The 400-Word Review: Big Hero 6
By Sean Collier
November 10, 2014
There’s a depressing cultural dissonance at work in Big Hero 6, 2014’s offering from Walt Disney Animation Studios. It is not, however, in the appropriation of the Japanese comic aesthetic for a western cartoon; that actually works quite well. Rather, the trouble arises from an unnatural intrusion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — yes, that is a proper noun — into the Disney sphere.
We were worried that Disney would corrupt Marvel. It turned out to be the other way around.
In San Fransokyo — yes, we mash up cities now — robotics student Tadashi (Daniel Henney) introduces his genius little brother Hiro (Ryan Potter) to his greatest creation, a health-care robot named Baymax (Scott Adsit). Determined to enroll in his big brother’s program, Hiro creates an army of tiny robots capable of instant reassembly into any form their controller desires. But when he shows off the technology, a mysterious explosion claims Tadashi’s life and a mysterious, kabuki-faced villain makes off with the technology. Hiro and Baymax recruit Tadashi’s friends to conquer the unnamed threat.
It’s not that Big Hero 6 is a bad movie, or even a dull one. The Baymax character, which was more or less created from whole cloth and bears no resemblance to the source material, is funny, relatable and delightful. Many of the key relationships resonate, and the action sequences are compelling.
But Big Hero 6 is a Marvel property, and that means we’re getting the done-to-death Marvel structure. Young gifted individual suffers loss; he (always he) is despondent; his heretofore unnoticed/misunderstood power is made plain; he learns to wield said power; he defeats the source of his loss; we are given hints of more action to come.
So goes every opening chapter (and, shockingly, some later chapters) for a Marvel character, and so goes Big Hero 6. It’s not just that the origin-story structure is overplayed; the humor, the characterization and the worldview of the Marvel canon, once novel, have become conventional and dull.
It’s disappointing; after a truly original success in Wreck-It Ralph and the sublime Frozen, Disney went this route. It’s bewildering in that Disney Animation does not need Marvel; while the studio suffered some losses in the 2000’s, they have once again become very, very good at making money. For the sake of heroes of both the super- and animated varieties, let’s hope Disney re-learns to separate church and state.
My Rating: 6/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark