Disney’s films have defined our culture since almost a hundred years. Their ‘Princess’ based movies have been Childhood 101 for pretty much everyone on this planet with access to cinema. While very successful, their shtick was getting old. People grew tired of seeing princesses in animation. Disney needed to do something else – it was time for a change. The moment Disney bought Pixar and Marvel, that change finally took form. They delivered Tangled, which was a satire of the princess genre, then there was Wreck it Ralph, a complete narrative departure from Disney, last year we got Frozen which kicked animation film gender clichés in the nuts. Today Disney makes its first stab at the superhero genre, and the results are superb.
Big Hero 6 is what we’ve been waiting for Disney to make all these years. It’s the first Marvel property movie Disney has attempted to film, and they’ve done it in a lot of style. It’s Disney’s answer to Pixar’s The Incredibles. Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, Big Hero 6 is a superhero origin story, that subtly parodies the origin story genre, and still offers enough standalone straightforward storytelling. And it’s about robots. It really is quite epic.
The first thing you’ll notice about the film is its stunning locales which are a combo of two different cultures. It’s set in a retro futuristic mashup between San Francisco and Tokyo – a town named San Fransokyo. Everything in the film is a mixture between the dark visual flair of a manga and the good old Hollywood blockbuster. The people are all Japanese-American. The streets are Californian, but have Japanese signboards and lamps. Even the Golden Gate bridge has Pagoda ridges.
We’re introduced to Hiro Hamada, a fourteen year old supergeek supergenius who spends most of his time indulging in underground robot fights. His elder brother Tadashi, an even bigger genius realizes that Hiro could spend his time doing something more constructive, so he introduces Hiro to his science lab. Hiro, bowled over by the wonderland full of strange experiments gets seamlessly integrated into the program Tadashi works in. A tragedy soon strikes and Hiro is unwittingly set in a chain of events that turns him and his friends into a superhero team.
Big Hero 6 is very funny. So even when it does pander to the clichés of the genre, it does it in a hilarious enough way to make you forget that it’s a cliché you’re watching. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun – there’s robots, futuristic gizmos, lasers, basically everything your inner child hopes for in a film. And it’s not just for children, the execution is so good even adults will find something interesting to look at. Not to mention the animation on display – Disney has developed new rendering technology for this film and it really is gold standard. As always, watching it in 2D instead of 3D would be the ideal scenario.
The film is also perfectly poised – there is a rock solid balance between joy and sorrow in the film. A lot of animation films have jarring emotional tonal shifts – every time something sad happens the films goes down and suddenly picks up out of the blue, forgetting everything that happened before. We saw that problem most recently How To Train Your Dragon 2. Big Hero 6 nails the transition – there is a death in the film but somehow the film eases you into the emotions rather than hitting you with them. It doesn’t manipulate you – it takes you into its story and characters.
The characters are a lot of fun - the camaraderie between Hiro and his buddies is quite entertaining. There’s Gogo, a Goth girl who specializes in electromagnetic wheel axles; Wasabi, who is a master of laser knives; Honey Lemon, a chemistry wiz, and Fred, who has no special skills as such except being incredibly rich and hilarious. The villain is quite menacing to look at, although unfortunately his identity ceases to be a mystery if you look hard enough. It makes the finale, although visually spectacular, a bit disappointing compared to the rest of the film.
What you won’t be disappointed by, is Hiro’s robot in the film – Baymax. The jokes on his overweight nature are a wee bit reminiscent of Panda Po, but fun nonetheless. The bond between Hiro and Baymax rivals the one between The Iron Giant and the kid. The film, through Baymax’s punchline asks you ‘are you satisfied with your care’? You’ll not only be satisfied, but also be furiously Googling Baymax action figures as soon as you leave the theater.
(First published in Firstpost)