Big Hero 6 (2014)
Dirs: Don Hall & Chris Williams
Academy Award Nomination: Animated Feature.
I’d usually be quite sceptical about a Marvel Comics property being ‘Disneyfied’, but this has been perfectly adapted to fit the house of mouse’s style and audience very well, possibly even better than a live-action adaptation might have.
Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a teenage genius but can’t quite channel his intelligence productively, so when tragedy takes his brother Tadashi, Hiro forms a connection with his late brother’s friends and his final project, an inflatable healthcare robot called Baymax (Scott Adsit, ’30 Rock’). Together they try to figure out the mystery surrounding Tadashi’s death, while Baymax is intent on helping make his ‘patient’ feel better.
Following Disney’s acquisition of Marvel, they looked through their newly purchased properties for little-known titles that might be good options for development separately from Marvel’s Cinematic universe and TV shows. This is one they found, and completely reworked, so some big changes have been made to the original story to make it suit a family movie, but they all feel like they work well while maintaining the overall integrity of the story and increasing the appeal for the target audience. The directors are well-skilled in producing Disney’s family animations, with Don Hall doing a ‘Winnie the Pooh’ film in 2011, and Chris Williams worked on ‘Frozen‘ and is in fact the voice of Oaken… “hoo hooo”!
The film is great fun right from the start with Hiro bot fighting, which establishes a lot of plot points for the whole story straight away. Then the film focuses on adding the emotional heart, his relationship with his big brother. With their parents dead, the two brothers are shown to be very close and share an interest and affinity with tech, but it’s their loving bond that’s quickly established in these scenes with the robotics being almost secondary. Losing his brother early in the film leads to the key themes of grief and revenge that fuel the rest of the storyline and are the motivation for everything else that follows.
Set in the city of San Fransokyo, it’s immediately wonderfully distinctive and original, beautifully blending American and Japanese styles in everything, especially architecture. The entire movie looks great, more than just wowing with the great location, the technology and science-fiction elements look really slick, mixing a nice bit of current and familiar tech with some futuristic concepts. Everything is really brilliantly rendered with fantastic light and shading that involved the animators using a number of different systems specifically for certain aspects of the film. One system was used for unique extra figures in crowd scenes, one for the greenery and another to do lighting in a new and more complex way, including Baymax’s superb translucence.
In the key duo, Baymax takes the ‘straight-guy’ role, taking things very literally and learning little bits as he goes. This sort of character is often used in double acts, and here he’s brilliantly used to humorous effect, especially when combined with the physical humour of his being slow and slightly clumsy, squeezing through gaps and deflating at times. Motivationally, he maintains a constant purpose, that of his programmed function to help and heal, so no matter how heroic Hiro tries to make him he remains really endearing, especially when their escapades take him into scenarios he wasn’t programmed for, resulting in his being woozy when his battery is low, or creating the most amazing fist bump that I now plan to adopt as my own.
Baymax, and Tadashi’s friends are the closest thing Hiro has left to his brother, and their support is exemplary. They are a great ensemble with distinctive personalities outlined, though maybe not as fully developed as the main characters. My personal favourite is Fred, such a great character who I can really relate to as he loves comics and the whole comic culture, he’s also really funny and changed quite a bit from the original comic, though there are hints that there’s much more to him than we at first realise.
It was a really smart move for Disney to make this into a family movie, the style and story work perfectly together and will appeal hugely to the family audience. Also with a running time of well under 2 hours it’s not overlong and so doesn’t suffer from big periods of tedium but rather it moves along at an engaging pace and leaves you wanting more. The voice cast contains a few more recognisable names than is often seen with Disney, but it still doesn’t need to rely on star-power of any of them, though as a matter of interest, Ryan Potter is a fascinatingly perfect choice for the film as he’s of both Japanese and American descent and is bi-lingual.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this leads to a sequel in a few years (once ‘The Incredibles 2’ has finally been released), especially as a superb cameo in the post-credits scene strongly hints at a wider and expanding world where these heroes could have an ongoing role to play. There are many aspects to the original comic that were stripped out, but as the audience and characters mature, some of those elements could be reintroduced to keep the story interesting and I’m confident it really would be!