The latest from Disney is a colourful and undemanding superhero romp. Much like the film’s main draw Baymax, BIG HERO 6 is bouncy, endearing and funny, but perhaps doesn’t offer much extra once its fairly limited aims have been satisfied.
Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a bona fide robotics genius who has world-changing ideas but lacks the motivation to apply them, until his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) convinces him to enroll at the same prestigious university in order to develop his already considerable talents. Following an apparent tragic accident, Hiro is left alone and aimless once more, until the simultaneous discovery of Baymax (Scott Adsit), one of his brother’s inventions, and the arrival of a masked supervillain inspires him to form a team composed of his brother’s tech-savvy friends to protect their city of San Fransokyo.
Baymax is an instantly iconic creation. This big loveable Flump steals every scene, will undoubtedly inspire a mountain of licensed merchandise and memes, and is more interesting than pretty much every character who is given more dialogue. He’s beautifully animated with an original design and cute physical quirks (apparently inspired in part by baby penguins) and thanks to 30 ROCK’s Scott Adsit, he is given the most warm and appealing not-quite-human voice since I, ROBOT’s Sonny. They even manage to get an IRON GIANT-esque wobbly-lip moment in there towards the end.
Ultimately it’s a pretty standard superhero origin story crossed with every kids anime series from the late 90s/early 2000s (plus a random FRANKENSTEIN reference that doesn’t really make sense with this story). Elements of a really good film are there; it looks good, it demonstrates immense imagination and the heart and humour are more-or-less in the right places. What’s a little off is the split between action and quieter character moments (it’s weighted heavily in favour of the former) and the pacing of the thing, with some elements seeming rushed (perhaps to limit the film to a family-friendly 100 minutes) while others drag, and the film just seems to abruptly end.
The over-abundance of action wouldn’t be a bad thing if it was memorable, but the set pieces here are sadly very conventional with some interesting animated effects thrown in, and you never feel the heroes are in jeopardy. The only moment of tension which comes from a tweak of Asimov’s ideas is over all too quickly, and the characters, Hiro in particular, move on all too quickly. You might be tempted to say that since it’s a children’s film (debatable), why bother making it emotionally or intellectually complex? Then you remember what Pixar and more recently DreamWorks have produced over the last decade and that particular argument falls flat.
There’s a generous number of decent jokes, most of which come from Baymax’s well-meaning nature and non-lethal physique (“I fail to see how [latest weapons/armour upgrade] makes me a better care provider”). The gag that made me laugh the most of all was Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) making a bit of a mess of cutting his way through a door with his arm-mounted energy blade, something which anyone who’s ever tried to saw through something without the know-how will relate to.
The central mystery, that of the identity of the masked villain, is entry-level stuff – there are only three real suspects and one of them is discredited pretty quickly. Kids might still be surprised if they haven’t seen much like this before, but most adults will be looking for another dimension. Still, viewers of all ages can become invested in the tale of a lonely boy-genius and his squidgy robot pal.
I won’t say don’t see Big Hero 6, because there’s a lot to like about it. What I will say is my expectations of Disney are a little higher at this stage, particularly after their reinvention in recent years, and I’m not sure if I’ll remember any part of the film that didn’t involve Baymax six months from now. As I write this, I now hear it’s an Oscar winner. This confuses me. It’s not really Oscar quality, but the Academy were clearly too confused by braver animated efforts last year (HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, THE BOXTROLLS), so perhaps they just gave it to Disney out of habit. SSP