Before we get to "Big Hero 6", let’s talk about “Feast”, the new animated short presented before the feature film. It tells the tale of Winston, a little hungry puppy who is adopted by a man. The entire short depicts the man's life as seen through the food he feeds his ever voracious dog.
We never see the man, or any other humans, in their entirety, but we get all of the emotion of their life by what we glimpse in the periphery. And a lot of the story is also told through the human food Winston is allowed to eat.
"Feast" is a fun, fast-paced, beautifully animated way to start off the show.
There is a lot of "Big Hero 6" that they don't show in the trailers, a lot they don't even hint at. Which is a good thing. The trailers really concentrate on the relationship between Hiro and Baymax, the large, inflatable health care robot that Hiro turns to when he needs a superhero. This is to the film's benefit.This is the best part of the film and the trailer gets us hooked on their story before we even walk into a theater.
Don't get me wrong. "Big Hero 6", the first animated collaboration between Disney and Marvel, is a great hybrid, bringing everything you love about a Disney film (with some clear Pixar influences) to many of the great elements that make the Marvel action films so enjoyable. But some of these elements don't translate from live action to animation so well.
Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a super-smart kid living in San Fransoyko with his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Tenney, TV's "Hawaii Five-O", “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) and their Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph, "Saturday Night Live", "Bridesmaids") in the upstairs apartment of an old Victorian, just over the cafe Aunt Cass runs. Tadashi, a student at the robotics lab of a prestigious university, is concerned that his brother is wasting his intelligence making robots designed for Bot Fighting, an illegal activity. He takes Hiro for a visit to his school and introduces him to Baymax (Scott Adsit, TV's "30 Rock"). This visit inspires Hiro to enter the Academy's contest awarding a full scholarship as grand prize. The Academy's director, Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell) and a prominent businessman, Alistair Kriel (Alan Tudyk, TV’s “Suburgatory!”, “Frozen”) are both very impressed by Hiro's invention, but for very different reasons. Soon, Hiro finds he needs to rely on his brother's friends, Go Go (Jamie Chung, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”, TV’s “Once Upon A Time”, “Believe”), a student working on a bike with magnetic wheels, Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr., “The Other Guys”, “Let’s Be Cops”), who is working on a super laser, Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez, “Identity Thief”, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”), the girly-girl who is working on creating chemical reactions and Fred (T.J. Miller, “Transformers: Age of Extinction”, “How To Train Your Dragon”), the skate board dude who hangs around just because he likes it, to help him fight the super villain who steals his invention, using it for no good.
Written by Jordan Roberts ("That's Not You"), Daniel Gerson & Robert Baird (both of whom worked on "Monsters University", "Cars", "Monsters, Inc.") and directed by Don Hall ("Winnie the Pooh (2011)") and Chris Williams ("Bolt"), "Big Hero 6" creates some of the most memorable characters to come out of a Disney film since, well, "Frozen". Okay, that's not that long ago. But the work in "Big Hero 6" coming so soon after "Frozen" proves the Mouse House may be experiencing another renaissance, much like they did a few decades ago with "The Little Mermaid", "Aladdin", "The Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast".
Disney has a thing about their main characters experiencing patricide. Their most famous classics actually show us the moment when the loss occurs and this helps us immediately connect to the character. In "Big Hero 6", both Hiro (subtle. I didn't even notice that until now) and Tadashi live with their aunt – something happened to their parents, we just don't know what, we can only guess. So Hiro and Tadashi have a strong bond. Older brother naturally feels like the protector for his younger brother, but Hiro is an independent kid with a lot of smarts. Their relationship is fun and heartfelt and very moving.
The trailer concentrates on the relationship between Hiro and Baymax, the inflatable robot who resembles the Pillsbury Dough-boy or the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. And once they meet and start to get to know one another, you really feel the magic the filmmakers create. Baymax, designed to be a sort of Nurse Practitioner, is gentle, awkward and lovable. He also has great difficulty adapting to what Hiro wants him to do, so these moments add a lot of laughter, making the duo even more endearing.
