BIG HERO 6
Directors: Don Hall and Chris Williams
Cast: The voices of Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph
MPAA Rating: (for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements)
Running Time: 1:48
Release Date: 11/7/14
Review by Mark Dujsik | November 7, 2014
"We didn't set out to become superheroes," the protagonist of Big Hero 6 says as the movie comes to an end. Indeed, the entire process of him and his friends becoming superheroes is fairly rushed and even haphazardly decided. Apparently, it's as simple as having a generic motivation (stopping a bad guy to avenge a loved one's death), the means (The members of this team have a background in technology), and the inspiration, which, in this case, is seeing the reflection of one's friends in a glass case filled with action figures. The rest is in participating in a quick montage, during which the team members appear wearing their new suits and each one shows off a nifty gadget.
What's strange is that this doesn't feel like a superhero movie until the characters turn up in their suits and display their arsenal of thingamabobs, and that's a compliment. The screenplay by Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, and co-director Jordan Roberts (Don Hall is the other) is handily divided into two parts. The second is the typical stuff of typical superhero lore (not surprising, given that it's based a comic book series by Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle). It has a villain with a dastardly plan, devices that can cause lots of destruction in the wrong hands, and plenty of freewheeling action sequences that reduce whatever conflict exists to a lot of flying and fighting.
Before that turn, though, Big Hero 6 is far more considerate about the stuff that ends up becoming fodder for super-heroics. With the considerable help of a particularly loveable character, the movie does so with an abundance of charm, humor, and unexpected compassion.
The character is Baymax (the voice of Scott Adsit), and it is a healthcare robot that looks like a "walking marshmallow." Our 13-year-old genius of a hero, the appropriately named Hiro (voice of Ryan Potter), apologizes and says he meant no offense by that observation. Baymax responds that, as a robot, it is incapable of being offended, so in addition to looking like a walking marshmallow, Baymax is also overly polite and quite the literalist.
We pretty much know that the robot is going to be special the moment it inflates to its full size, and that's confirmed seconds later when it comes across a small stool in its path. Stopping due to the minimal obstacle in its way, Baymax pauses, looks down at the seat, considers it for a beat, and proceeds to pick it up and move it across the room before returning to its programmed route. The big lug can't even be rude to an inanimate object.
Its movements are dainty, as if the robot isn't a bunch of air in a vinyl shell, designed by Hiro's older brother Tadashi (voice of Daniel Henney) to be "non-threatening and huggable." Baymax doesn't have emotions, but do we maybe hear a smidgen of wounded pride when he observes that wearing armor may lessen those traits?
He's also curious as to how a suit that flies, a rocket-propelled fist, and learning karate will help his role as a healthcare practitioner. Around this point, the movie has pretty much set out to leave the Baymax we've come to know and adore behind it. It's still amusing to observe the robot try to reconcile its programming with Hiro's determination to turn it into a flying-and-fighting machine, which mirrors the movie's determination to shift its goals and tone to something for which it never seemed destined, but Baymax gradually becomes more of a prop than a character.
The story follows Hiro as he goes from the world of gambling on robot fighting to becoming a legitimate inventor. Hiro shows off his newest invention, micro-bots controlled by thoughts, at a conference. Soon after, the brother is killed in a fire.
Baymax comes to Hiro's aid, and the robot's single-minded programming to help in the physical and emotional care of the boy is touching. Once Hiro leans that a masked man—who is responsible for the fire that killed his brother—has taken possession of the micro-bots, the kid, four of his classmates (the voices of T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., and Genesis Rodriguez), and Baymax team up to stop the villain.
All of this feels hurried. The members of the sextet—apart from Hiro and Baymax—are almost solely defined by the powers their inventions grant them (One has electromagnetic discs that serve as wheels and throwing weapons; another has plasma-powered blades). The villain gets a seemingly indestructible tool and a motivation that is equal—and equally generic—to Hiro's. Whatever emotional foundation there is to Hiro's story becomes the theatrics of a confused superhero (There's a scene in which Baymax asks if "the destruction" of the man who killed Hiro's brother will heal him, and even though it's a movie for kids, one can't help but wonder how the robot, which is programmed to heal the boy, would react if Hiro were to answer, "Yes").
The humor and especially the charm are slowly but surely drained from the proceedings, and in their place, Big Hero 6 supplies only routine and formula. It's an act of bait-and-switch made even more disappointing by how enticing the bait is.
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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