Friday, November 7, 2014

Big Hero 6

Based (very) loosely on the comic of the same name, Big Hero 6 is Disney's first animated feature film adapted from Marvel Comics. Taking quite a few liberties with the original story (including replacing the all-Asian proven group of warriors with a more diverse cast of would-be heroes), the plot involves a group of scientists in San Fransisco-ish city brought together by the genius younger brother of one of their former colleagues (Daniel Henney) who uses their combined know-how and the medical robot designed by his late brother named Baymax (Scott Adsit) to create a super-team.

Although the story is presented from the perspective of young Hiro (Ryan Potter) dealing with loss and an uncertain future, the big fluffy robot is the real star of the film providing most of the film's big laughs. Rounding out the team are a perky chemistry wiz (Genesis Rodriguez), a high-speed adrenaline junkie (Jamie Chung), a neat-freak (Damon Wayans Jr.), and comic-book obsessed slacker (T.J. Miller) whose williness to go with Hiro's super-hero concept helps get the others on-board.

The villain, who uses Hiro's own invention for destructive rather than creative purposes, is far less compelling than a heroes. However, Hiro's journey through grief, vengeance, and genuine heroism is the type of comic book story which succeeds in providing not only an engaging story featuring a nice message for younger audiences but also proves to be the most entertaining super-hero movie of the year. It may not have the depth of Captain America: The Winter Soldier or the undeniable awesomeness of a talking tree and raccoon, but Big Hero 6 delivers more in the way of sheer fun that either of Marvel Studio's big 2014 releases.

While making several changes to the source material, the movie also deserves credit for keeping versions of both the comic's two female kick-ass comic characters. Both Go-Go (Chung) and Honey Lemon (Rodriguez) prove to be valuable members of the team showcasing their scientific know-how and bravery in different ways while taking on the Kabuki-masked villain Yokai. It would have been easy to trim or combine the female characters, but the choice to include both offers far more diversity than either DC or Marvel have attempted in any number of theatrical releases. Thankfully as a Disney film the women aren't overly-sexualized as in some of Marvel's previous straight-to-DVD movies.

The film's failings are small, but worth noting. As stated the villain of the piece (both as an unknown madman and later as an unmasked criminal) is the least interesting piece of the film. The attempt to push for an Up-style emotional whammy with the death of Tadashi, including lingering on the scientist's singed baseball cap, feels more than a bit forced and an example of Disney's darker days of pandering to the audience. Thankfully such sequences are few and far between as the emotional moments, particularly between Hiro and the bizarre giant marshmallow of a robot who stands in for his missing brother, are handled with far more care.

Following up Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen with another strong entry into the Disney Vault, Big Hero 6 teases us what might be in store now that Marvel is flying under Mickey Mouse's banner. I don't know how much in the way of Marvel properties will get the care and attention which produced Big Hero 6, but even the possibility of Disney adapting any number of projects from Marvel's diverse catalog in a similar manner should make comic fans giddy with excitement.

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