Disney proper has re-upped their animation game. While cel animation was dying they fell into third place behind the company’s own Pixar and Dreamworks, but films like Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph and especially Frozen reinvigorated the studio. Their latest hit is Big Hero 6, and it was partly sold as their first animated movie done in collaboration with Marvel, which means it involves superheroes. That may have made it an easy sell, but their winning streak continues with a charming tale of a boy and his robot.
Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a troubled young genius who likes to gamble and get in trouble when his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) takes him to his college where Hiro gets inspired to pursue his love of robotics and technology. He crafts microbots, an impressive technology that can create almost anything, and which big businessman Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk) wants for himself. Instead Hiro uses it to get into the school, where he hopes to be under the tutelage of Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell), but instead the presentation room is torched, which kills Callaghan and Tadashi. Hiro, having already lost his parents, hits an emotional low and distances himself from everyone.
It’s then that he unintentionally reactivates Tadashi’s robot Baymax, who is meant to be a health care robot, but after the two discover that a masked criminal has stolen Hiro’s microbots and has plans to use them for something terrible, Hiro begins to transform Baymax into a fighting machine. To help him out, Hiro recruits Tadashi’s friends (played by Jamie Chung, T.J. Miller, Damon Wayans Jr. and Genesis Rodriguez), and then outfits them with tools to help them fight evil, leading to a team of six. It appears that Krei has a secret base where he’s been running some strange tests, and the gang – the six – are going to have to work together to fight this masked man.
I was wary of the film as it starts because it takes an orphan and then kills his brother and mentor, but – though some of the film’s elements will be familiar to those who know The Iron Giant – when it becomes a story about a boy and his robot the film finds the right buttons to push. Baymax is a charming droid, and the film (as so many of these stories do) finds ways to make him more and more human and empathetic as the story goes. Even if he’s acting based on his algorithms, that he is doing it all to make Hiro feel better makes him a great best friend.
The film also has the right balance of tone as though there is definitely a respectful amount of sadness at the loss, it also knows to have fun and funny supporting players, with T.J. Miller given the loudest role as the dumber friend who’s bounding with enthusiasm. Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams also mix in some exciting action sequences, so it’s a very entertaining film.
The biggest knock against the movie is that it is a little familiar. We’ve seen this story before, and as you head into the third act, it’s apparent that motivations can’t be as easy as they seem, so there has to be something of a twist coming, while – due to the nature of the story – there will have to be sacrifices made to have a happy ending. But the film is a pleasant enough ride. Though with the Marvel imprint, one might suspect it would tie into a greater universe, but other than the requisite Stan Lee appearance, this is content to play in its own sandbox (which is a good idea in this case). The good news is if there will be more Marvel-drawn animated films, they got off to a good start.
Disney’s Blu-ray comes with a DVD and digital copy, while the film is presented widescreen (2.35:1) and in 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. This is the very definition of a demo disc, as the presentation is excellent. Extras are limited here, and we’re now in an era where studios don’t actively pursue double dipping, so it’s odd there’s so little. Perhaps with this film and with Frozen, we could see more deluxe versions at a later date, but it seems less likely as we may be done with great home video releases as a rule. The Oscar winning short film Feast is included, and it’s a charming story about a dog and his owner and food, and it’s followed by the making of “The Origin of Big Hero 6: Hiro’s Journey” (15 min.) which glosses through the film. Then there’s “Big Animator 6: The Characters Behind the Characters” (7 min.) that lets the behind the scenes artists talk about the making of the movie. And that’s the meat of the behind the scenes stuff. The best supplement are the four deleted scenes (13 min.) that come with introductions by directors Don Hall and Chris Williams, with two of those are alternate openings as they tried to find their way into the story. Also included is the film’s theatrical trailer.