Thursday 1 January 2015

Big Hero 6 (2014) - Movie Review


There’s a certain high expectation that comes attached with anything animated by Disney/Pixar, and for the most part it’s deserved: Whether it’s older classics like Fantasia and The Nightmare Before Christmas or more modern successes like Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen, Disney has a good pedigree for quality entertainment… mostly. The last few years have muddied the waters a bit for the company, what with the baffling continuation of the Cars/Planes franchise which is seriously bad enough to throw their entire filmography into question. However, they are still releasing good family films, one of the few studios that still is, so my expectations are still at a decent level for today’s feature: This is Big Hero 6.

The plot: Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a child prodigy in robotics who befriends a medical assistance robot called Baymax (Scott Adsit) that was built by his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney). After one of Hiro’s inventions is stolen by a masked villain, Hiro, Baymax and a group of their friends suit up in robotic armour to go out and fight the villain.

Since we’re thankfully not dealing with DisneyToon animation, said animation looks really good and worthy of being shown in a theatrical movie. It’s very fluid with a lot of energy in the character movements and the characters themselves are well designed, looking like a midway point between the cartoonish models in Wreck-It Ralph and the more realistic models in Frozen. This midway point works, considering the film’s comic book and manga influences. The film is based on a Marvel comic book series, and from what I can tell very loosely based at that, which is set in Japan and has some cultural influences in it as a result which definitely seems to have survived the adaptation process. The most obvious example of this would be the setting of San Fransokyo. Add to that the upgradeable robot and the shouting-out of attack names during battle sequences, in a rather cute nod to shonen manga, and this has a definite Eastern flavour to it.

To contrast that, the writing here has Western film clichés all over it: Underdog whiz kid with a chip on his shoulder who *SPOILERS* is out for revenge for the death of his brother by the main villain. Hell, in their attempt to dodge a big cliché of having the business magnate be the supervillain, they inadvertently veer into another cliché of blatant misdirection as a means of trying to fool the audience, which ends up being too blatant to take seriously. However, it does seem that the film is at least a little genre-savvy. Fred (T.J. Miller), the comic book geek of the group, points out who he thinks the villain is because of the character’s similarity to traditional Lex Luthor-style comic book villains, admittedly a nice moment.

But then we get into the logistics of some of the inventions seen here and something seems really off. We’ll ignore the microbots that Hiro invented, as at least the film acknowledged the possibilities for such a creation, and instead look at Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodriguez)’s superhero gadget: A handbag with a touch-screen periodic table on it that can generate balls of chemicals which she can throw at enemies. It is essentially an alchemy device that seems to be able to create these elements out of nowhere, since there’s no way in hell that sufficient quantities of every single element on the table would fit into that bag.

Now, I know that this is the kind of question that gets brought up frequently involving superhero tech, but we’re not talking about something like a hover-wheelchair or a mechanical suit; we’re talking about a device that can literally create anything out of nothing. I should not have to explain how important such an invention would be to the world… and yet, Honey Lemon just uses it to make instant rubber and ice. It got to me, to say the least. The plot, when taken on its own, is pretty flimsy as well: It’s an extremely basic superhero origin story, and yet they somehow managed to pad it out to 100 minutes and some change. Not that this film ever feels like it’s dragging its feet at any point but the plot that ties all the scenes together is minimal without a lot of meat to it. At the very least, the film makes it a point to keep the audience engaged whether it’s through action scenes or more comedic moments, most of which work and get decent chuckles.

The characters aren’t written with much… well, character here either: While Hiro, Baymax and the villain are written sufficiently well (even though we aren’t told the villain’s name in-movie for some bizarre reason), the other members of Big Hero 6 just fill in character archetypes without anything to really add to them: Honey Lemon is the optimist; Fred is both the genre-savvy geek and the laidback surfer dude; GoGo (Jamie Chung) is the stoic tomboy; and Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) is just the token without any real personality to him at all. Luckily, the voice cast is able to make up for some of the weak writing: Ryan Potter does well as Hiro with both his emotional and jocular moments; Scott Adsit does superbly as Baymax, being able to deliver his character’s matter-of-fact lines with just the right punch to bring out the laughs; T.J. Miller as Fred is a lot of fun and made for a lot of scene-stealing throughout the film; Génesis Rodriguez plays being obnoxiously optimistic well, provided that I was supposed to be mildly annoyed by her character; and we even get a cool and equally hilarious cameo. I won’t say exactly who from, but keep in mind that this is still technically a Marvel film.

All in all, this is a fun watch provided you don’t think about it too much, as backhanded a compliment as that is. While the voice acting is good, the animation is fantastic and the laughs are well-deserved, the plot is thin without any real meaning to it and the holes within it are big enough to throw Baymax himself into.

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