Most of stories we now know as kids fairy tales originated as much more violent and horrific affairs at the hands of the classic brothers Grim. In Snow White the wicked step mother didn’t just want to eat her heart she wanted a full cannibalistic course of lungs and liver too. Sleeping beauty actually geot raped..... no seriously, raped while she was magically out for the count (at least she can start a therapy group with Kill Bill’s Bride). In Rupunzel the prince is horrifically blinded by plummeting on to a thorn bush. Other stories have heavy racism, torture, violence and even a Hilter-esque incorporation of Puss In Boots. Yet all of these stories have found their softened and adapted ways into children’s popular culture, many of which being cornerstones on the Disney animation back catalogue. The point? Even the most unintended of tales can become a great children’s story if adapted with enough skill. Big Hero Six was a Marvel comic property with many adult themes you probably wouldn’t like your kids watching on a Sunday morning. Yet the ever skilled Disney in house magicians have successfully valmorphasized it into a fun family orientated adventure. Who knows, in 50 years we may even see Disney’s crack at Reservoir Dogs (animated puppy cast of course).
In the futuristic city of San Fransokyo, the 14 year old robotics genius, Hiro (Ryan Potter – voice actor), presents a new form of micro-bots, in the hope of joining a prestigious university robotics lab. A tragic accident sees the technology stolen and wielded by a mysterious masked figure. With the help of his inflatable medical robot Baymax (Scott Adsit – 30 Rock, St Vincent) and friends he gears up to stop the villain.
So despite its Marvel heritage Big Hero Six is not positioned for any MCU links, instead standing on its own. This means it has to forge and identify its own characters and to its credit, it very quickly achieves this with some finesse and despite any action sequences that follow character quality remains the greatest weapon in the arsenal until the credits role. Our hero, Hiro, is immediately likeable as the charming yet frustrated young genius looking for a new challenge (in illegal back alley robot fighting) after graduating high school at 13. So what does a hero need next? No not spandex (yet)? It’s a tragic source of inspiration in the form of older brother Tadashi taking on Uncle Ben responsibilities. Their early scenes together are most crucial in order to make their untimely departure significant which is a big tick in this hero story. With minimal effort there’s fantastic sense of a loving bond between the pair as Tadashi looks to inspire him back onto the right path by showing Hiro his university lab. Next up there’s the good old comedy sidekick. Here the in the inflatable nurse form of Baymax that actually makes a big claim for character of the year already. He’s a never ending source of hilarity with his simple cumbersome balloon figure movements and polite programming (watch out for a new trend in fist bumps). Yet even more surprisingly he brings a lot of unexpected heart with his kiddie Terminator 2 style morality interjections and unshakable prioritising of Hiro’s safety. In fact you could go as far as calling him the Toothless of this franchise (over $300million and so far... they’ll be a sequel) with the potential to becaome as iconic in popular culture. Add to that some wonderful little supporting faces like the comic/superhero obsessed Fred (T.J. Miller – How to Train Your Dragon, Gulliver’s Travels) that frequently meta self-narrates “so this marks the beginning of our origin story!” (in a brilliant family portrait Easter egg his father is Stan Lee). Or the cutesy optimist mad scientist Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez - Identity thief, Tusk) that while has the danger of being annoying actually balances out the group dynamic nicely.
The visual setting of the fictional “San Fransokyo” is great play of east/west cultural mash up merging. Such as Golden Gate Bridge sporting Japanese style gate rises or Hiro’s family cafe with its oriental exterior but classic American interior. It’s a great play on the Japanese setting of the original the comic and its new American incarnation. There are many other fun throwbacks to the source material. In the comics Fred could transform himself into a huge Godzilla like lizard. Here with a similar costume as the University mascot and even his hero getup breathes fire. Honey Lemon still has her “Power Purse” with more tech based applications. Baymax has flight capabilities and can be ridden by Hiro similarly to his comic monster alter ego. GoGo’s speedster powers manifest as a sped skater and wasabi still has his energy blades. There are also plenty of great nods to wider genre icons. Blink and you’ll miss 50s Back to the Future style mind reading gear and even a plot pivotal teleportation device has a Stargate mimicking format (and apparently conceived in The Veil?). It all combines to a wonderful sense of fun visuals whether are hero 6 pack is in frantic combat or just kicking in through the city streets. It creates the perfect kids/family film tone of incorporating just enough more serious content to add depth without compromising the overall feel over enjoyment.
In terms of setbacks, as Fred correctly stated this is an origin story meaning it will always have too much to get through in both creating/uniting it’s heroes and giving them a disastrous plot to thwart. Indeed as the film progresses and becomes a more superhero styled affair it feels like several corners have been cut or skipped to get to the costumed money shots. There are also a couple disappointing safe bet silly jokes to ensure even the youngest of demographics has something to giggle at (like an underpants wear extension monologue). You can understand why they’re included (even Finding Nemo had a fart joke) but they still don’t feel needed because the film has the quality to do better. The villain story is also quite underdeveloped. Once the mystery identity is revealed (though it does leave several possibilities open) he goes too much from being a dark menace to someone just overly miffed. It maybe old school but even in animated film you need a super villain to throw down some could banter and that is regrettably absent here.
This is going to be a big year for animated films with a double dose of new Pixar (Inside Out and The good Dinosaur), entries from established faces like Kung Fu Panda, The Minions and Shaun the Sheep. Plus even the return of classics like Peanuts. Yet Big Hero Six has blasted out from under the radar to set an impressive standard for the rest to beat. In its run up many questioned what kind of film Big Hero Six really was. The simple answer is... it’s great. You will leave very satisfied with its care.
Recommended for family cinema outings, Disney and Marvel animated fans keen to see what the lovechild of their styles would look like and anyone that’s ever tried to get a drunk friend up the stairs.