When Marvel Studios released a film called Iron Man back in 2008 expectations were quite low. Sure it featured the return of controversial public figure Robert Downey Jr. and purported to be the beginning of an entire universe of films, but Iron Man was little more than a secondary character at the time. Marvel took a huge risk, and it has since paid off to the tune of billions and billions of dollars. Other studios like Sony and Warner Bros. are trying to reproduce the success of Marvel’s comic book movie renaissance, but no one does it quite as well as the original. Marvel overlords Disney are now extending the comic book game into animation with Big Hero 6, though any connections to the paper-printed roots of the property are being downplayed in the marketing.
It doesn’t matter, as Big Hero 6 is still a really strong superhero film. Based on the comic by Man of Action Studios, the film follows Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), a child prodigy in San Fransokyo, as he seeks enrollment in the university where his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) builds the next generation of robotics tech, like his cuddly first aid robot Baymax (Scott Adsit). In the aftermath of a tragedy that claims the life of their beloved professor (James Cromwell), Hiro and Baymax team up with Fred (T. J. Miller), GoGo (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.), and Honey (Génesis Rodriguez) – fellow university students – to exact revenge. Designing unique weapons and costumes, the friends become a veritable team of super-heroes, ready to take on an evil Kabuki mask-clad villain with seemingly unlimited power. But are the intentions of every member of the team as noble as they would have the others believe?
Big Hero 6 blends Disney’s two giant ventures together. It is one in a long line of successful animated movies geared mostly toward children, but it is also one in a long line of successful comic book movies geared toward adult-aged children. As such, it falls into some of the same traps as it’s predecessors in both categories. The film is unnecessarily manipulative emotionally, as these animated features have been since 1942’s Bambi; Hiro’s parents have already passed away by the time the film begins, but screenwriters Robert L. Baird, Dan Gerson, and Jordan Roberts feel the need to heap even more turmoil upon the young man before the first act ends. Such developments might work to bring he younger members of the audience into the film, but it feels cheap to the older crowd.
The movie also fails to develop an intriguing villain, much like almost every Marvel film before it. Sure, Yokai (as Wikipedia tells me he is called) has a stronger motivation than Thor: The Dark World‘s Malekith of Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Ronan, but the portrayal is just as flat. Even a really slick character design cannot salvage the madman.
Luckily the film itself doesn’t really need salvaging. Much like its main opening weekend competition Interstellar, Big Hero 6 is such an enjoyable experience that its faults pale in comparison to everything it gets right. The movie isn’t as strong as the last few Disney features (especially Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled), but it is still incredibly entertaining. And it’s refreshing in a lot of ways. The driving force of the movie is science, as opposed to magic, which has been a part of the Disney brand since Snow White. It’s hard to argue for the accuracy of any of the science, but it is nice to see the film encourage the geekier pursuits to its audience. Big Hero 6 doesn’t even talk down to its female characters; GoGo and Lemon are both strong, independent characters who never find themselves imperiled solely to be rescued by a male counterpart. And they are smart. Damn smart.
Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams craft a really entertaining superhero origin story that never feels boring or rote, despite what might be easy comparisons to Pixar’s The Incredibles. The movie is full of well choreographed action and excellent voice performances (Adsit especially, but also supporting cast members like Maya Rudolph and Alan Tudyk). Even a cheesy montage set to a pop song cannot ruin a fun time at the movies.