But there is so much more going on. We first meet Hiro at a Bot Fight. Tadashi is upset that his brother is wasting his intelligence on something like this, he should join the academy where he studies and put his brains to good use. He coaxes Hiro into visiting his academy and Hiro's quick realization that he should, in fact, attend the school is a great illustration of the type of relationship these two share. It is also funny and inspiring. You kind of wish every young teen had the same opportunity to be influenced by something positive.
After the invention is stolen, Hiro begins to investigate and runs into some trouble that he can't handle on his own with just Baymax. He turns to Tadashi's friends, who are only too eager to help. They quickly adopt what each person is working on, with a few adjustments from Hiro, to create each person's super hero identity. Hiro and Baymax are two, adding Fred, Wasabi, Honey Lemon and Go Go makes Big Hero 6. Forming the group, working on their individual identities and then training all provide a lot of great funny and exciting moments. Not to mention some great animation.
And the filmmakers have even included a few surprising moments in this sequence, giving a couple of the characters some unexpected traits and background. It is nice work.
The entire cast does outstanding work bringing their characters to life. Scott Adsit is particularly endearing and funny as Baymax. He brings a very innocent quality to the robot, helping him seem like a giant child, which makes him all the more lovable. And there are some great moments showing how Baymax adapts to his new mission and surroundings. Adsit’s voice work makes this character extremely engaging to watch. It’s a bit like watching a more vocal E.T. Ryan Potter is also very good as Hiro. Because he is a pre-teen, Hiro is beyond the cutesy-pie stage of some animated heroes, and he feels he has to demonstrate his independence at every turn. Which is why he is so resistant to visit Tadashi's academy in the first place. Potter brings just the right mix of pre-teen pluck to the role of a boy who is super-intelligent but who still has to learn to communicate. Each of the other members of the band of heroes is very good and helps them stand out as individuals. For me, the real standout in this group is T.J. Miller. A lot of this has to do with the fact that there is a lot about his character that comes as a surprise, making him funny and unique. But Miller's slacker/surfer dude delivery helps to cement this image of him.
"Hero" is set in San Fransokyo, presumably a little in the future and has a lot of Japanese influences (the people, the architecture, the lifestyles) which seem to be a nod to anime. I am not sure what the significance is of this choice, beyond the influence of Japanese animation. At times, it feels like one of those alternate realty episodes of a sci-fi show, the type where Kirk and Spock visit a New York reflecting the defeat of the Allies in World War II, with German influences and SS officers everywhere. I don't think this is the idea behind the Japanese influences, but without a more concrete explanation, I found my mind jumping here on occasion.
This isn't exactly a problem and it leads to some really beautiful shots. When Hiro and Baymax fly through the skies over San Fransokyo, we are treated to some beautiful shots of a Japanese-influenced Golden Gate Bridge. There are also large helium balloons flying over the entire city, representations of animals that look like they are pulled from a Miyazaki film. They dart in and out, around and over these floats. Again, not sure why they are included, but they look great and make the film more fun.
The villain, who wears a kabuki mask and uses Hiro's stolen invention, is a pretty threatening individual. But this is where the lack of information in the trailer begins to fall short. Because of the concentration on the relationship between Hiro and Baymax, there is no hint that there is even a super villain. Of course, you have to expect such a thing, Hiro isn't designing a superhero suit for Baymax for no reason. When the villain first appears, it is a little bit of a shock. And as the narrative continues, he appears to be pulled out of the Marvel Universe, the clear influence. Looking back at Pixar's "The Incredibles" directed by Brad Bird (one of my favorite films), the villain in the superb animated feature seems to belong to that world, he matches the style, look and feel of the rest of the film. In "Big Hero", the villain seems more like he should be in a live action Marvel film. He doesn't match the other characters.
The big battle between Hiro, his friends and the villain also seems more at place in a Marvel film. "Big Hero" is the first collaboration between Marvel and the animation part of the Mouse House, so this makes sense, but the expected is not what you really want from any film, let alone one that has been so great and so unexpected to this point.
"Big Hero 6" is a delightful animated film, with a lot of great stuff going on. Drawing influences from Marvel and Pixar, this Disney film is the first in a while to appeal primarily to boys. And it is really good. There are a lot of great, almost magical moments. And there are a few missteps.
"Big Hero 6" is a lot of fun and worth a trip to the theater.
I suspect we will see at least a few sequels. It would be a shame not to.