Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Movie Review: Big Hero 6

One of the fun things about watching TV shows and cartoons from Japan is to see their unique take on Western culture. They are experts in taking very common Western ideas such as superheroes, Christianity, and science fiction and giving them an incredibly fresh and fun spin. While Big Hero 6 is an American production, it is based on an idea by Man of Action (creators of Ben 10) who have a healthy dose of Japanese influence in their work.

Big Hero 6 is a computer-generated, action, adventure, comedy, science fiction, family film produced by Walt Disney Animation inspired by an obscure Marvel Comic created by Man of Action. It is rated PG and is appropriate for all ages.

The Good

Approach. Superheroes are big, and so you see a lot of people jumping on that bandwagon. Unfortunately, most of those attempts end up little more than love letters to the Silver Age of comics or a bad pastiche of the 1966 Adam West Batman (such as the Disney Pixar film The Incredibles). Big Hero 6 avoids the overused cliches and goes the route of a Japanese reimagining of superheroes like the anime Tiger & Bunny or Science Team Gatchaman. While it isn't the most original idea, it is a refreshing change with many more possibilities. The characters have new powers such as the magnetic discs, laser blades, a medical droid, and a fire breathing mascot suit instead of the usual stretching, flying, super strong, and freezing powers.

Production Design. The designers cleverly merged Tokyo with San Francisco creating a new world called San Fransokyo with the best of both worlds seamlessly combined into a world that is both familiar and fantastical. And the robot designs were a nice change from the usual mecha or homage to the 30s and 40s. The visuals were probably the strongest aspect of the film.

Characters. While the characters begin as usual cardboard stereotypes that regularly appear in this type of show (a White kid, a Black kid, an Asian girl, a mexican girl, a super capable protagonist who is living below his potential, a silly girl, and an angry girl who can fight). Fortunately they leave their "types" behind and become much more likable and unique. While none of them are groundbreaking in their characterizations, they stay far enough away from stereotype representations of their respective cultures and instead act like a group of normal friends would.

Action. The action was fun and really good for a family film. The super powers were ones we don't see often, and the robots acted in ways we don't usually see robots act which was nice.

The Bad

Story. The story followed the usual pattern and character arcs you see in every cgi film these days. While it wasn't boring, so much more could have been done.

Ending. I saw the ending coming from pretty early on. There were several twists, none of which were shocking or unexpected. Even the cameo by Stan Lee after the credits was so strongly foreshadowed by his portrait that it lost a lot of the punch it could have had.

Jokes. The little children in the theater were laughing hysterically for large parts of the movie, but for those of us over twelve, the jokes weren't as clever or as funny as they could have been. For such a fresh approach and brilliant production design, the jokes were a major letdown.

The Villain. The villain had a really cool visual look and a great power. Unfortunately they do so little with him that you're left shaking your head at yet another squandered bit of greatness. And the "twist" of who is and why he became a villain are so cliched and overdone.

Animated Short. One thing I love about Jonh Lasseter being in charge of Disney Animation is his love for animation and its rich history. So many wonderful shorts have been created under his guidance breaking new ground and trying out new ideas. From an artistic and technical standpoint, the animated short about a man's life and relationships as seen thru the eyes of a dog was successful. From an entertainment point of view, I could have done without it. I've never been a fan of computer-generated 3-D animation rendered in a flat cell style, and this short did nothing to change my mind. Another lost opportunity.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

I would have liked to see more creativity. While there were some funny jokes, the plot followed a pretty typical pattern with the expected emotional arcs and reveals we see in almost every animated family movie. Guardians of the Galaxy showed us you can deviate from the usual script, do something completely different and original, and still have a major hit. I wish others would take the risk. And the villain had such a strong visual look and such a cool superpower that made for a few cool action scenes, but so much more could have been done. And the redemption at the end was kind of weak.


Overall, Big Hero 6 was a thoroughly entertaining movie that will delight young and old. It is a refreshing take on the superhero genre. While the story was nothing special and the "twists" at the end predictable from pretty early on, the production design was a visual treat, the action pretty fun, and the characters likable. I give it a solid 4 boxes of popcorn out of 5.

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