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Friday, November 7, 2014

Big Hero 6 Review: Charming But Ultimately Dull

The beautifully-polished but ultimately hollow Big Hero 6 screams for a dose of humanity.
Review by Matt Cummings
The machine that is Disney/Marvel brings us the animated feature Big Hero 6, which is based on the 6-issue comic book published in 2008. And while enjoyable, the film rings hollow and feels incredibly standard.

Set in the fictional city of San Fransokyo, Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a brilliant but troubled youth who would rather bet on robot battles in dark alleys than attend school. That's until his brother Tadashi (voiced by Daniel Henney) introduces Hiro to the world of cutting-edge robotics at his university. There, the boy is introduced to the Tadashi's nerd team of Honey Lemon, Go Go, Wasabi, and Fred (voiced respectively by Genesis Rodriguez, Jamie Chung, Daman Wayans Jr, and TJ Miller). As the brothers concoct a brilliant idea in the tiny-sized Micro-bots, Hiro is met with unimaginable tragedy, leaving the lab and his life in ruins. Distraught, Hiro stumbles upon Tadashi's finest work: the inflatable but lovable medical robot Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit). As the theft of his Micro-bots becomes known, Hiro assembles his lab friends to do battle against Yakai (voiced by James Cromwell), gifting each with powers taken from their lab experiments, and upgrading Baymax into a fierce warrior.

Marketing directors must be having a field day with the crossover potential in Hero; but as Baymax warms children's hearts (and deprives parents of hard-earned cash this holiday), the film itself suffers from several problems. First, it features characters almost as bland as October's Book of Life; with the exception of the lovable robot, Hiro and team feel one-dimensional and even copied from other Disney/Pixar productions: Fred is Crush from Finding Nemo, Honey is the effervescent/brainiac Lucy Wild from Despicable Me 2. Granted, a comic book series that shuttered soon after its debut in 1998 (Alpha Flight #17) and reappeared in 2008 (as a 6-book series) might have needed a major overhaul to make it a success, but at least give us more exciting alternatives. The comic Honey and Go Go were terrific (if a little sexualized) characters that here have been completely reworked and drained of any individuality, as is the menacing Baymax and the quirky Wasabi.

Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams fashion an interesting patchwork of borrowed animated fare, from the action of How to Train Your Dragon to the "How to Live as a Superhero" plot investigated in the far better The Incredibles. Hall and Williams are not new to the genre, and there's nothing glaringly wrong with their direction; but an animated film relies on the expressiveness of the actor's voice more as much as the writing. But with no less than five scripters, the possible reason for the movie's almost mechanical rhythm becomes more apparent. Our flat voice actors deliver their lines with the same clockwork movement, failing to inhabit their characters and reminding us just how big of a gamble this film truly was. Even Baymax's mechanical/doctor voice just sits there, begging for inflection and a sense of humanity. Why Hall and Williams traded The Avengers and X-Men for a fictional San Fransokyo is beyond me. And yet, I'm sure we'll see upgraded actors in the sequel, and yes there will be a sequel.

The one highlight of Big Hero 6 is the stunning animation, making it perhaps the best-looking feature of 2014. Not only do scenes reflect lifelike texture and even foreground blurriness, but colors jump off the screen, all making for an excellent 3D experience. You're encouraged to see it in these premium formats.

There's nothing we haven't seen before from Big Hero 6, and that's too bad, because the comic is so intensely different. Not a single piece of that quirkiness made it into the film, reminding us that in the Disney universe, all things unique are scrubbed until they shine with a homogenized gleam. Big Hero 6 is enjoyable but ultimately hollow, but the marketing companies must be licking their chops for all the inevitable tie-ins.

Big Hero 6 is Rated PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements and has a runtime of 108 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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