[Review] - Big Hero 6

Courtesy of Disney
I'm not, looking back, a big fan of Disney animated films. It's not that I think they aren't good films (some are, some aren't), it's that the majority of them don't hold my interest. Those that I do prefer - Winnie The Pooh, The Great Mouse Detective, The Rescuers - have fewer obnoxiously memorable songs, and tend not to be about princesses falling in love. Whatever affection I did have the studio waned almost entirely when they made the move away from hand drawn animation, and became yet another Pixar-mimic. Again, not because they became a Pixar-mimic, but rather since then their output hasn't engaged me in anyway. I've sat through each of their latest offering, and been left feeling cold and unimpressed.

So it was that, when Big Hero 6 was announced, I couldn't be bothered. I was no more interested in it than I might have been an ad for foot fungus ointment, or the rantings of a street-corner lunatic. That it was a super hero film, and based on an obscure Marvel property carried no weight with me (I follow no lead blindly), and if it was going to attract my attention, it was going to have to earn it. Which it did with it's first trailer, showcasing the comedic potential of the inflatable med-droid Baymax. It was enough to raise my curiosity level to "mild," enough to get me to buy a ticket, but still a far ways off from "Guatemalan insanity." The net result: I left the theatre merely content. Big Hero 6 is a decent enough film, two thirds of which are energetic and engaging when confronting you but leave a quickly faded impression on you mind, which will have all but disappeared by the time you get home.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that are satisfied with their care.

All credit to Disney, they figured out why Pixar was giving them the run-around throughout the nineties and early aughts: Pixar's films always came from a strong foundation of emotionality, rather than simply trying to look good. This is the nut that Sony and Dreamworks are utterly incapable of cracking. And it shouldn't be a surprise that former Pixar head John Lassiter is bringing the same fundamental system to Disney. Their last string of CG films can all claim to be grounded in an emotional state rather than being an empty exercise in technique. The successful deployment and exploitation of that emotional state varies from film to film. In the case of Big Hero 6, once it finally gets to the point it's trying to make, it makes it well. It just takes it's time getting there.

And Disney, like every CG animated film, and every action, science fiction and fantasy film filled with CG coming to theatres, wastes too much time in senseless gratuity. Overly long, wildly inappropriate and narrative breaking shots and sequences that have nothing to do with anything except show off for the audience. Occasionally these sorts of moments can be useful and important to the development of the story (I think here of the flight scenes in the How To Train Your Dragon series), but over use, and prolonged use bogs down the pace and diverts the attention (I think here of the flight scenes in the How To Train Your Dragon series). Big Hero 6 is no less guilty of this, so I suppose it unfair to criticize them for simply doing what others do as well. If everyone is doing the same thing wrong, then certainly it all comes out in a wash, right?

No. That is foolish and horribly simpleminded, and destructive. It's that sort of mass-apathy that leads to Arnold Schwarzenegger being elected governor. No, I'll charge each film guilty of shameless self-flagellation as they come, and  Big Hero 6 gets no discount on my scorn. It is less guilty than others, I will concede, but trim might have come to the run time if less attention was paid to mindless flight sequences and streamlined battles. It seems to me that, just because the technology allows it to be so, doesn't mean that every film's fisticuffs climax must inevitable devolve into an epileptic blur. Surely there is a more stationary and cerebral alternative?

Anyway, the emotional nougat centre to this piece is grief, which Hiro (Ryan Potter) has in spades. He also has unlimited potential and very little ambition, or at least he does until the film isn't interested in those aspects of his personality anymore, in favour of aping Iron Man a whole bunch of times. See, the spurting artery of the film is that the first act is a dog. There is way too much ground that the writers felt the need to cover (and admittedly, had to cover considering the story they wanted to tell), and really had to rush to get it all in. Which means that up until his brother dies (it's not a spoiler if it's the impetus of the entire film), the film struggles to make you care about what it is throwing at you. There is a whole lot of exposition, a lot of character introductions and establishments, and an attempt to set the tone for the rest of the film. Because of the volume of material it needs to cover, the remainder of the material gets lost, and never gets picked back up.

For instance, the brothers live with an aunt who receives no development whatsoever. Presumably she would be as dramatically affected by the brother's death as Hiro. As presented, it seems to have affected her not at all. Because the writers want to spend so much time on assembling the Avengers later on, and having TJ Miller improvise his lines, the actually interesting possibility of exploring the very different kinds of grief that befall two very different kinds of people, and how they act and react to each other, is lost. The film wants to be about family and grief and healing. Baymax says, twice, that grief is overcome by spending times with loved ones. In the film, this translates to leaving his aunt, who has been his sole guardian for years, and hanging out with a bunch of college kids he met once. If this weren't a cartoon marketed largely to the under-tens, this would equate to Hiro doing quite a lot of drugs with those college kids, attempting to drown his grief in substance abuse and gambling addiction, which he already suffers from when the film begins.

The film finds it's footing and it's core when Baymax enters the picture, and the "team" assembles. Once the writers have the core together, the rest seems effortlessly charming. The cast - Jamie Chung, Scott Adsit, Damon Waynes Jr, and Genesis Rodriguez - are all affable and immensely enjoyable. And Alan Tudyk, in his third straight role for Disney, continues to surprise with his versatility as a voice actor. The plot is thin, and relies a little too much on third act surprises to be considered a true mystery, but it manages to avoid the traditional cliches of the superhero genre. It also -though, not as much as I might have hoped - champions science and academic excellence over magic and faith, the usual bread and butter of Disney heroes. It might mean more if every character in the film weren't a genius; Hiro's accomplishments don't seem to come at much cost or burden. One of those first act weakness is the time-lapse development of the film's macguffin, the microbots.

Ultimately, Big Hero 6 is just derivative enough of other super hero movies to be ever be unique, and while being more willing to confront difficult and complex issues than most animated films, it never goes far enough. It does use Baymax as a surrogate, but too much of that is the audience's emotional connection to the most humourful character rather than helping the in-universe characters come to terms with their losses. It's a good time while you are watching it, but it fails to make any breakthrough or say anything of last effect. As recent Disney films go, it has slightly more substance and doesn't rely on rote memorization and shallow themes to induce a fan base. Which is a step in the right direction.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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