Monday, November 24, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Big Hero 6 (2014)

BIG HERO 6 (2014), Disney's newest animated film, is pleasant if not particularly distinguished family entertainment. The movie has flashes of great creativity amidst the familiar.

One of the down sides to the film is that the orphaned animated protagonist has been done to death by Disney, pardon the pun; additionally, at times I felt the movie was "Disney Meets Scooby-Doo." On the plus side, there are some nice moments along with a really interesting setting.

Orphaned Hiro (Ryan Potter) and his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) live with their Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) in San Fransokyo, an ersatz fantasy blend of, you guessed it, San Francisco and Tokyo.

Hiro has a great talent for constructing robots but is getting into trouble with the wrong crowds until Tadashi takes him on a tour of the university lab where he's been working to construct a new kind of robot. Hiro is then inspired to enter a science engineering contest to win a spot at the university and study under Professor Callahan (James Cromwell).

Soon tragedy strikes, but the depressed Hiro then discovers Baymax (Scott Adsit), a healthcare robot created by Tadashi. Baymax is large and cumbersome but caring, sort of a kindly Stay Puft Marshallow Man. In the second half of the film, Hiro and Baymax join a group of Hadashi's university friends to go after the villain who caused the tragedy.

Baymax is cute, although I thought he bumps up (sorry, another pun!) uncomfortably with the constant presence of healthcare in the news; so this is where we're all headed, a cumbersome and insistent robot to look after our medical needs? I'm not sure I find that idea as comforting as the filmmakers intended.

The group of Tadashi's friends is where my "Scooby Doo" comparison comes from; they're a group of nice guys and gals who mix smarts and silliness, with Baymax filling the role of mascot Scooby.

The lower-intellect surfer-type dude (T.J. Miller) turns out to have a couple of unexpected secrets in his background, and I especially liked Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), who is cheerfully normal and polite along with being supersmart. She reminded me of someone, but I'm not sure who; maybe she has a touch of Bailey from WKRP?

As the gang use their scientific talents to turn themselves into superheroes -- the Big Hero 6 -- one of the characters exclaims "This is our origin story!" which I thought was cute. There's also an amusing addendum along superhero lines at the very tail end of the credits, so be sure not to leave too early. And speaking of the end credits, their design was one of the best things about the movie.

Indeed, the film's biggest asset might be its production design, as the San Fransokyo setting is endlessly interesting. I'd love to see Disney put out one of its ART OF... books on this film so I could take a closer look at the city's design.

Along with feeling the film was a bit too derivative and overfamiliar, I had some trouble from the standpoint of logic. Granted, the film is a fantasy, but no teenager would be able to single-handedly manufacture so many "minibots"!

BIG HERO 6 was directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams. It was loosely based on a Marvel comic. The film runs 102 minutes.

Parental advisory: BIG HERO 6 is rated PG for "action and peril and some rude humor." There are a couple of disturbing moments but they are fairly typical of the kinds of tragedies which strike in other Disney movies.

While more of a strong double than a home run, BIG HERO 6 provides an enjoyable time at the movies.

I fell in love with FEAST (2014), the cartoon short which currently precedes theatrical screenings of BIG HERO 6. FEAST tells the story of the life of a dog and his owner, as reflected in what the dog is given to eat over the years; other than worrying about the dog's health (i.e., "You're giving a dog popcorn?!") the film was adorable and should especially push the right buttons for viewers who are dog lovers. It's a wonderful cartoon and a good reason for Disney fans to catch BIG HERO 6 while it's playing theatrically.


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