A Review by Jonathan Wolk
I have been a big fan of Pixar for a long time. When I first saw Toy Story 19 years ago this month, I remember thinking to myself that it would change everything. It was introducing a new era of computer animation finally coming into its own. Since then, Pixar has released 14 more films and, with only a couple notable exceptions in their sequels, they have all been pretty darn good if not excellent. I was not a huge fan of Cars 2, and Monsters University felt more like something that was likely ordered from executives at the top than something that was born from the creative minds that made such great films as WALL-E, Brave and The Incredibles.
Now we have “Big Hero 6”, the first film to benefit from the synergy that has come from Disney acquiring Marvel. It’s the first time that Pixar is tackling a title that comes directly from the pages of one of Marvel’s comics, albeit one that most people probably do not even know exists, and if they did, they certainly would have a problem recognizing the comic book from watching this movie. Now I am not by any means saying the movie is not good. It is actually quite good, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Be aware of one thing: This is NOT a “Marvel Pictures” Movie. it is a Disney Pixar adaptation, and a loose one, of a fifth-tier Marvel Comic that NO ONE wanted to touch.
Before and after
The comic book characters of Big Hero 6 originated in 1998 when they were going to be appearing in Alpha Flight # 17, but because of some scheduling problems they ended up first appearing in their own three issue limited series before Issue #17 came out. They also had another six issue miniseries in 2008 that you might’ve missed, but that’s okay I didn’t notice either. And that might be a good thing. When it comes down to it, the only things that the movie shares with the comic book are the names of some of the title characters and a few details about their powers. For example, from the book to the movie, the main protagonist Hiro Takachiho, 13 year old son of wealthy billionaire industrialists, and boy genius, becomes Hiro Hamada, 14 year old orphan living with his older brother and his strangely Caucasian looking Aunt, who has raised them since the death of their parents because hey, it is a Disney Pixar movie and you can’t have any of those pesky living parents around can you? Hiro’s robotic companion Baymax goes from being a synthetic bodyguard that can transform himself into a dragon in the comics to a cutesy inflatable health assistant that gets up-armored into super awesome fighting robot guy. The setting of Tokyo becomes the just-slightly-beyond-the-bleeding-edge-of-science city of “San Fransokyo”, a portmanteau of San Francisco and Tokyo, both in appearance and in the culture of the city. So if you’re a hard-core fan of the original comic book, and hey who isn’t (um…EVERYONE?), then you’re probably not going to be too happy with this movie. But if you are, like 98 point something-or-other percent of everyone else in the world, a fan of either Disney Pixar films, superhero stories, and/or Japanese Anime/Manga then I think you’re going to leave this film pretty satisfied.
Minor Spoilers ahead
This movie, typical Disneyfied lack of parents aside, is actually pretty darn good. It tells the story of young orphan Hiro (Voiced by Ryan Potter), who is wasting his genius in the underground robot fighting Rings of San Fransokyo and getting himself in trouble in the process. His also-a-genius older brother Tadashi (Voiced by Daniel Henney) meanwhile is studying at the prestigious San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, where he has invented Baymax, the previously mentioned inflatable health assistant, and trying to keep his brother out of trouble and get him to join the Robotics program there since Hiro graduated high school at age 13. They live with her aunt Cass (Voiced by Maya Rudolf), who is fumbling her way through her unexpected parenthood of her nephews and doing the best she can, above her bakery/café. Hiro is going nowhere fast but he comes around upon meeting his brothers Professor, the world famous research scientist and roboticist Robert Callaghan (Voiced by James Cromwell) and his brother’s group of misfit super-genius friends and fellow student scientists, who all go by their nicknames, Go Go (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr), and Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), and the apparent stoner/science groupie/fanboy that hangs out with them, Fred (T.J. Miller). Hiro enters his amazing invention, microbots, in a competition for one of a couple of coveted spots as a student in Prof. Callaghan’s robotics and research program. His Invention impresses everyone, including a billionaire scientist Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk), and he seems on the verge of realizing his dream when a fire breaks out in the exhibition hall trapping the professor. Tadashi runs back in to save the Professor just as the building explodes and this sets Hiro off in to a spiraling depression that ultimately leads him to evidence that there may have been something more to that. From here we get a wonderfully fun, if not entirely imaginative, superhero team origin story as Hiro pursues revenge for his brother’s apparent death at the hands of a real life super villain.
Does this Kabuki mask make me look fat?
I saw the movie in 3-D and I have to say, in true Disney Pixar fashion, It was visually stunning and worth it. Pixar actually had to create all new software and hardware technology to make the incredible visuals of this film possible and it truly shows. There is a depth to the characters, to their movement, to their expressions and their world that was just gorgeous. There are even a couple of moments where I would’ve sworn that they had used real life aerial footage in the background but all of it was fully rendered. It speaks volumes to the talents of Pixar’s artists and excites me for the incredible possibilities in the future for animation. The writing really stands up, in my humble opinion, with some of the best of Pixar’s other films, even though there were moments that fell in to old patterns. However there were several times where I was thinking to myself, “Here we go again with that old trope”, just to have it take a pleasantly surprising turn to remind me why Pixar stands so far above the rest. Add to that another probable Best Animated Short Oscar nomination for the short that runs before the main film, “Feast” (Though I will say this is not the best of the recent bunch), and all around they have done another fine job.
Pixar does what they do better than anyone, and Big Hero 6 is just as billed; Fun, exciting, action packed and enjoyable. Big Hero 6 is in theaters now. Go see it.