Haven’t we seen Robert Downey Jr doing this in the Iron Man movies, not to mention The Avengers? Why, yes we have, and that’s the joke: Tony Stark and the Avengers have nothing on Hiro Hamada and his team of scientists turned superheroes in the latest cartoon feature from Disney, Big Hero 6.
As cartoons featuring innocent-as-a-child, self-sacrificing, highly-weaponized flying robots go, Big Hero 6 is no Iron Giant.
As cartoons featuring a team of superheroes learning to work together go, Big Hero 6 is no The Incredibles.
But as cartoons featuring innocent-as-a-child, self-sacrificing, highly-weaponized flying robots and a team of superheroes learning to work together that pay respectful but subtle tribute to The Iron Giant and The Incredibles go, Disney’s latest animated feature, Big Hero 6, is all its own good thing, very well-done, and lots of fun.
Big Hero 6 is based on a Marvel comic book but the animators weren’t religious about staying true to their movie’s graphic origins. (FYI, though: despite the stylistic differences between comic and film, Big Hero 6 is still a Marvel superhero movie, which means there’s a cameo by Stan Lee. You’’ll need to keep your eyes open for it. It goes by in a Quicksliver hurry. ‘Nuff said.) Visually, it’s ambitious. There’s a terrific amount to look at in every shot, if you look for it, which you’re not forced to. Probably, when it comes out on DVD if you freeze any scene for study, you’ll find frames that are as crowded with entertaining imagery as a painting by Brueghel, but as the movie flies by the foreground is as sharp, clean, vivid, and focused as the best hand-drawn Disneys and the characters and main action don’t get lost in any confusion. For the most part. The climactic battle gets a little messy. The destruction isn’t as wanton as in Man of Steel but it goes on too long to little effect except effect. The artwork is such that the movie looks like itself and not like any or every other animated feature, although there’s just enough of a touch of Disney that references to Frozen and other Disney classics slip in without calling the wrong sort of attention to themselves and there’s not a little Pixar influence at work---just as a for instance, our hero Hiro Hamada’s Aunt Cass bears more than a passing resemblance to Mrs Incredible when she’s not extending herself. Despite the cast’s including James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph, and Damon Wayans Jr., the voice work is undistinguished, It’s the animation and the writing that bring the characters to life as individuals. My favorite of the supporting players would have been Fred, the rich kid science buff, comic book fanboy, and all-around bro who gives the team their most important superpower, the one Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne give to Iron Man and Batman: money. But the writers take the joke a little too far with him. So my favorite’s Wasabi (voiced by Wayans) who at first seems too fussy and cautious to be a superhero but who when pressed into action turns out to have the most superheroic temperament and to be a natural chief executive officer, a field commander who can be counted on to take charge of that part of the fight where the team’s leader can’t be because he’s out of commission or busy elsewhere taking care of a bigger threat: sort of an even straighter-arrow Scott Sommers to Hiro’s teenage whiz kid Professor X.
And the villain is awesome!
Yokai is visually imposing and truly frightening. In a film laced with humor, laugh outloud funny in many places, Yokai is in no way a joke. The moviemakers treat him with complete seriousness. In fact, part of his terrifying effect is the way he defeats humor, driving it from his scenes, like Sauron brushing aside an attack by the elves, as if comedy is a force for good, the heroes’ incorporeal ally rendered hopeless and ineffective. And even though both sets of Spider-Man movies aren’t Disney properties---or even Marvel movie properties, exactly---Yokai owes a lot to Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, carried along on striding tentacle-like machine legs, ankle-length overcoat billowing. Yokai is also a sly reference to The Incredibles in that this is one villain who’ll never lose focus by being tricked into monologuing.
But the movie’s main hero,the innocent-as-a-child, selfless robot Baymax, who is a big hero but not, as I thought going in, because I wasn’t familiar with the comic book, the Big Hero 6 of the title---Big Hero 6 is the name of the team---gives Big Hero 6 its heart and soul.
Doing a near perfect imitation of pre-psychotic break HAL from 2001, Scott Adsit gives Baymax his voice, soothing, ingratiating, unexcitable, maddeningly reasonable, infuriatingly literal, and essentially clueless about how the humans he’s programmed to take care of think and feel. Baymax was built to be a home health care device, a combination nurse and walking first aid cabinet---Baymax is activated by the sound of humans expressing physical distress and won’t deactivate until he hears his patient assure him “I am satisfied with my care.”---and much of the comedy involves Baymax’s insistence on being true to his programming even when the situation seems to require more of him than a calm bedside manner. But Baymax’s best moments come when he doesn’t talk or when what he says doesn’t really matter. He’s at his funniest and most himself when he moves. Delicate even dainty of touch, light on his feet despite his size and apparent bulk because he’s made of vinyl and deflatable for easy storage, always patient and careful and therefore not always quick to react, Baymax is a great silent movie comic.
That’s about it. I don’t have much more to say about the film. Regular readers will know how rare that is for me, how I can almost always find more to say about a movie. Wait till I post my review of Listen Up Philip. But, really, that’s it: it’s fun, go see it.
Oliver Mannion, who gives Big Hero 6 the thumbs up, thinks I could have gotten away with saying a lot less. He recommended a one-sentence review:
“I am satisfied with my care.”
Big Hero 6, directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, screenplay by Jordan Roberts and Daniel Gerson & Robert L. Baird. With the voices of Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Maya Rudolph, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Damon Wayans Jr., T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Genesis Rodriguez, and Daniel Henney. 102 minutes. Rated PG. Now in theaters.
At rogerebert.com, Craig Lindsay’s appreciation of the best cartoon featuring an innocent-as-a-child, highly-weaponized, self-sacrificing flying robot, which also happens to be one of the best animated movies of the last thirty years and maybe of all time: “The Iron Giant” to the rescue.
“Open the pod bay door, HAL.”: HAL was not self-sacrificing.