Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Don Hall, Chris Williams. Screenplay by Jordan Roberts, Dan Gerson, Robert L. Baird; based upon the Marvel comic book by Steven T. Seagle, Duncan Rouleau. Produced by Roy Conli. Music by Henry Jackman. Edited by Tim Mertens. Production designed by Paul A. Felix. Art direction by Scott Watanabe. Starring Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Génesis Rodríguez, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell, Maya Rudolph.
Big Hero 6, the new animated adventure from Walt Disney animation, comes at a time where the studio can arguably do no wrong, as it is the newest in series of critically and financially successful movies that harken back to the company’s “silver age,” that really strong run they had in the 1990s. The most triumphant entry was certainly last year’s Frozen, which was clever in the way it tipped over decades of established Disney convention. Big Hero 6, however, is a bit of a mixed bag: filled with eye-popping detail and winning characters, and cheerfully progressive in a non-showy way, but its second half is too formulaic and generic.
Based on an obscure Marvel comic book, Big Hero 6 is littered with superhero tropes, and while the titanic battles and colorful costumes are neat-looking, they somewhat obscure the movie’s beating heart. Taking place in the futuristic San Fransokyo (a blend of San Francisco and Tokyo, with a healthy mix of characters who could be found in either), our hero is…well, Hiro (Ryan Potter), a precocious teen scientist with an eye for robotic innovation. His brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) pushes him away from underground bot fighting and towards scholarly pursuits—that is, until Hiro suffers an inevitable tragedy.
Grief-stricken, Hiro inherits a fluffy medical droid named Baymax (Scott Adsit), and when the two of them make some cruel discoveries, Hiro retrofits Baymax with a suit of armor and karate moves. They descend into the city, along with some gearhead pals who modify their own inventions into superhero tools. There’s Go Go (Jamie Chung), a speed demon who skates and fights with razor-sharp wheels. Wasabi (Damon Wayons Jr.) can accessorize his hands with laser blades. Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) has a purse that looks girly-girl but can dispense bombs that can rearrange molecules. And Fred (T.J. Miller) really wants to turn into a giant lizard, but a lizard suit with a fire mouth will do in a pinch. Together they team up to catch a villainous thief with a weird mask (actor’s name pointedly withheld).
The team is a nice blend of genders and ethnicities, a nod to how Disney is slowly letting go of its Caucasian male heroic template (except for Fred, but he’s comic relief, which is neat). But the movie’s key relationship is between Hiro and the nurse robot Baymax, who has the predictable lack of bedside manner and a white balloon body that Hiro aptly says makes him “look like a big marshmallow.” He’s quick to offer hugs and reassurance, and trusts the supposed premise that the superheroics will allow Hiro to recover from his emotional anguish…presuming he stays on the right path, of course. By definition, Baymax doesn’t exactly possess emotions, but tell that to yourself when the movie’s over. Their friendship recalls unlikely companions like E.T. and The Iron Giant, especially during scenes where Hiro has to hide the machine from his not-exactly-observant mother (Maya Rudolph).
All of that works. What doesn’t exactly work is the movie’s second half, which gives into superhero theatrics we’ve seen a million times. They’re done with style, but they don’t really seem of a piece with what came before. While the film makes several welcome points about how revenge can be even more destructive than the pain that inspires it, it’s telling that we never love Baymax more than when he’s just his marshmallow self, not wearing the thick armor that Hiro adds to him. In fact, all the characters are more fun when they are in their street clothes, and that disconnect results in a movie that feels like it is fleeing from some of its strengths.
But not all. The scenes of San Fransokyo are techno-heaven, the characters are expressive, Henry Jackman’s score has a real pulse, and the voice work (especially by Adsit) is consistently outstanding. By the end, we can probably agree we’ve seen the work of a decent superhero team. But not the Disney A-team.
Note: the feature is preceded by an animated short called “Feast,” about a ravenous and adorable Boston terrier puppy and his master. It’s wonderful.