t long before Marvel became a Disney company, with those stories being mined by some of the best animators of our generation. One such story, Big Hero 6 — a miniseries that premiered in 1998 to coincide with Alpha Flight #17 – spins the tale of a team of young superheroes and their adventures with the Japanese government.
It’s all right to cry.
The film version of Big Hero 6 takes many liberties with its parent title – actually the term “loosely based on” doesn’t begin to cover it – but the overall result is a film more appropriate for an audience of budding minds. Set in the futuristic town “San Fransokyo,” take one part dead-parents, mix with one part troubled-teen, and shake vigorously with charismatic sidekick: viola! Big Hero 6 soufflé! Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) – a kid-genius with a penchant for sharping illegal robot fights – finally sees the error of his ways when older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) introduces him to higher education and the perks of having access to university funding to reach his goals. When Hiro meets Tadashi’s latest invention, Baymax, an adorable, inflated medical robot tasked with complete care of his patients, Hiro is hooked. Of course, after befriending Tadashi’s labmates — Tomago (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), and Fred (T.J. Miller) — Disney’s best friend Death pays another visit to the Hamada household. Hiro collapses back into himself until he’s given a purpose: save the world! Converting Baymax from a squishy pacifist into a lean, mean, flying, fighting machine, and arming Tadashi’s friends with Tron-like weapons, Hiro leads the aforementioned six into battle for San Fransokyo and the world!
First of all – and it must be said – Baymax (voiced brilliantly by comedian Scott Adsit) is a star. The guy’s got everything: the adorability factor, naïve curiosity, good intentions, and a profound sense of loyalty. All attempts at comedy work when Baymax is involved; in addition, he communicates the heavy themes of loss and bravery that translate seamlessly to both adult and child understanding. He’s a multidimensional character who changes with each new experience, but there in also lies the rub: when compared to the other members of the Big Hero 6 (save Hiro himself), Baymax is the only truly formed character. Beyond surface generalizations, quick introductions, and nicknames, we are not really privy to the rest of the team’s motives. We get to know a little about Fred, but this is played more for comedic effect than anything else; so when each learns a lesson about their powers in the climax, it’s really just a reflection of Hiro’s leadership.
The story, while mined from a complicated and interesting comic, is far from a surprising or layered narrative. Big Hero 6 treads on ground we’ve certainly covered before. We know exactly where this is going – except for Fred’s backstory…I have to admit, I was shocked and in stiches over this particular turn of events which I will not spoil here. While a negative from a filmmaker and adult moviegoer’s perspective, I’m not sure this is not a plus for children. Because the subject matter is delicate, a simple three-act narrative with characters who are not completely good all the time, though their intentions are, and villains that would be heroes if not for circumstance, provides a successful movie for the young audience member. I mean…you and I, dear reader, are not exactly the target audience.
Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams provide us with rich animation full of vibrant colors, intricate designs, and crisp lines: a veritable feast for the eyes. The lightning-quick movement and innovative shading create a world of limitless possibilities where science is cool and superheroes owe their powers to their brains and not some accident of radioactivity or birthright. The world of San Fransokyo is not bound by conventional skylines or contemporary cultural ideals, opening up unbounded possibilities. Each frame is filled; no detail overlooked. I’ve never been a fan of 3-D for cash-grabbing sake, but trust me when I tell you it is the best way to view this film. The problem comes when you want to escape your seat into Baymax’s world, and find yourself floating away. Henry Jackman’s symphonic score is a character in itself, soaring when needed and softly caressing us in the moments we need all the feels. The music never forces or overpowers with emotion, instead offering a companion to each scene as if the melody lived in our heads already.
I really wanted to love this movie, but I had to settle at like. Since this year’s brilliant The Lego Movie my standards are sky high, but I fully expect them to be met when I meet Pixar’s Inside Out next summer. I’m not saying I did not enjoy all ninety minutes, but without Baymax, I would have been snoozing. The Big Hero 5 are basically the back-up band to Baymax’s Morrisey – forgettable doo-woppers. Consequently, it is a pretty package with a fairly predictable script full of unexplored character motivations. In short, Big Hero 6 will not go down as some memorable classic, but given the opportunity for repeat viewings, the heart and uplifting messages will always sing. A sweet film for the popcorn generation that will allow parents to open a dialogue about death and our place in the universe. And with so many mean-spirited films targeted at kids these days (see: How to Train Your Dragon 2), “sweet” is exactly what the doctor ordered.