Before I get into my review of Big Hero 6, I have the urgent need to tell you that Feast, the six-minute short that plays before the movie, about a dog’s relationship to food, is not only one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen, but a pretty fantastic piece of short-form animation. Don’t except the best thing you’ve ever seen, but I’ll be struck by lightning if you aren’t delighted by this little gem. Anyway, on with the actual review…
It is abundantly clear, now more than ever, that the Walt Disney Company’s marketing has reached a level of perfection so astonishing, that nobody would think you are a crazy person if you truly believed that their primary goal is world domination. One of the reasons their marketing strategy is so effective, is because their products seem to be tailor-made for certain audiences. If you look at Walt Disney Animation Studios, their main animation division, for example, you will find that they have, for a long time, separated their productions into “boy movies”, and “girl movies”, taking into account -despite the fact that they always want to reach as wide an audience as possible- who their primary audience is.
Now, as the ubiquitous term “Disney Princess” would suggest, the Studio has been famously successful with their “girl movies”. So much so that most of the milestones in the Studio’s history have been movies with Princess protagonists: Their first ever feature-length production was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In the fifties, they regained their popularity and were saved from bankruptcy by Cinderella. After a decades-long lackluster period, the studio jumped into one of its most successful eras with The Little Mermaid. And if this weren’t enough, one only needs to look at the massive success of last year’s Frozen, which is now the highest-grossing movie in the Studio’s history. As far as “boy movies” are concerned,, well, that’s another story…
This is probably why, when the Disney conglomerate spent a small fortune to bring Marvel Comics into their corporate umbrella, the Animation Studio quickly searched Marvel’s library for a property that could be easily and effectively adapted into the mold of a Disney animated movie. The result is Big Hero 6, which not only fits perfectly into the “boy movie” category, but by being for all intents and purposes at least partially a Marvel product, comes with assurance that there is a way of successfully marketing it to little boys. So make no mistake. The Marvel logo may not appear anywhere during Big Hero 6, but no one will leave the audience not realizing that it is, for better and for worse, a Marvel movie through and through. Mostly for worse.
The relationship at the center of the movie is that of young boy-genius Hiro (Ryan Potter) and his equally smart older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), who live in the fictional city of San Fransokyo (a beautiful-looking mash-up of San Francisco and Tokyo). Hiro spends his hustling his way through illegal robot-fights. Tadashi, who sees the folly in throwing one’s life away in such a dubious pastime, helps Hiro catch the scientific bug by taking him to his university and showing him all the crazy cool stuff he and his peers spend their time inventing, like Tadashi’s biggest invention, a robotic nurse called Baymax (Scott Adsit). But everything takes a turn for the worse when Hiro’s biggest invention are stolen and used by a mysterious man in a Kabuki mask.
The relationship between the brothers make this feel a little bit like a male-oriented version of Frozen, but is more aptly compared to the caring bond between the sisters in Lilo & Stitch. It’s not the most original dynamic, but it does a very interesting and valuable thing in that it positions science and innovation as the coolest thing you could do with your life. It’s a movie about celebrating intelligence, which is always nice. Sadly, this doesn’t last very long, since the latter part of the film -when this group of geniuses decides to become superheroes- turns into your typically uninspired Marvel movie, complete with unmemorable villain and a third-act inter-dimensional portal that threatens to destroy a city. The movie is basically a preschool version of The Avengers, and pretty uninspired on most fronts.
The big exception to the flatness comes in the character of Baymax, whose design as a non-threatening robotic balloon makes him one of the most memorable animated characters of the past few years. He is so enjoyable precisely because his charm is not only in what he says (he is very funny), but in the way he looks and moves. On this front, the animators do a fantastic job, and the middle section of the film, in which Hiro and Baymax start going on adventures together, is by far the most entertaining and exciting. The job the animators do with him is so good that it comes close to making up for the rest of the movie, which isn’t exactly bad, but just bland… At least Feast is pretty awesome.
Grade: 6 out of 10