Big Hero 6

Year: 2014

Director: Don Hall, Chris Williams

Producer: Kristina Reed, Roy Conli

Starring: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans, Jr. Genesis Rodriguez, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell, Maya Rudolph

Cinematography: Rob Dressel, Adolph Lusinsky

Country: United States

When a family tragedy causes 14 year old robotics genius Hiro Hamada to fall into a deep depression, it comes down to his brother’s friends, some nifty inventions and a large inflatable robot named Baymax to lift him out of his funk and save his home city of San Fransokyo — a conglomeration of both San Francisco and Tokyo.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Well, it is. Unapologetically ridiculous, awash with beautiful colours, larger than life characters, funny situations, adrenaline pumping action and more heart than I’ve seen in a Disney movie for a long time (and that includes Frozen), Big Hero 6 is a genuinely enjoyable family friendly story that transcends boundaries of boy and machine.

Big Hero 6 is based on the Marvel comic of the same name (hence the clear Japanese influence) but, unlike the adult manga, this iteration is more of a family friendly adventure with plenty of allegories to real life lessons.

Hall and William’s world of San Fransokyo is alive with Japanese influenced tea houses and manga inspired art combined with the trams and hills we all associate with the steep terrain of San Francisco, including the Golden Gate Bridge (according to filmmakers, the idea behind the mash-up was that San Francisco was mostly rebuilt by Japanese immigrants after the 1960s earthquakes, although this backstory is never actually explained during the movie — a pity because it has fantastic multicultural connotations). It’s not hard to be envious of the city even though it exists only as animation on a screen.

Unlike most Marvel movies being churned out of Hollywood these days with superhero characters flying through the air wielding fantastic powers that we can only dream of, Big Hero 6 takes a fresh look at the superhero genre by engaging us with Hiro (appropriately voiced by Ryan Potter, relatively unknown in the main stream movie circles), who transforms from a young, initially selfish, arrogant teenager into a mature young man.

It’s not hard to sympathise with the main character — he’s thrust into a situation that he never wanted to be a part of and suddenly has to rise to the occasion while dealing with emotions that no 14 year old should have to, yet with the help of a very naïve but loyal partner in the form of his brother’s medical assistant robot, Baymax, he rises above and finds true value in the power of friendships.

Hiro’s supporting cast include GoGo (Jamie Chung), a tough young lady who don’t take no rubbish from anyone — a clear feminist and female fan favourite, Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr., in his most reserved role yet) the realist of the group who sees the fragility of their situation, Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), the slightly bimbo-ish chemist that serves to round out GoGo’s tough girl exterior, and Fred (T. J. Miller), who provides both the comedic influence for the group but also acts as a voice for anyone who’s always wanted to be a superhero since they tied a towel around their shoulders and pretended to be Superman.

But it is Baymax, the lovable inflatable robot that really steals the show. Built to help people by Tadashi, Hiro’s brother, Baymax represents the good in all of us, the spirit of helping each other to rise above adversity. It would be easy to get bogged down in sentimentality at this point but the way Hall and Williams skillfully combine a rollicking tale of adventure with some very poignant life lessons makes this a movie for all ages worth watching more than once.

Almost every superhero movies these days has some form of robot and they all seem to emulate human form in one way or the other, with easily discernible features. Big Hero 6’s Baymax, however, eschews this cliched form in preference for a completely different, yet loveable, approach. Big, fat, clumsy and made of vinyl, it’s fascinating the way that the filmmakers are able to convey such a large range of emotions — mostly through Scott Adsit’s brilliant voice work.

Not only does Baymax provide us with some genuinely funny moments (wait for his hilarious first attempt at a fist bump), but also the heart of the movie, helping Hiro realise that life is still worth living despite the adversity he faces. After watching him pat a kitty whilst running out of power, fumbling with a tape dispenser as his bloated body deflated whilst squealing like a pierced balloon, or the hilarious moment when, faced with attempting outrun an army of miniature robots, Baymax admitted matter of factly “I am not fast”, I found myself lamenting the fact that I didn’t have my own Baymax waving and saying in his soothing voice “Hello, I am Baymax”.

Big Hero 6 isn’t perfect, occasionally resorting to one line gags and movie clichés that elicit more groans than laughs, but for a movie in a genre already crowded with clichéd material and commercial interests, it draws us in with relatable characters, amazing sets, adrenaline pumping adventure and genuinely funny interactions that helps us remember that there’s a little Hiro in all of us.

****

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