Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Starring (voices): Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, Scott Adsit
Running time: 102 minutes
Last year, Walt Disney Pictures’ animation department came out with a film called Frozen, a sort of musical frost-based empowerment-athon, which you might have heard of if you’re a human being with a pulse. Since Frozen went on to make more money than God – and become slightly more popular in the eyes of small children – anything that attempted to follow in its footsteps faced the kind of uphill struggle more commonly faced by eighteenth-century explorers scaling Everest.
Enter Big Hero 6, Disney’s latest effort – an animated superhero movie very loosely based on an extremely obscure Marvel property. Unfortunately, since it doesn’t have the juggernaut of the Marvel Cinematic Universe shoving it forward, and since it’s a marked departure from the more “traditional” Disney movies – no royalty, no singing, no talking animals – it probably won’t manage to live up to Frozen in terms of sheer pop-cultural impact. Which is a shame, because it’s actually quite good.
Plot goes thus: our hero, called Hiro (because comic-book writers aren’t known for their subtlety) is a fourteen-year old genius who lives in the fictional city of San Fransokyo. He’s trying to get into a prestigious engineering school, and with the help of his older brother Tadashi he manages to find a way – by showing them his newest invention, a swarm of tiny grey nanobots that can form any shape or structure.
Unfortunately, just after his demonstration the conference hall bursts into flame – an act of corporate sabotage that seemingly destroys the nanobots and kills Tadashi in the process. When a masked nanobot-wielding supervillain emerges, Hiro gathers Tadashi’s old friends – and the last thing Tadashi invented, an inflatable medical robot named Baymax – to find who was responsible for the fire and bring them to justice. To catch the villain responsible, they’ll have to become superheroes…
Effectively, it’s Baby’s First Superhero Origin Story. As you probably gathered from that synopsis, although it’s a team of six, it’s Hiro and Baymax who get the meat of the story and the major emotional beats. And yes, in true Disney fashion, there are surprisingly sad moments, if that “older brother dies in a fiery explosion” part of the synopsis didn’t tip you off.
The other four – Honey Lemon, Wasabi No Ginger, GoGo Tomago and Fredzilla – get somewhat less of the screentime and are somewhat unevenly sketched. By contrast, it’s the pudgy, ponderous and literal-minded Baymax who steals the show. The character designers did an excellent job on him – another reviewer described him as “a bouncy castle merged with an iPod” – and it’s his growing friendship with Hiro that gives the film its heart.
As for how it looks, the CGI animation’s once again stunning – Disney built a whole new supercomputer for this one just to render light properly, and it shows. From the streets of San Fransokyo to the skies over the city to somewhere else that’s hauntingly gorgeous but potentially a bit spoilery, it’s all as pretty as you’d expect. Sequences of millions of nanobots moving in unison deserve special mention.
So, overall, it’s a fun movie with surprising emotional depth. If you’re a fan of Disney films, and ever decide you don’t want to build a snowman, it’s definitely worth checking out.
(PS – wait around after the credits for That Cameo. It’s a Marvel movie. You know exactly who I mean).