With the voices of Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans, Jr., James Cromwell. Written by Robert L. Baird & Daniel Gerson and Jordan Roberts. Directed by Don Hall, Chris Williams. Rated PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements.108 minutes.
What’s distinctive about BIG HERO 6 is that it is the first Disney animated film that comes out of their having acquired the Marvel Comics properties. Closer in sensibility to “Guardians of the Galaxy” than “The Avengers,” it’s yet another group of misfits who band together as superheroes. There is much to recommend it, but it is a variation on a theme and not a stunning work of originality.
Hiro (voice of Ryan Potter) is a young genius who lives with his college age brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) and builds cutting edge robot technology. A mysterious accident leaves him suddenly alone, but inheriting Baymax (Scott Adsit), a walking, talking medical device that his brother invented who looks like the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man in “Ghostbusters.” Hiro discovers that someone has stolen his own invention and decides to take action. Enter the Scooby Gang–excuse me, the self-proclaimed nerds who worked with his brother–who join forces to help him.
The story follows Hiro, Baymax, Fred (T. J. Miller), Go Go (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) as they pursue a villainous figure in a kabuki mask. They eventually craft costumes to go along with the powers and scientific discoveries they have developed. This being a Disney film, the end should not be in doubt.
The core of the film is the relationship between Hiro and Baymax, which is similar to the 1999 film “The Iron Giant,” also about a young boy and a robot. Baymax is essential a diagnostic nursemaid but Hiro programs him to utilize karate and become a fighting machine. If there’s any message among the action sequences it is that it’s wrong to sink to the level of one’s enemies, and when Hiro transforms the gentle Baymax into a killing machine he realizes he’s made a mistake.
It’s goofy entertainment, and there’s even the fun of seeing Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee doing his expected cameo in an animated film. (Hint: stick around through the very long closing credits.) The film also gets point for its cultural diversity of characters. Hiro and Tadashi are of Japanese heritage but this is offered up matter-of-factly, not as a “special” Disney film with Asian characters like “Mulan.” If any point is being made it’s that science is cool and that nerds are too.
Yet beyond that it’s hard to say the film is breaking any new ground. The story could easily have been a “Scooby Doo” episode with Baymax replacing the mangy dog. The characters are engaging but hardly original. “Big Hero 6” works precisely because it seems so familiar, with just enough fresh spin so that it feels like something new rather than a rerun. Go and enjoy, but don’t let anyone try to convince you this is the animation event of the year.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.