‘Big Hero 6’ has heart beneath layers of visual candy


By Hannah Marshall / For The Pitt News

“Big Hero 6”

Directed by: Don Hall and Chris Williams

Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller

Rated: PG for action and peril, some rude humor and thematic elements

Now showing at AMC Loews Waterfront, SouthSide Works

Grade: A-

All the way back in 2009, when a bushy-tailed and gray-free Barack Obama became our president and Beyoncé released “one of the best videos of all time,” according to Kanye West, Disney acquired a little company called Marvel Entertainment. Ever since, the golden age of everything Marvel has dominated the cinematic medium and accumulated repeated financial and critical success. 

“Big Hero 6,” based on a Marvel graphic novel series, is the first Disney foray into the possibilities of feature-length, animated Marvel properties. Whether or not there is a plan to expand the world of “Big Hero 6” into a shared universe, like its live-action counterparts, it’s a wholeheartedly fun family film.

The film is centered on 14-year-old Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), a powerhouse robotic engineer specializing in underground “bot fights.” He has mind-bending intelligence and an abundance of snark that foils him nicely against his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) — a mild-mannered and selfless guy. He tries to convince Hiro to use his genius at the elite San Fransokyo Institute of Technology — and the robotic “healthcare companion” Baymax (Scott Adsit), Tadashi’s magnum opus and one of the most irrevocably sweet characters ever put to film. 

When Hiro’s latest invention, “microbots” — which link together and perform tasks in accordance with the thoughts of their controller — mysteriously goes missing, Hiro and Baymax team up to bring down the masked supervillain they suspect is responsible. Along for the ride are Hiro’s friends, rounding out the titular team of six: cynical Go Go Tomago (Jamie Chung), neurotic Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), sweet-as-sugar Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodriguez) and new-wave hippie Fred (T.J. Miller).

The setting of “Big Hero 6” is one of the film’s most distinct qualities — it’s a blend of East Asian and North American culture that culminates in the city of San Fransokyo. The city serves as an interesting example of family entertainment becoming increasingly aware of the rise in multiculturalism in American families — all of the signs and writing in the film’s world are in Japanese characters, the citizens of San Fransokyo are of all shades and ethnicities and the superhero team itself covers a wide spectrum of ethnicity and personality. 

The invention of San Fransokyo allows for a vibrant atmosphere that, in many ways, forms its own character, and influences the overall feel of the movie. Its color palette is also one of the strongest assets, sporting a strong visual vivacity and a sense of playfulness with the design of the characters, all of whom have distinctive appearances and superhero disguises that also pertain to their personalities. Racecar driver Go Go has a streamlined chrome outfit with massive wheelies for shoes, and geek-culture aficionado Fred sports a costume reminiscent of “The Creature From the Black Lagoon.”

Beyond the surface level, for all of its bright colors and wise-cracking protagonists, “Big Hero 6” has several moments of thematic darkness and pessimism. Death, as well as the conflict between pacifism and violence, serve as the primary themes of the film and are addressed in simple yet poignant ways. Baymax, also Hiro’s closest friend, is essentially his therapist, accompanying him on his increasingly personal and vindictive mission against the masked supervillain. 

Although it’s popcorn fodder and mass entertainment, the film also becomes a study in coping with loss in a healthy manner, with Baymax serving as Hiro’s conscience on his journey toward acceptance. Their tender relationship is enhanced by strong voicework from Potter and Adsit. Potter brings bitterness with undertones of suppressed emotional vulnerability to Hiro, and Adsit’s Baymax is childish in regard to the realities of the world, but he also serves as a father figure and all-sacrificing guardian. The Marvel Universe has set a new bar for sweetness — we’ll have to see if the next “Avengers” follows suit.

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