Culver City Observer -

MOVIE REVIEW: Big Hero 6

 

January 15, 2015

With BIG HERO 6, Walt Disney Animation Studios once again proves why they are heroes to generations and legions of fans the world over. Tapping into the recesses of the Marvel vaults, directors Don Hall and Chris Williams bring this somewhat obscure gem of heroes to life in what is destined to be the newest franchise in the Disney-Marvel universe.....not to mention my pick for Oscar gold. But setting BIG HERO 6 apart from the super heroes and fantasy we have come to know from Marvel is that the heroes of BIG HERO 6 are regular kids who use the special talents of their tech and science savvy brains to show us what is really means to be "heroic", with brains over brawn and education and friendship being king! Soaring with action, adventure charm, heart, soul and a whole lot of fun - not to mention Baymax, one of the most adorable heroes ever (I see the need for "Guardians" Groot and Baymax to join forces) - BIG HERO 6 is the new big screen hero!

Welcome to San Fransokyo! Home to 14-year old Hiro Hamada and his science nerd elder brother Tadashi, San Fransokyo is the best of the East and the West, and a place where science and technology are king thanks to a futuristic Cal Tech/MIT style state of the art science and robotics university. Orphaned at a young age on the death of their parents, Hiro and Tadashi have been raised by their Aunt Cass. And did I mention that Hiro and Tadashi are both geniuses? While Tadashi puts his brain to use developing a robotic home health diagnostician/nurse/doctor/caregiver named Baymax, Hiro uses his smarts building mini-robots and then illegally betting in back-alley battle-bot matches a la "Fight Club" for robots. Despite Tadashi's best efforts to redirect Hiro to use his talents for good, Hiro pooh-poohs education and the whole idea of college; that is until Tadashi arranges a little field trip for him.

On meeting Tadashi's friends at the institute, Hiro quickly learns that school isn't boring and "uncool"; in fact, school is beyond cool! Wowed by the scientific talents and skills of Honey Lemon (a gal with a purse that displays and dispenses the elements of the Periodic Table into explosive combinations), GoGo (a goth chick who has a capacity for engineering and physics and who likes to go, go go), Wasabi (slightly neurotic germaphobe, worry wort, and laser master), and even Fred (the sweetly wisecracking college dropout who is everyone's cheerleader), Hiro's excitement is uncontainable. He wants to go to school here! Thanks to an upcoming science fair, Hiro has a chance to be accepted to the institute. He just has to come up with a winning science fair project.

Pouring all his efforts into his science fair project, Hiro creates thousands and thousands of microbots - tiny little robots that look similar to an interchangeable Phillips head screwdriver and which are controlled individually and collectively by transmitting brain waves from a special head piece one wears. Everyone is in awe of Hiro's presentation and Professor Callaghan immediately offers Hiro a place at the school. But before the college acceptance celebration can begin, an explosion destroys the science lab facility where the fair is being held. Hiro's microbots are gone, but even worse, Tadashi's mentor Professor Callaghan and Tadashi are killed.

Depressed and angry, Hiro closes himself off from everyone. He won't see or speak to Honey Lemon, GoGo, Wasabi or Fred, or even his loving Aunt Cass. With the death of Tadashi, Hiro feels like he, too, has died. But something wonderful comes from Hiro's anger as he inadvertently activates Baymax. Looking like an over-sized snowman or an unwrinkled version of the Michelin Man, all squishy and cute, Baymax has one mission in life - to care for people, and Baymax immediately diagnoses that Hiro needs to be cared for.

Programmed by Tadashi with so much of Tadashi's heart and humanity imbued within his programming, Baymax becomes Hiro's constant companion, particularly when it seems that Hiro's microbots were not destroyed in the university fire but rather, taken by someone now using them for evil destructive purposes throughout San Fransokyo. Hiro determines to find out what really happened and who has the microbots. With a new purpose in life, Hiro retrofits Baymax with advanced fighting technology and armament, and together with Honey Lemon, GoGo, Wasabi and Fred, who also use their brains and scientific skills to develop really cool gadgets and techniques, BIG HERO 6 is out to save the world....and each other.

Voice talents are exemplary starting with Scott Adsit as Baymax, infusing humanity into a cuddly marshmallow of a character. As if seeing Baymax isn't enough, hearing his voice makes you want to reach through the movie screen for a hug. TJ Miller fuels the funny as Fred and gives him a "Scooby-Doo" Shaggy quality of fun and goofiness. Genesis Rodriguez, a self-proclaimed science nerd who actually built robots for science fairs when she was in school, is perfection as the Periodic Table of Elements purse-toting Honey Lemon. Jamie Chung, no stranger to the Disney family, brings her own athleticism and martial arts skills and mindset to the voice of GoGo Tomago. Similarly, Ryan Potter, a martial arts champion, infuses his personality into Hiro while Damon Wayans, Jr. gives Wasabi an edgy neurotic freneticism.

