BIG HERO 6. Voices of Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller. Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams. 102 minutes.Rated PG (Mild themes and animated violence).
Disney Animation’s latest feature is loosely based on a series of Marvel comic books about a talented young robot inventor and his sidekick/secret weapon Baymax, a large marshmallow-like healthcare companion which he upgrades to include karate and a carbon fibre exoskeleton. Like Baymax, the film is funny and easy to enjoy, plus capable of raising the pulse in some thrilling set pieces.
The real hero of the film is arguably science. Our protagonist is Hiro Hamata (Ryan Potter), a 13-year-old prodigy who lives with his older brother and aunt in futuristic San Fransokyo. Hiro creates and fights with his own ‘battle-bots’, hustling fighters twice his age. His older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) does his best to protect Hiro and encourages him to follow his path and attend a cutting edge robotics university. After introducing Hiro to his inventor friends and his major project, the robot Baymax (Scott Adsit), Tadashi convinces Hiro to go to the university. To be accepted, Hiro has to make an impression at their annual science fair, and sets about creating a vast fleet of microbots which are controlled telepathically.
After blowing away the judges, catastrophe strikes when a fire breaks out. Tadashi – returning into the blaze to save their professor – is killed when an explosion destroys the hall and Hiro’s microbots. With his brother lost, Hiro becomes depressed and isolates himself from human contact, until one day he accidentally reactivates Baymax. The film’s design is extremely impressive. The city of San Fransokyo is a blend of Japanese high-rises and other Oriental influences, melded with the rambling charm of San Francisco with its trams and iconic bridge. Baymax too has been engineered for maximum appeal – adorably bouncy and naïve, he is the film’s beating heart despite not being blessed with his own emotions.
They find a lone microbot, which is pulled mysteriously towards an abandoned warehouse. They are suddenly attacked by a whole swarm of the microbots, controlled by a mysterious figure in a kabuki mask, and make a miraculous escape. Hiro is convinced that the mystery villain was responsible for lighting the fire as a cover to steal his microbots, and joining with Tadashi’s friends, he turns the group into a team of high-powered, robotically-enhanced superheroes to take down the villain. The thing which sets the film apart from the stable of countless superhero origin stories is its focus on science and knowledge as power. If anything, the real superhero in ‘Big Hero 6’ is science, and its collection of characters are a welcome change from the usual filmic portrayal of stale ‘nerds’. Of course the plot isn’t entirely original, and Tadashi’s friend Fred (T.J. Miller) is happy to pass meta comments about their adventure using his breadth of comic book consumption. However, when the end result is this fun, it’s a fine way to adapt a set formula, particularly for younger crowds who aren’t quite up to Marvel and DC’s adult output.
While the narrative ‘twist’ didn’t quite knock me for six, it will likely be enough to shock younger viewers. This is somewhat representative of the film as a whole – it won’t be older viewers’ favourite comic-book adaptation, but it’s an extremely likable diversion which will doubtlessly thrill the kids being chaperoned. Bring on ‘Big Hero 7’ I say!
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out December 26.