Monday, March 9, 2015

"Big Hero 6" (2014)

Starring Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit and TJ Miller
Written by Jordan Roberts, Dan Gerson and Robert L. Baird
Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams
Rated PG - Animated superhero violence, peril
Running Time: 102 Minutes

In the city of San Fransokyo, young Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) uses his robotics genius to win money hustling underground bot fights. His older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) worries that Hiro is going to get hurt or waste his life not tapping into his potential, and encourages him to join the robotics program at his college. There, Hiro meets Tadashi's friends: GoGo (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) and Fred (TJ Miller). Hiro also discovers that one of his idols, Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell) is one of Tadashi's teachers, and Hiro immediately decides he needs to become the school's next student.

To do so, he'll have to come up with a project that impresses the great Professor Callaghan. And so Hiro invents a revolutionary new form of robot: microbots, controlled by his own thoughts, which can form any shape or do any action he can think of. But on the big night, a fire breaks out at the robotics expo, claiming the lives of his brother Tadashi and Professor Callaghan, and destroying the microbots... or so Hiro thinks.

Hiro soon discovers that someone is mass-producing his microbots, and using them to commit crimes across the city. To find out who this mysterious villain is and stop him, Hiro activates Tadashi's last project: Baymax (Scott Adsit) a puffy inflatable robot designed to administer gentle medical care. He also recruits Tadashi's friends, and together, they'll solve the mystery, save the city, and heal Hiro's grieving heart.

I have nothing against "Big Hero 6." It's quite good. It's gorgeously animated and often quite touching. It's great that Disney is putting out movies like this, as Pixar's "The Incredibles" was starting to look lonely out there in the animated superhero big-budget theatrical feature world. But, y'know, there's a problem here... I just don't think it deserves the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

The problem is that it's all just surface-level stuff. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Disney's live-action Marvel films are the deepest of motion pictures, and "Big Hero 6" actually shares quite a bit in common with those films. But if we're comparing "Big Hero 6" to something like "The Incredibles," it pales. And it certainly pales before the depth and density of 2014's real animated gem, "The Lego Movie."

Both "The Incredibles" and "The Lego Movie" are smarter, sharper films than "Big Hero 6." Pixar's superhero film is loaded with gags for comics fans as it deconstructs and comments on a lot of the familiar tropes of the genre. "The Lego Movie," on top of perhaps being one of the densest comedies in a good long while, also has a lot of fantastic things to say about imagination, adulthood, destiny, conformity and subversion.

"Big Hero 6" feels small and simplistic by comparison.

That said, it's still very entertaining. The jokes are funny, the characters lively, and just about every shot is perfectly animated. The Baymax character in particular is the film's biggest asset. He's, well, adorable. And the filmmakers squeeze that for everything it's worth. It's no surprise having seen the film how Baymax became the center of the project's advertising campaign. Baymax is definitely the heart of this entire movie, and his friendship with Hiro is quite endearing. Even better is that Baymax's programming allows him to learn karate and fly around the city because he's doing it to help Hiro. Many of the film's most emotional scenes have to do with Baymax's unconditional love for pretty much everyone around him — including the villain.

But the villain is also one of the faults with "Big Hero 6." He's not particularly well developed. I'm not sure we ever discover why he decides to put on a kabuki mask to commit his crimes, although it does provide the movie with some of its coolest imagery.

Maybe I'm being too hard on "Big Hero 6." Maybe I'm just sore that "The Lego Movie" was so unfairly snubbed at the Oscars, but "Big Hero 6" didn't measure up, for me. It's a ton of fun, kids and adults will get a lot of enjoyment out of it. I did. But I also expected more.

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