The Marvel team was a team of six Japanese superheroes and Big Hero 6 the movie retains the basic idea and names of four of those characters and transplants the team to the strange city of San Fransokyo, a portmanteau of San Francisco and Tokyo. In this world, Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), is a boy genius robotics expert who runs around town grifting illegal bot matches for money, having graduated from high school at thirteen. His older brother, Tadashi Hamada (Daniel Henney), a student at San Fransokyo's Institute of Technology, manages to convince Hiro to apply for school after introducing Hiro to his awesome lab and friends.
Unfortunately, tragedy strikes and a mysterious criminal wearing a Kabuki mask is later found wielding Hiro's seemingly destroyed invention for possibly nefarious purposes. Accompanied by Beymax (Scott Adsit), Tadashi's invention--a health care robot--and the help of Tadashi's friends, they try to uncover who the criminal and stop him from using Hiro's invention.
In the movie, Fred (T.J. Miller) literally says that they are describing an origin story, a tried and true type of comic book superhero story and he is right. Big Hero 6 is basically the story of one boy and his friends becoming heroes. And Big Hero 6 does this is classic fashion, complete with tragic loss, the tension between seeking justice and vengeance, and overcoming personal desires for the good of others. You've seen this kind of story with all manner of more human superheroes like Spider-Man and Batman and Hiro Hamada, boy genius, is another entry into that tradition. What the film does well in this particular regard is setting up Hiro and Tadashi's relationship, which further fuels both Hiro's decisions in the future as well as the internal conflict that he faces: that relationship and its proxy via Beymax, is one of the most compelling aspects of the film.
It's unfortunate that just about every other character and relationship is underdeveloped. All of the Hamada brothers friends, aside from Beymax, are single dimensional characters. And they are almost entirely dispensable in terms of story, plot, and thematic purpose. The film is not about team-making, even though it has a team, it's about the making of a single hero and it honestly might have been better as a boy-and-his-robot kind of story. The rest of the team does provide a measure of whimsy and comedy, but that is all easily taken care of by Beymax as well. I know that means that it couldn't really be called Big Hero 6, it could have been called Big Hero and a sequel will introduce the rest of the team. This would have given a little more space to explore the film's villain a little more and done better to strike the villain's parallels with Hiro.
This might also help a bit with the film's pacing issue and the draggy moment that happens in the middle of the film during the "training montage", which actually spends a considerable piece of time with just Hiro and Beymax flying through the sky. And perhaps I've just been overexposed to superhero films, but the whole "joy of superpowers" moment that Hiro has with Beymax flying just felt overlong and distracting from the film's point, which feels a little torn between being a story of personal growth and that of being a superhero.
It almost feels like Big Hero 6 is trying to force a superhero element onto a more personal regular hero story as Hiro and the Big Hero 6 are formed for the seemingly simple purpose of self-preservation and recovery of Hiro's technology. There is never really much of an external pull for Big Hero 6 to do anything other than confront their nemesis and, you know, help people outside of themselves. Which is what being a hero is about in the superhero world. This feeling of being forced is further impressed by Fred's seemingly sudden love of comic books and the meta-commentary he engages in--as such there's a lot of talk about the team being heroes, but there's really not a lot of actual hero-ing going on.
Another thing that feels a bit forced on this adaptation is the setting of San Fransokyo. Not unlike Firefly, the Asian elements in the fused town of San Fransokyo seem utterly superficial and there's not much explanation or exploration of what it means to live in this hybrid future-town. It's not clear if this is an alternate reality or what, but there is no impact to the setting and it seems rather arbitrary except as a compromise to the original comic book's roots as a Japanese team. And that really feels watered down to the point that it doesn't make sense to do it at all--why not just set it in San Francisco or Tokyo and let it be?
The thing that is impeccable about Big Hero 6, and can be said about the vast majority of Disney animated features, is that the film looks good. The art style is in keeping with Disney's overall style, rather than a more Marvel Comics-influenced style, but that works well given the tone and the direction of the story. The animation in particular is excellent, with wonderfully believable movement and the artists making great playful use of Beymax's inflated form as well as some of the technology-fueled superpowers on display. Again, the whole East-meets-West world of San Fransokyo is utterly forgettable, but it's modeled and designed well enough.
As for the music, it feels a little too fanfare-like at time and this goes back to the fact that the film doesn't quite live up to the idea of superheroes even though it does capture an origin story well. The voice actors are neither exceptional nor deficient.
But for all of its many stumbles, the core trio of the Hamada brothers and Beymax still help drive the film well and while the story doesn't quite hold together as well as fellow animated superhero film, The Incredibles, it is admittedly still an enjoyable time in the theater. It's a film that could have easily been better if it didn't seem like it was developed trying to cram the superhero, team, and Japanese elements into the story and while the ending teases more adventures, I'm really not sure that any follow-up could be any more interesting, considering that Big Hero 6 isn't terribly concerned about superhero-ing or even being a superhero team in particular. However, none of that stopped Big Hero 6's Beymax from both making me laugh and giving me a few really heartwarming moments too. And I think that makes Big Hero 6 worth checking out for fans of tales of brotherhood and action-oriented animation. 7/10.
- Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams
- Writers: Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, Don Hall, Jordan Roberts
- Principal Cast: Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, T.J. Miller, Ryan Potter, Génesis Rodríguez, Maya Rudolph, Damon Wayans, Jr.
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- More Reviews: metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes