How About Some Noah Baumbach, Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Altman and Akira Kurosawa for the Holidays?
Ralph Fiennes holds civilization together with little more than his impeccable manners and mustache in Wes Anderson's absurdist dollhouse of a tragicomedy, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
While fans of the possible franchise might feel cheated, Big Hero 6 proves that Disney did the right thing by bringing Marvel into its multi-billion dollar, multinational film fold. While concepts like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy will continue to hold weight up and until the moment superheroes fall out of favor, the kid-friendly refashioning of this comic book property argues that the House of Mouse’s current creative approach has some incredible legs. Fiercely entertaining and unafraid to dabble in adult ideals, the end result rockets to the top of 2014’s array of age-appropriate titles.
Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a restless 14-year-old living in the near future city of San Fransokyo. He loves to fiddle with fighting robots and worships his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), who doesn’t like him competing in these illegal contests. Hoping to inspire his little sibling toward a career in science, he takes him to his high tech college campus and introduces him to his friends GoGo (Jamie Chung), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.), Fredzilla (T.J. Miller) and his instructor, Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell). He also wants him to meet latest invention: an inflatable health aid robot named Baymax (Scott Adsit).
Hiro eventually enters the university’s annual competition, hoping to wow the instructors as well as suspicious industrialist Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk) with his novel invention, the mini-bot. During the event, a fire breaks out and tragedy strikes. Hiro is left heartbroken, and determined to understand what happened. Using Baymax as a basis, our tiny lead decides to uncover the truth. He recruits Tadashi’s friends, outfits them with brand new superhero-like garb, and trains them to fight… kind of. Their target? An evil figure in a dark cloak and kabuki mask who has mastered control of Hiro’s mini-bots.
To say Big Hero 6 is exciting and exhilarating is an understatement. This is the kind of film that will spark the imagination of any 10- to 20-year-old while easily pleasing those old enough to know better. It differs quite significantly from the comic book version, but that’s adaptation for you. Disney understood what would best make this material work and placed Don Hall and Chris Williams in charge. Both worked on the intensely popular Frozen, as well as the equally inventive Wreck-It Ralph, and their abilities are apparent from the first frame.
This CG animated effort has the look and feel of a cartoon, but also offers the kind of scale and scope you expect from live action. The combination causes a kind of cerebral celebration, the brain unable to fully process the level of joy being experienced.
This is a first for both the House of Mouse and Marvel. It’s multicultural animated action adventure where no character is criticized or stereotyped. Instead, the storyline has our ragtag group of geeks being on equal terms; all afraid, all apprehensive, and all willing to help Hiro when the time comes. Yes, this is an origin story, but one that dispenses with the lumbering mythologizing that the format requires. We aren’t here to build idols.
Instead, Big Hero 6 creates people we can relate to, putting them in harm’s way and watching as they initially act like awkward college kids. Even Hiro, who uses Baymax as a way to support his struggles as a leader, needs moments of discovery before finally finding his way. These sequences are special since they remind us that, sometimes, our champions often began life in far less iconic ways.
There’s also a lot of Guardians of the Galaxy here. A lot. Just as James Gunn forced Marvel to lighten up (to the tune of nearly $800 million at the box office, worldwide), Hall and Williams inject as much humor here as they can. While Fredzilla is the most obvious choice for most of the jokes, it’s Baymax who actually walks away with the film’s many comedic moments. Because his persona is so blank, because his programming is so basic and yet incredibly sophisticated, he’s a natural for getting into and out of jams in ways that make us smile. In fact, all of Big Hero 6 puts a grin on one’s face; that is, when you’re not at the edge of your seat as you experience some amazing 3D chase and action scenes.
There’s also a great deal of heart here, as it’s a family film that deals with troubling issues like death and abandonment. For those interested, we are introduced to Hiro and Tadashi as they live with their Aunt (a crazed Maya Rudolph). Apparently, their parents died, leaving them both grieving and guarded. When the second tragedy occurs, it adds more fuel to the mourning fire.
In fact, it’s not really clear why Hiro would come out of his funk except that he needs answers. He required closure. Even as the rest of the team tries to dissuade him, Hiro continues to care. He won’t let his memories and their meaning simply fade away. By battling the villain and recruiting his brother’s pals, he’s creating a living legacy — and the obvious possibility of a few sequels.
One could argue that the ending is a bit too pat, having not really been established well enough early on, and there are times when the Fredzilla “dude” dynamic wear a bit thin, but overall, Big Hero 6 deserves a big thumbs up. It works on so many levels that more than a couple will sneak by you upon an initial viewing. It’s also further proof that Marvel can do no wrong, even when facing the normal movie mandates surrounding a House of Mouse production.
In the years to come, the genre will ebb and recede, reminding us all that too much of a good thing is, indeed, too much. In the case of Big Hero 6, however, excess leads to excitement, and exhilaration, and entertainment.