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Review: Big Hero 6 (2014)

Big Hero 6 (2014)

Directed by: Don Hall and Chris Williams

Premise: An animated film adapted from the Marvel comic book. A technology prodigy named Hiro (voice of Ryan Potter) reprograms an inflatable nurse robot to fight crime. Hiro and his robot join with a group of young inventors to form a team of superheroes.

What Works: Big Hero 6 was produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and it comes on the heels of Disney’s 2013 release Wreck-It Ralph. Big Hero 6 has the same flavor as Wreck-It Ralph but it is a very different kind of story. Wreck-It Ralph was about a character striving to break free of the role assigned to him by society whereas Big Hero 6 is about a young man who is socially unpegged and learns to cultivate an identity of his own. If anything, Big Hero 6 channels Terminator 2: Judgment Day as the movie presents a story of an alienated boy who is given control of an advanced robot and the two set out on adventures. As in the R-rated James Cameron film, the boy and his robot form a bond and the young man learns to take responsibility for his actions and to lead his friends into the good fight. Early on Big Hero 6 makes a few unexpected plot turns. Contemporary animated movies tend to play things very safe, to the point of pandering to the audience and playing into the over-protectionism that shields today’s kids from the eustress that narrative historically provided for them. In these early moments, Big Hero 6 shows a maturity that distinguishes it from cartoony animated features like the Madagascar series. The film is also really entertaining. Big Hero 6 is primarily a family friendly adventure film and it is able to create palatable human stakes while remaining appropriate for its intended audience. The film also has a lot of humor and the filmmakers do an effective job of mixing the jokes and the adventure without one cheapening the other.

What Doesn’t: Big Hero 6 is good but it’s frequently just good enough. The visual style of Big Hero 6 is consistent with most computer animated features but many of the images of this film have been seen before in movies like Monsters vs. Aliens and The Incredibles where they were presented with more flair and character. The film is very generic. None of the characters are memorable and the story holds few surprises. If anything, Big Hero 6 comes across very calculated. The characters don’t really grow so much as they pass through a series of boiler plate character beats familiar to a lot of animated adventure movies. After the opening, there are no creative risks in this picture and everything about it is too safe or too familiar from similar feature films. This is especially evident in the cast. Most of the characters of Big Hero 6 are stock types. Hiro is a genius inventor but that’s about all he has going for him as a character. His companions are visually discernable from one another but everyone fits a stereotype and they never display any attributes contrary to those types or much of any personality at all. One of the strange elements of Big Hero 6 is the way it makes overtures toward Asian media and culture and yet avoids putting any Asian characters or cultural flavor into the film. The main character is named Hiro and his brother is Tadashi but beyond their names the filmmakers avoid anything in the character design that might signal that these men have an Asian identity. Other elements of Asian cultures are introduced, such as the Kabuki mask worn by the villain, but here again the imagery is used for no apparent reason. There’s nothing malicious about it but the filmmakers of Big Hero 6 do tend to incorporate cultural references only to flatten them, expunging those images of any meaning.

Bottom Line: Big Hero 6 is an acceptable animated film. A lot about it feels generic but it is entertaining and competently made and will satisfy family audiences looking for something to watch together.

Episode: #519 (November 23, 2014)