Big Hero 6, the latest animated film from Disney, feels as cozy and familiar as a child’s lovie blankie. Unfortunately, it’s about as exciting.
The material is well-trod, the story oft-told, and the characters familiar, but children don’t mind in the same way that they don’t mind hearing the same bedtime story every night. The story is told well, the characters are fun and relatable and everyone drifts off with a sense of well-being.
It doesn’t aspire to, nor does it meet, the heady heights of Up or Toy Story or the zany joy of The Lego Movie. Those films felt fresh and new and universal. They could hold their own against adult dramas and even compete for an Oscar for Best Picture.
They can’t all be transcendent, I guess.
We meet Hiro Hamada (voice of Ryan Potter) as a teenage future delinquent who uses his vast intelligence to build robots to compete in illegal underworld robot cage matches. His adored older brother Tadashi (voice of Daniel Henney) goes to school at the local tech college. At the college’s free-flowing tech lab, he introduces Hiro to the magical world of STEM and a Hiro’s love affair with tech is born. He also inherits a ready-made family in the quirky braniacs who inhabit his the lab. Tadashi’s project involves a squishy, lovable medical robot named Betamax (Scott Adsit), designed to activate at signs of injury and meet people’s health needs. He’s a ER response team and sympathetic nurse in an unthreatening balloon body.
But there is greed and evil afoot. Soon the wacky tech students are pitted against a malignant force with nothing but the power of science to save the day.
If all this sounds like an after school special to get kids to study science, it is. But it’s cool. The animators capture the wonders and heady possibilities of that region of science where yesterday’s magic is today’s reality. These kids, in the film and their counterparts in real life, are tomorrow’s Steve Jobs, creating the wonders of the future. They make things faster, smoother, brighter, awesomer. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
That’s fun, but the most creative and fun part of the movie is also it’s most original: The setting. The story takes place in San Franokyo, a made-up place that echoes both San Francisco and Tokyo. It’s never explicitly stated, but Hamada brothers are mixed Caucasian and Japanese. With fun blends like dungeness crab sushi or cable cars sporting paper lanterns, the setting becomes an homage to both a great American city and the heritage of the Japanese who largely built it. There’s a wry joke around every corner and several types of food that should exist if they don’t already. The animation showing the city and the bay is beautiful and gives the best moments in the movie.
Unfortunately, the plot is much more derivative than the setting. Hero suffers a big loss? Check. A mysterious villain threatens the city and the science-y kids must team up with superhero science-y suits to save it? Check. Baymax shows the true meaning of heroism? Check and double-check.
It’s a little bit How to Save Your Dragon and a little bit Incredibles.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Movies can get away with repetition if they do the repetition well. Adults won’t exactly be bored watching this movie, but neither will they be inspired. Kids will enjoy it but it’s unlikely to be a treasured classic from their childhood.
Rated PG, the film has some unlawful but not scary activity in the beginning that is never fully repudiated. There is a big loss, which might be disturbing to young children, and some peril. There is no romance of any sort or sexuality. It’s clean family fun, but not much more than that.