Nov 17, 2014

[Movies] Big Hero 6 (2014)

Ever since John Lasseter became Chief Creative Officer for Disney after the full acquisition of Pixar, we've seen a steady evolution in how Disney animated movies are being handled compared to before. And while not all Disney features are totally Pixar-like in nature, there's certainly a greater emphasis on more emotionally-driven storytelling and a full celebration of the genre.

Big Hero 6 is an interesting mix of a Marvel Comics intellectual property being turned into a Disney movie - the sort of synergies that come with Disney owning so many different entertainment companies. It doesn't feel quite like a Marvel adventure (if you've seen the earlier Marvel animated movies, you'd understand what I'm talking about) and it's not quite a Pixar movie either. It's certainly uniquely Disney in feel, but certainly in line with the stronger storytelling mindset we've seen in more recent releases.

It's a movie with some decent action and a number of funny bits to be certain. But more importantly, it's a movie with a lot of heart and quite the powerful message to deliver.

Synopsis: Big Hero 6 is a 2014 Disney animated superhero movie directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams. The screenplay was written by Robert L. Baird, Dan Gerson, and Jordan Roberts as inspired by the Marvel Comics superhero team created by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau.

The movie is set in this futuristic city known as San Fransokyo and here we meet child genius Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter). At 14 he seems to have quite a grasp of technology as evidenced by his ability to hustle illegal robot battling matches. His older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) manages to rescue him from an opponent who didn't enjoy losing his money during one such match, but on the whole Hiro is unwilling to truly apply himself. In an effort to open his eyes to the importance of his future, Tadashi decides to bring Hiro to his university's laboratory where Hiro gets to meet Tadashi's friends, learn about their projects and eventually meet Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell).

The experience inspires Hiro to try and apply for the school. However in order to get in, he needs to come up with a project that will truly impress the panel at the upcoming exhibition. It takes Hiro a while to come up with a decent idea, the end result are his amazing microbots, which could revolutionize any number of industries given their versatility and the ability to control them with a neural-cranial transmitter that Hiro had also developed. His demo is quite the success and he gets accepted into the university, bu also gets a sizable offer from Alistair Krei of Krei Tech. And while Hiro decides to ignore the money and sign up for Callaghan's program instead, a mysterious fire breaks out that manages to kill both his brother Tadashi and Professor Callaghan along with his fabulous microbots.

Despite all the funny bits in the trailer for this movie, it tackles the rather serious issue of how we deal with personal loss. The movie starts pretty strong by demonstrating just how close Tadashi and Hiro are as brothers. And similar to the side-effect of the opening sequence in Up, things quickly turn once Tadashi dies. And that's a pretty big concept to tackle in a children's movie - and this is a lot more complex than Bambi's mother dying and then that fact being never mentioned again. Here the death is front and center and we see how greatly this affected young Hiro.

With Big Hero 6 being a Marvel property, it's interesting to note that this is totally a Disney production. No, this isn't like The Incredibles - that's distinctly Pixar in nature. And while it's easy to blur the lines between Disney stuff versus Pixar stuff, they're still pretty distinct tones. But to be clear, this is not some serious superhero movie nor does it somehow tie into the rest of the Marvel universe or anything like that. It's an original story that just happens to reference an existing work - at least in terms of the final output's strong emotional response.

The other big focus in this movie is inevitably Baymax (Scott Adsit), the inflatable personal care robot that Tadashi invented. He's become the primary marketing device for this movie and for good reason - he's ridiculously adorable. Beyond the cuteness though, he represents an interesting figure in Hiro's journey of grief. And while he may not have emotions of his own, he represents the larger range of support for people going through loss. And this one is fat and rather bouncy.

The transition from a boy taking on way too much on his own to them becoming an actual superhero team does go through the trope of a loss representing a catalyst for change. So instead of that we get an initially ambitious decision to take on the bad guy becoming a bit of a disaster coupled with Hiro becoming rater emotionally compromised. I know this sounds like a spoiler but I can't help it - how that scene came about and resolved itself was pretty great.

The rest of the team are mostly cliches and archetype. Special mention has to go out to T.J. Miller  for continuing to play essentially the same slacker archetype that he has been stuck in across movies and TV shows for one reason or another. This does not make him great for that sort of role - it just represents that people only see him in that way or something.

Big Hero 6 is a movie with a lot of heart, some good action, but really a lot of feels. And if more and more of Disney's storytelling is going to continue to focus on highly emotionally relevant stories like this, then I'll be a pretty happy Disney geek. Thus the movie gets 4 adorable utterances by Baymax out of a possible 5.


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