BY COLIN HERZOG
2014 has been the year of obscure Marvel properties. The smash hit “Guardians of the Galaxy”—a team few knew existed before the film was announced—came out of nowhere, and now something even more obscure has been released. “Big Hero 6” is loosely based on a Marvel comic book team that emerged in the late ’90s, and while there are characters called Hiro and Baymax on it, basically everything about them and their world is completely different. Actively encouraged by Marvel to make it their own, Disney delivers a satisfying film that stands out, even in the crowded hero market.
The film follows Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter), a bored teenage genius, who finds an outlet for his intelligence by applying to a robotics university at the subtle but loving guidance of his older brother, Tadeshi (Daniel Hanney), who goes to the school and is developing a medical care robot called Baymax (Scott Adist). While Hiro meets and grows close to Tadeshi’s friends Fred, Wasabi, GoGo and Honey Lemon, Tadeshi is killed in a fire. Grief-stricken, Hiro accidently finds Baymax and attempts to move on, but when a villain using Hiro’s own technology arrives, it’s up to Hiro to step up and prove himself.
First, let us get this part out of the way: the animation is great (even if Hiro’s character design looks a tad too much like a teenage, male Vanellope from “Wreck-It Ralph”), with each of its characters having a look that passes the “recognize them by their silhouette” rule of character design; it embraces the cartoon-y character styles of Disney and Pixar, leading to a wide variety of body shapes, especially where Baymax is concerned: between his abilities and his appearance, he is one of the most distinct robots in years. However, where the film truly shines is with its setting: San Fransokyo (a blend of San Francisco and Tokyo), which leads to a fascinating blend of visual culture that honestly just leaves you wanting to explore it further, which will hopefully be done in sequels. A more modern day cartoon-y version of the sci-fi cities of “Cowboy Bebop,” San Fransokyo has an identity all its own thanks to Disney’s fluid and bright animation, aided by Henry Jackman’s solid musical score.
As far as the “Big Hero 6” team goes, the film falls a bit flat. Don’t get me wrong: the main cast does have pretty good chemistry, and the amount of characterization each one gets suffices to make them at least enjoyable, albeit with one or two being a little extraneous. However, the film skips over the moment where they click, both as Hiro’s friends and as a team, as their attack coordination is terrible in one fight, but then, for the final battle, they work cohesively, despite spending no time on practicing or discussing patterns as a group. As a result, we only really get to scratch the surface of them beyond their archetypes; the same goes for the villains. Still, the film strongly delivers where it counts: the relationship between Hiro and Baymax (whom Adist masterfully endows with layers and emotions almost as well as Vin Diesel’s Groot), which is all but guaranteed to make eyes watery as the grieving process and sentiment add up to some emotionally detailed scenes that, while contrasting with the rest of the film’s more typical superhero fair, still feel completely in tone.
Overall, “Big Hero 6” is a vibrant, all-ages film that, despite some more cliché villains and character archetypes, still manages to find its own identity and is worth the ticket price.