Beyond the core BIG HERO 6, Maya Rudolph is perfect as the doting, overly energetic, somewhat ditsy Aunt Cass while James Cromwell adds a commanding and professorial touch to the voicing of Professor Callaghan. Another Disney favorite is Alan Tudyk who voices, Callaghan's longtime rival Allistair Krie with some interesting vocal intonations.

Directed by Disney veterans Don Hall and Chris Williams who brought us "Winnie the Pooh" and "Bolt", respectively, with story and script by Hall, Paul Briggs, Jordan Roberts, Robert Baird and Daniel Gerson, BIG HERO 6 is flawlessly constructed as not only a story, but an origin story. With a strongly written and involved plotline, major themes of friendship, the value of hard work, value of education, a celebration of science and technology, grief, love, loss, self-sacrifice and even revenge, are all prominently addressed through dialogue and visuals, creating a wonderful moral compass for all. Delving deeper into self-examination and exploration than is typical in a Disney film, darkness is no longer reserved for Disney villains/villainesses as the darkness within ourselves brought on by grief or loss is met head on. Valuable lessons in this day and age. Interesting is the story construct in that every day Hiro and company face new challenges, new battles; just like we do in real life, be it work, homework, the car doesn't start. Battles may be small aggravations but they are still thing one must deal with. BIG HERO 6 embraces that. Celebratory is the wittiness of the dialogue as the writers not only call on life and well known situations, buildings, cities, etc., for humor and wit, but infuse traits and known histories from the voice actors themselves not only into the characters they portray but with specific dialogue, tailoring it to the vocal skills of each.

Standout is the reality of the technology. Spending extensive time with robotics experts, Robert Baird and Paul Briggs have insured that the science, and particularly the robotics is accurate. As producer Roy Conli noted, "The technology is here now. We had to move fast to stay ahead of science and maintain a futuristic sense" while still grounded in the reality of the present. Also notable is the sentient development of Baymax. A fine line to walk, Baird and Briggs found the right balance of humanity without making Baymax "too human".

The real joy of BIG HERO 6, however, comes from Hiro and Baymax. This friendship is pure, magical, true. The relationship is one of the strongest pairings to be seen in many a day. Their scenes together are as emotional as anything Disney or any other filmmaker has given in the past, and mandates lots and lots of tissues.

Head of Animation, Zach Parrish and his team go above and beyond. The details are eye-popping. From the meticulous detail of San Fransokyo to breathtakingly beautiful Maxfield Parrish inspired cloud-filled aerial sequences to the design of Baymax himself, no detail is overlooked. Color is beautifully implemented, especially the use of red and purple. Photorealism with a whimsical touch is the watchword of the day and it is all exquisitely rendered. (Thank heavens for Disney's proprietary software - Denizen and Hyperion - without which BIG HERO 6 wouldn't be what it is!)

When it comes to Baymax and the microbots, however, applause to cinematographer Adolph Lubinsky and his work with the animators and VFX team in bringing texture to white on white and black on black. With Baymax, Lubinsky has light reflecting much as it does within a human's eyes or sunlight off the skin. And just the animation of Baymax is a stunner with his movements with everything from waddling side to side, fist bumping, trying to run and, of course, two guaranteed laugh-out-loud aspects - Baymax repairing his leaky vinyl self with scotch tape and drained battery drunkenness. I am hard pressed to pick between Baymax and Groot for the most adorable Disney creation ever!

Hall and Williams keep the pace fast, yet not too furious, with an ebb and flow of emotion and action that tugs at the heartstrings and the tear ducts. But again, it's the humanity of the story, and the fact that it's the human knowledge and special talents of each of our gang that prove to be more heroic than super-hero technology, that truly showcases who and what a "hero" truly is.

Wildly imaginative, creative to the core, you'll fall in love with Baymax and definitely, cry for more! My pick for Best Animated Feature of the Year, a family film that's truly for the whole family - BIG HERO 6 is my hero this week.

Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams

Written by Robert Baird, Paul Briggs, Jordan Roberts, Daniel Gerson and Don Hall

Voice Actors: Scott Adsit, Genesis Rodriguez, Jamie Chung, TJ Miller, Ryan Potter, Daman Wayans, Jr., Maya Rudolph, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell

 

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