When I first heard about “Big Hero 6,” its homonym main character Hiro, and his brother Tadashi, I wondered how Disney would be able to deliver a robotics story involving Japanese-named characters without being locked into an anime style.
Well, if you’re Disney, you confidently (and I might add, audaciously) create a future city named San Fransokyo, which, we learn in one of the bonus features, combines a geological mapping of San Francisco with the visual and cultural look of Tokyo—a hybrid that allows them to do pretty much anything, visually. That invented city, which was rendered used a new method called “Hyperion,” is so infused with vibrancy that you’re almost blown away by some of the cityscape scenes.
That’s not surprising, given the fact that it’s Disney and they’re all about originality and heart. Both of those traits drive “Big Hero 6,” which takes its name and spirit (and a few characters) from an obscure Marvel comic book. At least I hadn’t heard of it.
When I saw posters for “Big Hero 6” I was reminded of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from “Ghostbusters” and questioned how original the robot could be. Boy, was I wrong to doubt. This guy has plenty of personality for a simple creature, much like Groot in “Guardians of the Galaxy” or WALL-E. For this film the animators wanted a huggable robot, and they pretty much hook you from the moment that the vinyl Baymax inflates and says to Hiro, “Hello, I’m Baymax, your Personal Health Care Companion.” Programmed to be a caregiver who can scan bodies and identify, and treat what’s wrong, he “moves like a toddler with a full diaper,” according to the animators. And yes, I can surely see that. When Baymax tries to mimic a fist bump that Hiro always did with his brother, the result is a catch phrase and gesture that puts an exclamation point on a personality that’s already huge.
“Big Hero 6” tells the story about a 14-year-old robotics prodigy named Hiro (Ryan Potter) who’s already graduated from high school and hopes to be accepted into the nerdy robotics school his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) attends. He visits the school and meets some of the other students, a quirky group that includes a tough bicycle-loving woman named GoGo (Jamie Chung), the neurotic and overly self-protective Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.), and a fast-talking hyperexuberant chemistry wiz named Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez).
It’s an origin story, really, about how this group of brainy misfits comes together to form a superhero group called “Big Hero 6,” but it’s also every bit as much of a relationship story between a boy and robot as a film like “The Iron Giant.” The plot is set in motion when Hiro’s project on microrobotics blows away the competition at a big school science fair, and Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell) hands Hiro a letter of acceptance after warning him not to sell his idea to billionaire businessman Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk).
As one of the animators says in a bonus feature, Disney has never shied away from the issue of loss, traumatizing one generation with “Bambi” and “Old Yeller” and another with “The Lion King.” A new generation will vicariously learn to deal with loss through this film, which begins with two already orphaned boys living with their aunt (Maya Rudolph) and introduces three situations where a loved one may have been killed. That’s as much as I can say without getting into spoiler territory, except to add that “Big Hero 6” is full of emotion. It’s also full of humor, with Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit) sharing the comedic duties with all the nerdy characters and a rich wannabe superhero friend named Fred (T. J. Miller).
The action in “Big Hero 6” is pretty spectacular, from an opening scene involving botfights to the emergence of a Kabuki mask-wearing villain who commands an army of microbots that shift alignments to form whatever shape he’s thinking. Animators voted “How to Train Your Dragon 2” the 2015 winner for Outstanding Achievement in Directing,” but gave the nod for Animated Effects in an Animated Production to “Big Hero 6.” All I can say is, good call.
“Big Hero 6” is rated PG for “action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements.”
“Big Hero 6” is presented in 2.39:1 widescreen, and it’s flat-out visually stunning. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer is flawless, the colors pop, the new rendering method really dazzles, and the level of detail (even as we watch those swarms of microbots) is mind-boggling. All I can say is, “Wow.”
The audio is a fully immersive English DTS-HD MA 7.1 that’s as in-your-face as the action. The bass has a little tremble to it, while the treble is richly textured. It’s one of the better soundtracks I’ve listened to in a while. Additional audio options: an English 2.0 Descriptive and French/Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish and French.
There aren’t a LOT of bonus features, but what’s here is plenty revealing—especially a making-of feature that tells how much research in robotics and chemistry Disney animators did. There are plenty of revealing details, like the fact that the design for Baymax’s face came from temple bells in Tokyo. Jamie Chung narrates the story of Hiro’s (and his animators’) journey. Then there’s a roundtable of Disney animators in which we find out other secrets behind the production. The segment that most reveals what Disney animation is all about is a cafe sequence in which each of the main characters was brought into an empty room except for cafe table and chairs and then animated so that the filmmakers could see what made their personalities distinct.
Lovers of deleted scenes get four of them introduced by directors Don Hall and Chris Williams. Two of the four are alternate openings, and it’s interesting to hear them explain why they went in another direction. Rounding out the bonus features is a heartwarming animated short, “Feast,” which is nominated for an Oscar, and a teaser for “Big Hero 6.”
“Big Hero 6” makes you laugh, cry, and gasp as only Disney animators can. It’s a visually stimulating action film that has emotional content in every sequence. If you don’t like “Big Hero 6,” Baymax will have to scan you to find out if you’re even capable of emotion. “Big Hero 6” gets my vote for Best Animated Feature of 2014.