What has taken Disney so long? The monolithic studio first acquired Marvel Entertainment in 2009, and with it a vast resource of little-known stories ripe for adaptation and reinvention. Yet it’s only now, six years later, that Disney Animations has finally made its first film featuring Marvel Comics characters; meanwhile, the MCU has loudly gone about its multi-phase plan for world domination.
Still, at least it was well worth the wait. Action-packed and vividly animated, Big Hero 6 makes up for its mechanical storytelling with super-powered levels of heart, warmth and humour in a touching story about a broken tech geek and his gentle robot friend.
Our hero is, aptly enough, Hiro (Potter), a 14 year-old robotics prodigy wasting his potential competing in back-alley ‘bot battles while living in the futuristic San Fransokyo with his brother Tadeshi (Henney) and Aunt Cass (Rudolph). After winning a spot on a prestigious robotics program with a dazzling demonstration of his micro-robotics technology – tiny building blocks that combine to create mass objects, Hiro is knocked by a personal tragedy that once again leaves him listless and in trouble.
Lucky for him, then, that his brother invented Baymax (Adsit), an inflatable healthcare android designed to heal all human pain. Determined to help Hiro overcome his grief, Tadeshi’s cuddly-creation teams up with a ragbag mix of scientists – GoGo, Honey Lemon, Wasabi and, erm, Fred – to hunt down the masked villain who stole Hiro’s technology.
Everything about this plot is terribly formulaic, directors Don Hall and Chris Williams shamelessly aping everything from popular Marvel releases (namely Iron Man and Spider-man 2) to The Lego Movie, and most obviously Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon, with its central plot about a lonely boy who forms a close bond with a loveably inhuman companion. Disney is clearly hoping this will replicate the latter’s global success, but the predictable nature of the story makes the action hard to engage with and all the major plot twists are too easy to see coming.
Yet the real appeal isn’t its superhero origin story structure but rather the emotive force of its central pairing. In trying to incorporate the emotional depth of Pixar’s best work, Hall and Williams have successfully crafted an unflinching portrayal of teenage grief. Hiro comes across as a credible teenager suffering through repeated tragedy, his mood swinging uncontrollably between anger, depression, inertia, confusion and euphoria as he tries to channel his pain into a misguided pursuit that threatens to undo all of his brother’s good work.
It’s Baymax, however, that is undoubtedly the star of the show. In the comics he may be a synthetic bodyguard capable of ‘synthforming’ into a dragon (which is sneakily referenced in an early scene, for eagle-eyed viewers), here Baymax is disarmingly transformed into a huggable walking-marshmallow, with the endearing naivety of E.T. and the resolute loyalty of man’s best-friend proving to be a winning combination.
Though primarily a source of comic relief, his ungraceful waddle and cumbersome movements making for some excellent physical comedy, it’s surprising how much we come to care for Baymax by the film’s wrenching conclusion, the animators impressively evoking a range of emotions through his simple dumbbell eyes.
While the design of San Fransokyo is beautifully vibrant and unique in its blend of eastern and western influences, the action sequences lack the same imaginative flare, whizzing by in a flash whilst making little impact. The supporting characters likewise lack invention, with Hiro’s crime-fighting pals barely registering beyond their basic character tropes. This is especially true of James Cromwell’s masked villain, whose enigmatic identity prevents him from ever appearing as a credible threat.
Despite its storytelling and characterisation faults, Big Hero 6 is still an immensely entertaining adventure, possessing the sweet-natured charm of Disney, the emotional intelligence of Pixar and the awesome spectacle of Marvel, and propelled by two characters whom you come to care for deeply. I, for one, am satisfied with my care.
Running time: 102 mins; Genre: Animation/Adventure; Released: 30 January 2015;
Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams; Screenwriters: Jordan Roberts, Dan Gerson, Robert L Baird;
Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Maya Rudolph, Daniel Henney
Click here to watch a trailer for Big Hero 6