Friday, November 7, 2014
The idea of Disney exploiting its newly acquired Marvel properties for an animated film is a great on its face. The first of these films, but hardly its last I believe, is Big Hero 6, a cute superhero movie that should prove to be a font of unending merchandising opportunities directed to young boys the way Frozen has been to young girls. Cute as it is however , Big Hero 6 still comes up short as a children's fantasy.
The issues lie in how Big Hero 6 fuses superhero tropes with those of the traditional Disney narrative. The titular super team is brought together by the death of Tadashi (voiced by Daniel Henney), a young genius who designed a robotic healthcare companion known as Baymax. His kid brother Hiro (Ryan Potter) helps design armor for the marshmallow-like robot and encourages Tadashi's colleagues to employ the tech they've each designed in order to determine who the sinister masked criminal Yokai really is, how he stole Hiro's new invention, and how he may be connected to Tadashi's untimely demise.
With only the most tenuous of ties to the obscure original Marvel Comics series, Big Hero 6 has been Disney-fied to within an inch of vanilla. Dead parental figure? Check. Cuddly mascot? Check. Child-oriented morality play in a fantasy environment? Check. What is lacking is the grander scale and more meaningful themes of animated classics like its closest predecessor, Pixar's The Incredibles. For a movie with such iconic landscapes as the anime-influenced San Fransokyo (where the Golden Gate Bridge is made up of traditional Shinto Toriis), Big Hero 6 feels strangely small. The city itself is representative of the movie's main problems. Its look is a melange of influences we've seen before elsewhere and the film has hardly anything new to say. West Coast and Far East aesthetics were combined to greater effect in Blade Runner for instance. Superhero stereotypes were used to convey more practical themes about maturity than simply learning to rise above petty revenge when The Incredibles addressed its hero's mid-life crisis and dysfunctional family dynamics.
Of course, none of this should matter much to the children Big Hero 6 is designed to please. Most of what is right about the film lies in Baymax's new, kid-friendly appearance, a marked difference from his original kaiju-inspired look. In his armor Baymax looks formidable, and without it he's like a giant, soft security blanket. Baymax is an iconic Disney character through and through that should sell many an action figure and stuffed animal. Time will tell if Disney made a mistake in sacrificing the longevity that comes with cross-generational charm for the short term reward of a quick buck.
Special note should be made of the animated short that precedes Big Hero 6, Feast. It's a contender in that category for the Academy Awards and shall surely be a finalist come Oscar time not only for its dramatic computer-generated watercolor effect but for the ingenious method it uses to tell its tale. With the frame never leaving the eye-level of its puppy protagonist, Feast uses the type and amount of food the dog is fed to trace the dog's relationship to his owner and the owner's own romantic travails. Feast is touching on an emotional level and stirring in its visual simplicity.