Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams
Starring Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, TJ Miller, Jamie Chung, James Cromwell
Once Disney bought Marvel Comics lock stock and barrel, corporate synergy made it inevitable that the House of the Mouse’s animation studio would one day bring their vast talents to bear on some kind of Marvel IP. What was surprising was that their first effort would be centred on a fairly obscure superhero team, Big Hero 6. In an inspired move, the creative team stripped the property down to its bare bones and rebuilt it as a coming of age fable about loss, resiliency, friendship and healing. And it’s great.
In the cultural mashup city of San Fransokyo, young robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is helped through his grief over his big brother’s death by Baymax (Scott Adsit), his brother’s robotics project. Baymax is essentially a kind of robot nurse, but when Hiro discovers that a super villain may be responsible for what happened, he rebuilds Baymax into a fighting machine, also recruiting his brother’s university friends to his cause. What follows is both a big, bright, brash adventure and a quite touching meditation on grief and anger.
As a Disney animated project, there was never any doubt that Big Hero 6 was going to look great, but the design here is really singular, incorporating Japanese design elements and futurist lines to create something simultaneously fresh and familiar. It’s a triumph of world building, giving the audience the sense that there is a fully realised universe outside the frame – a trick often attempted, rarely achieved.
That attention to design extends to the characters, with Baymax being the most obvious example. He’s a ridiculously huggable and appealing figure, even when squeezed into his battle armour in the latter part of the film. But he’s also emblematic of how the film as a whole differentiates itself form the recent glut of super hero narratives. Central to this is the idea that Baymax is not a fighter, he is a healer, and from that key notion flows an number of interesting ideas about the nature of heroism. Most importantly, Big Hero 6 isn’t so much about punishing the bad guy as nurturing the hero, which is a refreshing change of pace.
For all that, it’s still an excellent action comedy laugh-out-loud funny and fist-pumpingly exciting in all the right places, so there’s plenty of pure entertainment if that’s all you’re after. But the longevity of Big Hero 6, if it has any, will be down to the deeper ideas it explores and how they resonate with the under-12s who will flock to it this summer.