For better or worse, audiences are just going to have to live with comic book films becoming a staple in every genre – even animated films that are ostensibly geared for children. Fortunately for parents interested in taking their children to see Big Hero 6, the film has transformed many of the comic book’s elements to be less serious and more kid-friendly. And while this may disappoint fans of the source material, Walt Disney Animation Studios sprinkles their storytelling magic on the final product, offering an entertaining and action-packed middle ground that everyone can enjoy.
In the future and in the fictionalized city of San Fransokyo, Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a 13-year-old technical prodigy who wastes his talents by building fighting robots and entering illegal and dangerous gambling dens. It’s only when his older brother, Tadashi (voiced by Daniel Henney), introduces him to his school of technology that Hiro discovers a new world available to him. At the school, Hiro meets Tadashi’s friends, including Wasabi (voiced by Damon Wayans Jr.), Go Go (voiced by Jamie Chung), Honey Lemon (voiced by Genesis Rodriguez) and Fred (voiced by T.J. Miller). Hiro also sees what Tadashi has been working on: an inflatable medical robot named Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit). Unfortunately, tragedy strikes, unleashing an evil villain the likes of which San Fransokyo has never seen before. It’s up to Hiro to turn his newfound friends into heroes to stop this threat.
Big Hero 6 is an origin story, so it feels a little unfocused at times. This isn’t a straightforward film with normal act breaks. In fact, the story structure approaches something closer to five acts as the film takes its time to develop all of the story elements. Yet, despite having so much ground to cover, the film does a great job presenting it all. Hiro transitions from street hustler, to inventor, to crime fighter, to leader, to mature hero in a very smooth manner; the journey just takes longer in parts than audiences are probably expecting.
Fortunately, the film squeezes enjoyment out of every moment. Each scene is superbly written and presented, mixing the right amount of childlike whimsy with technology that audiences can only hope to be invented in the future. So when Hiro introduces his nano-bots and shows off what they can do, like build structures, it’s hard not to smile at the creativity. But what makes any art matter are the limitations and rules, and half the entertainment in Big Hero 6 is watching the characters live by the rules. That means when Baymax runs low on battery, he doesn’t perform well at all. And being an inflatable robot means he isn’t strong enough to kick doors down or thin enough to fit through tight spaces. Watching him navigate the world around him is both endearing and clever.
As a comic book film, it’s the action that will enthrall audiences, but as a modern animated film trying to capture the widest demographic, it’s the relationships that are the most affecting. Big Hero 6 handles both aspects exceedingly well. All of the different team members that make up Big Hero 6 have interesting-enough powers that contribute to the action in unique, refreshing ways. One character can ride on spinning discs like rollerblades and then throw them like weapons straight out of Tron. Another character can produce laser blades from his arms. As for Baymax, he’s given a cool fighting outfit, and kids are going to love watching him transform from a “giant marshmallow” into a powerful warrior. But in the end, it’s the unlikely friendships that the characters form that will tug on heartstrings. This disparate group will go through so much and experience a lifetime of momentous occasions in such little time that the bonds formed will be palpable. So when it comes to sacrifice, the loss will grip audiences in an emotional vice.
As far as entertainment value is concerned, Big Hero 6 can’t be beat. It has a beautiful aesthetic, with its Japanese influences touching everything, and the animation is spot on. Animators and their tools have reached a point where they can create any reality with verisimilitude, and audiences never have to be distracted by out-of-place details. They can just enjoy the show. Couple the gorgeous visuals with the strong, emotional writing and Big Hero 6 is the perfect film for families this weekend.