Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Big Hero 6

Now that Disney has had ownership of Marvel since 2009, it’s no surprise that they would at some point create a film based on one of their properties that has yet to hit the big screen. Also not surprising is that they’d create one that has no ties to the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe. Case in point, Big Hero 6, released this November. I’m not really too familiar with the original comic series, but the previews made the movie look promising and I gained an interest in seeing it. I wasn’t sure what to expect and ended up enjoying it, but I saw a couple flaws as well.

In the city of San Fransokyo, Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) enters an illegal Bot Fighting bout and wins a large sum of cash. After his victory, he is nearly attacked by thugs led by the man he defeats before his brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), saves him, only for Hiro to be spotted by the cops and briefly sent to jail. Hiro and Tadashi are bailed out by their Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph), who runs a coffee and bakery shop out of their home. At home, Hiro finds another Bot Fighting bout and is ready to leave, but Tadashi takes him to San Fransokyo Tech first to show him what his school is like. After witnessing technical marvels, including Tadashi’s personal healthcare robot, Baymax (Scott Adsit), Hiro wishes to enroll by coming up with an impressive invention: telepathically controlled microbots that are capable of taking on any shape and performing any task. As Hiro is about to leave, an accident occurs at the university, causing the destruction of the microbots and his brother Tadashi to die. For a few weeks afterwards, Hiro is depressed and physical pain awakens Baymax in his room. As Baymax tries to help him, Hiro notices the one remaining microbot in his jacket begin to move. He follows Baymax to where the microbot is trying to go, only to run into a villain named Yokai who is creating more of the microbots for his own use. Hiro and Baymax manage to escape, though the encounter motivates Hiro to confront the villain and stop him from using the microbots. To accomplish this, he decides to give Baymax a few upgrades and forms a team with four of Tadashi’s friends from San Fransokyo Tech: Fred (T.J. Miller), GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez).

Though the story is enjoyable, there are a couple of flaws with it. Out of all the members of Big Hero 6, only Hiro and Baymax get the amount of character development they do in the movie. The other four members are either written with fewer dimensions or feel pushed to the side for a lot of the runtime. Additionally, some of the smaller details are a little confusing, including the lack of a real reason for the fire that occurs at San Fransokyo Tech during the first act. That said, it’s interesting that grieving serves as the prime motivator for Hiro during the movie and I thought that his relationships with Tadashi and Baymax were handled really well. You can easily feel the emotion come off the screen during the bonding moments between the characters, which helps create more of a connection to them. Big Hero 6 deserves credit then for being able to balance action and drama, though it’s not on the same level as, say, Guardians of the Galaxy.

The members of Big Hero 6 (from left): Wasabi, Honey Lemon,
Hiro Hamada, Baymax, GoGo Tomago, Fred

In fact, the story at times seemed to recall other Marvel movies. One scene which features Baymax and Hiro flying around San Fransokyo recalls the original Iron Man film with Tony Stark flying around in his iconic suit for the first time and the final battle has some similarities to the one in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 against Doctor Octopus. I’d chalk this up more to coincidence since there are a lot of stories out there, but seasoned Marvel viewers may still be able to notice a connection or two.

The action scenes in Big Hero 6 are quite a spectacle, helped by the superb animation and bright color palette. Characters move realistically, yet at times also feel inspired by anime (in a good way). The fight scenes flow smoothly and feel tense at the right moments, helped by the feeling of weight in each of the motions. Some things feel a little unrealistic, like Fred being able to move perfectly within a glorified mascot costume, but they can easily be overlooked in favor of enjoying the action. The animation of the microbots is especially impressive due to all of the small moving parts and how they collectively flow like water. Additionally, the character models feel close to standard Disney designs, yet retain some of the Japanese influence and feel more original as a result. The art style of the rest of the world is also very interesting to look at and there’s plenty of detail to get lost in.

Yokai using Hiro's microbots during their initial encounter.

As for the voice acting, I thought the cast did a pretty good job. Their emotions came across effectively and each character’s personality was evident by the way they spoke and interacted with each other. Baymax especially, despite having a lower range of emotion, is able to use his actions and choice of words to express a higher range. In this sense, his relationship with Hiro takes on a vibe similar to the one present between the main characters in The Iron Giant, though once again not quite the same. Henry Jackman’s score is also pretty good, since it never feels inappropriate to the moment and can subtly increase the emotional weight or tenseness where applicable.

Before I end this review, I feel I should also talk about the short presented before the movie. This short, Feast, is mainly about a Boston Terrier named Winston eating a lot of food, but also features a plot regarding a relationship his owner has. The short is nice and touching, but I didn’t feel any real conflict within it, since the owner’s relationship plays out in the background. In short, the plot is uneven and didn’t really seem to go in any determinate direction. Regardless, the short is beautifully animated, particularly the dog and the food he eats, so it’s worth watching for the visual elements. Keep in mind though that the dog’s diet is unrealistic, as it involves large portions and food items such as pizza and cupcakes, and shouldn’t be used as a guide.

Feast has fantastic animation.

Big Hero 6 isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s pretty entertaining. The story is engaging, but falls apart when you think about it later and though the main characters are fleshed out very well, the other members of the team, and even the main villain, don’t get as much development. By contrast, the animation is very good and certain scenes leave an emotional impact on the viewer. This is a great film for families to watch, but more hardcore Marvel fans shouldn’t expect anything like Guardians of the Galaxy. That’s said, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a sequel, in which case I hope Disney tries harder to deliver a more satisfying experience.

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