With all the heart and humor audiences expect from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Big Hero 6 is an action-packed comedy-adventure about robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, who learns to harness his genius – thanks to his brilliant brother Tadashi and their like-minded friends: adrenaline junkie Go Go Tamago, neatnik Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred. When a devastating turn of events catapults them into the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in the streets of San Fransokyo, Hiro turns to his closest companion – a robot named Baymax – and transforms the group into a band of high-tech heroes determined to solve the mystery.
Is there a more popular type of character in films these days than superheroes? Easy answer: no. Since 2000, films with superheroes in the lead have become popular big-tent choices for studios. In all that time, though, Hollywood hasn’t really tapped into a segment of the population that would seem ideal for a good theatrical superhero film: children. In the last decade, there have been two: Pixar’s brilliant The Incredibles, and DreamWorks’ solid Megamind. Otherwise, it’s a sea of direct-to-video titles and animated series.
Disney remedies that problem with their latest feature, Big Hero 6. Based loosely on an obscure Marvel title, Big Hero 6 follows 14-year-old boy genius Hiro Hamada, whose early graduation from high school has left him participating in illegal robot fighting until older brother Tadashi exposes him to what he and his friends are accomplishing at San Fransokyo Tech. Hiro’s desire to join Tadashi in school is dashed when Tadashi is killed in an explosion, and he’s unable to recover until Tadashi’s project – a healthcare providing robot named Baymax – comes to Hiro’s assistance.
The world of Big Hero 6 is fleshed out with a wide, diverse range of supporting characters, but the heart of the story are Hiro and Baymax. The film is essentially Hiro’s journey to utilizing his talents for good, with Baymax along to help guide Hiro as a surrogate big brother.
It’s worth keeping in mind that Big Hero 6 is an origin story, and as such, it follows many of the same patterns as most superhero origin stories: heroism borne from tragedy, unlikely villains, and so on. Where it distinguishes itself from similar (popular, at least) stories is in its focus on a younger protagonist and the lack of actual superpowers. The teammates all rely on their intelligence and technology to perform. Hiro, meanwhile, is quickly established by Baymax as being in the throes of puberty, which helps explain (on top of losing his older brother) his emotional reactions to a number of situations.
When it comes to voice casting, animated films can either go with big names or not, and while the big names sometimes work brilliantly (see Robin Williams’ work in Aladdin for the best example), it’s great to see films that focus more on finding the right voice for a character. While there are some notable names in the voice cast for the film, Disney does a great job assembling a diverse cast to match the diverse roster of characters. Leading the pack are Ryan Potter as Hiro, who nails the adolescent angst, and 30 Rock‘s Scott Adsit as Baymax, who brings the right amount of humor and care to create the film’s biggest breakout character.
From a visual standpoint, Big Hero 6 is easily the most impressive CGI film from Disney to date. The world of San Fransokyo, a mashup of Tokyo and San Francisco, incorporates elements of both cities into a distinctive environment. A lot of Disney’s animated films, particularly of the CGI variety, have dealt with smaller environments. The scale alone of San Fransokyo dwarfs anything Disney’s attempted before. It’s a technical accomplishment worth applauding, since it helps establish a much larger world that could be explored in future films.
It’s worth mentioning the creative roll that Walt Disney Animation Studios has been on over the past few years, due in large part to the leadership of Pixar head John Lassiter. While we’re now seeing a streak of quality not seen from the studio since the Disney Renaissance, the studio is thankfully not exactly following the formula from that period. Frozen and Tangled both offered novel twists on princess-featuring musicals. With Wreck-It Ralph and, now, Big Hero 6, Disney is finally, after years of attempts, creating great action/adventure animated films.
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