The setting of Big Hero 6 is San Fransokyo, a hybrid of Tokyo and San Francisco that’s visually nice while managing to miss what’s cool and unique about both cities. That kind of gimmicky blandness and ineffective branding is at work throughout this unexceptional, wholly unoriginal Disney animated feature.
A boy named Hiro Hamada joins an exclusive club for science nerds (the movie’s term, not mine) and is able to creatively express his abilities with robotics. A masked villain is terrorizing the city and Hiro utilizes his brother’s creation, an inflatable, medic-minded robot named Baymax, to fight crime. Along the way, he puts together a crime fighting crew, consisting of his goofy buddies, all of whom share his mix of smarts and crime fighting acumen.
I’m sure most kids will love this, if the laughter and cheers I heard throughout the screening was any indication. There are also adults who will dig it, since it aggressively caters to the tastes of Comic Con-loving film-goers. I love that the story encourages “nerdy” kids to seek out their passions, not be concerned with what others may think of them and embrace being who they are. Most movies aimed at kids and teens claim to be seeking individuality but are actually about social conformism. This one really wants kids to know that there’s nothing wrong with being different and that its cool to be great at doing what you love.
The animation is colorful and vivid, if lacking the wonder of any PIXAR film, despite John Lasseter being the executive producer. Two scenes stand out: when Hiro and Baymax enter a new dimension, the visuals are a rainbow swirl of beauty. There’s also the nice moment where, at a pivotal time, Baymax shows Hiro a film of how he was made. There’s some good stuff here but little moments can’t make this bland, formulaic effort anything remarkable.
Like the efficiently designed but flavorless San Fransokyo, the characters are all lively caricatures who speak in clichés and have no inner life. Hiro is one of the few Japanese-American characters in a Disney film but both he and his brother lack much identity. Same for the rest of the crew, who are as ethnically mixed as kids in a McDonald’s commercial but don’t do or say anything we haven’t seen before. This is based on a Marvel Comic (and features a Stan Lee shout-out) but feels like what was unique about it has been re-shaped into a safe, familiar product.
This is as painfully “hip” and trendy as every lesser non-PIXAR effort. Even Wreck-It-Ralph, which I loved, managed to push past ’80s nostalgia jokes and build character and an engaging story. Big Hero 6 has lots of jokes about fist-bumping and dialogue full of stale quips like “I got this” and “No waaay!” I never expected this to soar as high as Frozen or even Disney’s traditionally animated high water marks like Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King. Unfortunately, the adventures of Hiro and his buddies are about as zany but by-the-numbers and unexceptional as Meet the Robinsons.
The scenes of Hiro and his clunky but lovable robot are nice, though there’s nothing here that The Iron Giant didn’t do better.
The villain is uncannily like the bad guy in Rise of the Guardians, there’s a large device that appears stolen from both Stargate and TimeCop and the tone and look of the heroes tries to mimic The Incredibles and Monsters Vs. Aliens. There’s nothing offensive here and everything moves quickly but, if I had to choose between taking my kids to the theater and paying full price tickets, or staying at home and showing them The Iron Giant, the latter choice wins by a long shot.