Beyond Avengers, Spider-Man, and mutants, one of the reasons that Disney purchased Marvel is for the hundreds of more obscure characters in their stable. Big Hero 6 is the first project to capitalize on that promise, and while the film only takes the basic premise from the comic of the same name, it demonstrates the malleability of superheroes.
Set in San Fransokyo, a futuristic city incorporating both San Francisco and Tokyo, Big Hero 6 centers on Hiro (Ryan Potter), a teenaged genius when it comes to robotics. Hiro lives with his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), a student at the local equivalent of MIT, and aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph). Hiro decides to apply to the school after bonding with his brother’s friends GoGo (Jamie Chung), a speed demon, Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.), a prescision-oriented rule follower, Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), a bubbly chemist, and Fred (TJ Miller), the school mascot who just happens to have an obsession with superheroes. After a tragedy claims Tadashi’s life, Hiro becomes depressed until he bonds with his brother’s last robotics project, an inflatable healthcare companion, Baymax (Scott Adsit). Together, the pair stumble into a secret that leads to Hiro and company becoming superheroes.
Hiro’s character arc is one of the better to be shown in a superhero origin story, precisely because it is more complex than the simple turn from regular kid/genius to superhero. Big Hero 6 is the story of Hiro’s grief over his brother. It shapes everything that happens over the course of the film, from Hiro’s relationship with Baymax to the choices he makes as a hero later on. While this may seem like heavy material for a kids’ film, it is approached with a nuanced, light touch. Additionally, the familiar framework of the superhero origin story gives context for kids.
Big Hiro 6 is the funniest film so far in Disney Animation’s comeback, and a large part of that is because of Baymax. Stemming from the tradition of hilarious sidekicks in the now-classic films of the 90s, Baymax practically steals the show. Adist gives an excellent performance, combining both sweetness and robotic stiffness for maximum comedic and heartwarming effects. TJ Miller’s Fred also provides comic relief in the form of manic energy and a frothing enthusiasm for superheroics.
The animation is bright, and the design of San Fransokyo is vibrant and intricate. The design trickles down to the smallest details, from the design of the Golden Gate Bridge to the hybrid influence on the famous “Painted Ladies.” By combining old, current, and futuristic architecture all together, the filmmakers give the city a lived-in feel, and I am already trying to plan my next vacation there.
While the story doesn’t truly bring anything new, and the secondary characters could use more fleshing out, Big Hero 6 is a delight for each minute of its runtime. It feels like the first issue of a comic, setting up the main characters, their relationship, and motivation, while introducing the world and supporting cast. It may be hard for some adult superhero fans to be convinced we need heroes even less grim than Iron Man or Captain America, but Hiro and Baymax are a reminder that superheroes can be for kids and tell a meaningful story.
And like all of Disney and Pixar’s animated releases, there is an animated short debuting before Big Hero 6 titled “Feast.” Directed by Patrick Osborne, who was the animation supervisor on the excellent “Paperman” short that played before Wreck-It Ralph , “Feast” furthers that animation style with the story of a dog and his unending desire for people food. A romance from the perspective of a Boston Terrier, the only fault is that it goes by too quickly.
Big Hero 6 opens today in Philly area theaters.