Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Big Hero 6": Pretty Good, Would Like To See More

Now In Theaters, Available on DVD and Blu-Ray on February 24, 2015

Oscar Nominations

Best Animated Feature

Big Hero 6 wasn’t a film that made me want to rush out to the theater and demand they take my money.  I didn’t think it was going to be bad or anything, but it looked like it was probably going to be a watered-down kid-targeted version of what I liked about what Marvel Studios puts out.  And, to a certain extent, I was right.  However, just because a film is targeted at kids does not make it in any way inferior; I just recognize that I’m not the target audience.  And while the film is good, I feel that it suffers from a misconception about kids as moviegoers that keeps it from reaching its full potential as a narrative.

For the two people who aren’t aware of what this film is about, the story takes place in San Fransokyo, a near-future mash-up of two obvious cities.  Our protagonist is Hiro, who over the course of the first act loses a close family member and ends up suffering depression because of it.  Enter Baymax, a robotic assistant designed to provide medical treatment.  Baymax begins assisting Hiro in finding a masked thief of some stolen technology that was taken in the incident that killed his lost family member, operating under the conception that doing so will help treat Hiro’s emotional distress.  Eventually, the film goes full-on superhero flick, with Baymax gaining upgrades and Hiro assembling a team of tech-powered friends, called the Big Hero 6, to take down the mysterious thief.

Despite the film’s title, the real heart of this story is in Hiro’s emotional recovery from his loss, and a good half of the film is devoted to just him and Baymax working through the stages of grief, albeit in exciting, action-oriented and comedic ways.  Hiro is a kid genius who has never before encountered a problem he can’t solve, but his depression becomes the ultimate roadblock that he eventually acknowledges he needs help overcoming, which leads to a heartfelt and interesting dynamic with Baymax.  Baymax really steals the show as the comedic center, speaking in blunt, literalist program speak that paints him as more of a sophisticated Siri than something akin to the emotion-driven Wall-E.  This is perhaps the most realistic interpretation of what future AI will appear as in the coming years, and though Baymax clearly isn’t a person as one would normally define the term, there’s something oddly endearing about his absolute courtesy and misunderstandings of colloquialisms.

However, I think the film’s primary weakness comes from how the film gives short-shrift to the remaining four members of the Big Hero 6, who really don’t play a large part in the film until the second half.  They are all interesting variants on nerd, geek, and dork archetypes, and all of them develop unique technical gadgets to reflect those personalities, but the film doesn’t devote enough screentime to allow us to get to know them.  This is because the film is only ninety minutes long, when the amount of story to tell and character depth to explore could have easy filled an entire two hours.  The result is a rushed third act, and while it does resolve all of the film’s running plot threads, it feels like a lot of slower character moments were sacrificed in the name of an artificial limitation born from the conception that children have too short an attention span for anything longer.

That said, if my primary complaint with a film is that I wish there were more, you probably can’t go too wrong.  This is obviously meant to be the first installment in some sort of franchise, whether in films or a television show, and I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open to see the path it takes.  Most theaters have stopped playing it by now, and most people who wanted to see it probably have, but if you’ve been on the fence, Big Hero 6 is good enough to get you off it.

What’s your favorite film from Disney’s recent animated renaissance?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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