Film Review by: Bill Graham
Charm and darkness rarely go hand in hand but “Big Hero 6″ doesn’t seem to enjoy just simply being a quality kids movie. Instead, it wants to push some boundaries where it can and take you for the ride. So often I see adults lament animated movies. It’s like they forgot what they were raised on happens to play well across many ages if done right, and BIG HERO 6 is a prime example. My row of fellow press and friends were laughing quite a lot throughout the film and it’s always a great sign that things are going right when we sometimes trump the kids in how hard we laughed.
Our journey starts with a young whiz kid name Hiro in the fictional world of San Fransokyo which feels very much like a mashup of Tokyo and San Francisco that helps further sell this vision of East-meets-West. The movie is roughly based on a Marvel comic of the same name that is relatively young. The world of Hiro and Big Hero 6 has advanced technology and Hiro happens to be especially gifted in advanced robotics. While he searches for meaning in his life, he eventually finds a goal in attending the same academy as his brother. But everything goes awry and suddenly he’s left with only Baymax, an advanced robot with an inflatable skin that his brother was planning to use for health care.
And it’s here that the film starts to take its shape. Baymax is a charming, juvenile robot. He’s advanced and is drawn to anyone crying out in pain. He can scan and recommend and fix things but he needs a little human touch. That’s where Hiro and him bond, with the filmmakers at Disney getting a lot of mileage out of various gags and oddities. Baymax learning how to fist-bump is a standout they pull upon a few times but more than anything it’s the measured and monotone delivery of its voice that sells the comedic aspect. Another charming moment is when Baymax is low on batteries and ends up going completely wonky, acting akin to being a bit tipsy.
The film has many twists and turns but when Hiro finds out a secret plot dealing with some stolen hardware, he investigates and soon his brother’s older friends join in to help. Of course, this film serves a bit as a superhero team origin story. But let me lay to rest any concerns about that fact: Big Hero 6 is charming and varied enough to make you forget any reservations about that genre. The animation is particularly potent, with the architecture of Hiro’s neighborhood or the way that advanced tech blends into their world. You’ll be surprised to see how much actual tech is real in this make-believe world and the colors pop on screen. But a big highlight for me is how Hiro’s friends celebrate different race, gender, and body types.
So often I see animated films that paint with broad strokes but here we get to see a difference. GoGo is short and athletic, with big hips and a flair for speed and the character models get more diverse from there. Everyone seems to have a different height, weight, or feature that defines them as distinct from each other. If you put them in silhouette right now I’d be able to name each one. It’s a small detail but one that I think needs to be noted when there is often a lack of diversity in how humans are drawn or animated in our culture.
And while there are plenty of laughs and jaw-dropping moments of beauty in the set pieces, the film has a darker side as well. People die and character arcs go down some twisted paths as the film runs through its 108 minute runtime. While it is still very much a PG Disney film, they’ve never been one to shy away from real emotions and again and again directors Don Hall and Chris Williams manage to infuse Big Hero 6 with some humanity that is often lacking and give us shades of grey. People are rarely all good or all bad and the film touches on that well.
If you need to take anything away from a review like this just simply know that Baymax is the key and is why the film works so well. He’s innocent and charming with his rotund marshmallow frame, but in the hands of Hiro is shows he can also kick some serious butt. The high watermark for any animation company right now continues to be Pixar, even if they haven’t had a genuine winner in the last few outings. But more and more big brother Disney Animation Studios has shown that they can still compete. Big Hero 6 celebrates diversity and using your brain, and when you throw in some quality laughs that will stick around and impressive visual flair, it’s easy to see why the film is a charmer through and through.