While it lacks novelty because of those ubiquitous superhero blockbuster films during recent years, Disney animation feature film “Big Hero 6” has enough style and substance to distinguish itself from other superhero films. While it is basically a familiar origin tale about how its main characters come to acquire their superhero identities, it mostly works as an amiable story of friendship at its core, and it is also equipped well with a charming style and the most huggable robot character since “Wall-E” (2008).
The main background of “Big Hero 6” is San Fransokyo, a futuristic city which is virtually a cultural/architectural fusion of San Francisco and Tokyo. While it geographically looks like the former along with the Golden Gate Bridge and those steep streets, many places in this amusing fusion city are decorated with lots of notable Japanese elements, and they will look familiar to you if you have ever walked around those busy streets and alleys of Tokyo.
Despite his apparent talent in robot engineering, our smart young hero Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) usually spends his time with illegal robot matches held in the corners of his city because it is fun and profitable for him, and his older brother Tadashi (voiced by Daniel Henney) is naturally concerned to see his little brother wasting his potential into such an illegal activity which may cause bigger troubles someday. Although Hiro does not take Tadashi’s advice seriously, Tadashi has been always a good brother to lean on for Hiro, and they have been living happily together with their aunt Cass (voiced by Maya Rudolph), who has taken care of the boys since their parents died.
On one day, Tadashi takes his brother to an engineering laboratory in his university where he works with Professor Callaghan (voiced by James Cromwell), and Hiro’s interest is quickly ignited when he realizes that there are far more awesome things beyond robot match. He decides to follow his brother’s footstep, and he soon gets a chance for his first step into the academia after he makes a successful demonstration of his simple but impressive invention in front of Professor Callaghan and others at the university exhibition.
However, when Hiro and Tadashi and others are about to celebrate Hiro’s big success, a fire accident suddenly happens, and Tadashi is killed along with Professor Callaghan after going inside a burning building for saving his mentor. Devastated by the loss of his dear brother, Hiro struggles with the resulting grief inside him, and Tadashi’s absence feels more palpable to him every day as he becomes more withdrawn from others.
And then, when he happens to activate Tadashi’s latest invention, he encounters someone ready to comfort him. Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit, who was one of the main supporting characters in TV comedy series “30 Rock”), a white, plump, and fluffy robot who looks like a balloon figure somewhere between the Michelin Man and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, is designed and programmed to diagnose and help anyone in the need of medical help as Tadashi envisioned at the initial step of development, and it is willing to do anything for making Hiro feel better besides hugging him.
But then Hiro comes across a mysterious masked man who is probably associated with that fire accident and is also about to execute a big plan for some reason. Hiro persuades Baymax to help him catching this guy, and Baymax sees no problem in following Hiro’s request after it logically deduces that it will bring some stability to Hiro’s mind.
In addition, Hiro gets more help from Tadashi’s lab colleagues, and so we see how they prepare themselves as a team of nerdy superheroes while colorfully equipping themselves with each own powersuit. T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., and Genesis Rodriguez imbue ample amount of humor and spirit into their caricature characters, and you will certainly be tickled by their outrageous nicknames such as Go Go or Wasabi (I am fully expecting Marmite or Chutney in the possible sequels).
The rest of the story follows an easily recognizable narrative route which culminates to the quintessential third act containing 1) the revelation of villain’s identity and plan, 2) the following conflict between its main characters, and, of course, 3) a busy, massive action finale, but the directors Don Hall and Chris Williams keep their story bouncing even during this predictable part while never losing the sense of fun on the screen. The main characters’ various actions are deftly coordinated during the climax sequence during which they must stop their opponent’s destructive plan before it is too late, and I also like its visual surprise around the end of this sequence.
And the development of friendship between the boy hero and his friendly robot remains as the big heart of “Big Hero 6”. Scott Adsit and Ryan Potter convey well the bond between their characters which is sometimes poignant to watch, and Adsit is alternatively funny and touching in his deadpan voice performance which becomes more endearing even when his character is almost hidden in that big red powersuit introduced later in the story. While helped and comforted by Baymax and his other new friends, Hiro begins to find a way to deal with his loss and grief, and there is the sense of liberation during one exciting scene when he and Baymax test the flying ability of Baymax’s powersuit. When they briefly takes some rest in the sky at the end of this scene, we are allowed to have a short but lovely moment of gentle beauty as they look around the sky and the city below it, and that is one of the memorable moments in the film.
“Big Hero 6” is not exactly fresh due to its several notable borrowed elements, and I was not that surprised to know that it was inspired by another Marvel Comics characters. As an animation film about a team of superheroes, it is not better than “The Incredibles” (2004), but this is an enjoyable animation film with nice goodies including its obligatory cameo appearance which turns out to be funnier than usual (please stay in your seat during the end credits), and I must say I am willing to hug its lovable robot despite my cranky tendency to hug as little as possible.
Sidenote: Oscar-nominated short animation film “Feast” is shown before the beginning of the screening. It is a funny and heartfelt story about a long relationship between one little dog and its owner who is mostly not shown on the screen.