Sunday 1 February 2015

Big Hero 6 (2015) - Don Hall, Chris Williams

Big Hero 6

Back in 2009 when Disney bought out Marvel, it threw up a number of possibilities for crossover appeal between the two companies. So far, their output has been kept fairly separate, but Big Hero 6 - produced by Disney and based on a lesser-known comic from Marvel - is their first major collaboration. It represents the best and the worst of the merger.

As with most of Marvel's work, Big Hero 6 is a geek fantasy with a serious inner message, here: grief. Set in the futuristic (and clunkily titled) San Fran Tokyo, our hero is (the imaginatively named) Hiro - a 14 year old robotics genius with a seemingly limitless imagination and pot of cash with which to develop his ideas. After the death of his parents he lives with his aunt and his older brother Tadashi, who also happens to be a robotics expert in the local science university. Yet when Tadashi dies in an unfortunate accident involving Hiro's self-developed microbots (which are subsequently stolen), Hiro befriends Tadashi's legacy Baymax, a walking marshmallow healthcare robot who becomes a surrogate brother. Together with Tadashi's student friends (who apparently have no issue hanging around with a child and following his lead without question), the gang form a band of technological superheroes to discover who stole the microbots and uncover the identity of a mysterious man in a kabuki mask.

All of this allows for some exciting Avengers-esque set-pieces involving various powers, ranging from the cool (freely suspended wheels allowing for super velocity and laser cutting swords), to the lame (exploding goo from a handbag) to the downright weird (a Godzilla-like monster suit). The main focus, though, is the loveable Baymax, who is eventually transformed into a flying, karate-chopping robot with a heart of gold - the ultimate protector and a preferable big brother compared to the boring Tadashi. He's hardly Wall-E though.

If much of this sounds familiar, it's because it's full of issues that have plagued Marvel films since the dawn of time. The narrative beats follow an all too familiar and predictable pattern; the lead is a troubled and not particularly likeable teen; the peripheral characters are sorely underdeveloped; and the story is rife with plot holes. This might be a fantasy film, but it asks us to suspend our disbelief too far - for a film built around science, little of it actually feels plausible. Most of all, the metaphor of dealing with grief is utterly forced and trite, resulting in a film that is eye-rollingly corny.

So what of the Disney influence? The House of Mickey has always been known for its top notch animation, whether hand-drawn or computerised, and Big Hero 6 is no exception. The metropolis of San Fran Tokyo is beautifully realised and detailed, bringing together American and Japanese influences like trams, the Golden Gate Bridge, neon signage, oriental temples and a futuristic, chiptune soundtrack. Realistic lighting and stunning particle effects ensure this is one of the best looking animation films of recent years.

Another Disney tradition is the inclusion of a short film before the main feature. Feast is the story of a very hungry little dog who finds love for his owner, told through gorgeous cel-shaded animation. It's exactly the sort of thing Disney does best. Yet when a five minute short is better than the film you've actually gone to see, you know something is wrong.


Watch: Big Hero 6 is out now.