Loneliness has been a growing thread in the last few films from Walt Disney Animation Studios. And whilst, at first glance, Big Hero 6 is a very different turn that’s been taken, it bears some familiar themes, explored from a different perspective.
If Wreck-It Ralph, then, gave us the extraordinary Vanellope von Schweetz (still probably my favourite new Disney character of recent times) and Frozen homed in on two sisters torn apart, Big Hero 6 turns to a boy genius by the name of Hiro. Courtesy of an impressive opening sequence, it’s clear that Hiro is a young man schooled in BBC 2’s Robot Wars, as he takes his latest invention into a robot battle, with his ‘bots’ emerging victorious.
Those bots, though, will get him into trouble.
With dashes of Meet The Robinsons, it’s Hiro’s brother, Tadashi, that persuades him to use his brains and his ideas more constructively. It’s a lot of story told very quickly that we get at the start here, and it’s to the credit of directors Chris Williams and Don Hall that they cover so much ground so effectively. The scene setting proves important when a sizeable twist happens surprisingly early in the film, one that sadly has been roundly spoiled even in the film’s promotion. But it’s something that deepens what’s to come.
Then there’s the character of Baymax. When we get robots in modern Hollywood blockbusters, they tend to be rampaging monsters, or threats, or standing with a gun in their hand to defend their human chums. There are exceptions – Robot And Frank springs to mind – but there’s generaly something about the western interpretation of a robot (Rocky IV aside, natch) that lends itself to being a weapon of sorts.
Baymax leans east, though, an inflatable healthcare assistant in robot form. He’s one that has some software upgrades as the film goes on, but in his purest form, he’s the absolute trump card of Big Hero 6. In a film that often zips quickly, and with some rip-roaring action sequences, time is made early on to slow things right down for Baymax’s – and our – benefit. It’s here that the film is at its strongest. In fact, as is the case with many ‘genesis’ movies, it’s the formation of the hero characters that proves more satisfying then when they head into action.
For, as you probably know, Big Hero 6 is based on a little-known Marvel property. Originally set in Tokyo, the team here have moved it to a hybrid city. Thus, the Japanese capital has been mashed up with San Francisco, and the results are genuinely jaw-dropping. There are umpteen freeze-frame moments, where you wish you could just stop and admire the background detail, as two differing cultural aesthetics sit side by side in the same shot. The technology Disney now uses affords us some excellent cityscapes, and there’s a real sense of scale. Furthermore, there’s also a villain who, on first appearance in particular, has a chilling look about him.
Yet it’s the first two thirds of the film that really deliver here. When the focus is on Hiro, and his relationship with Baymax (a kind of surrogate relative mechanic, with more than a hint of Terminator 2 about it) then the exploration of finding your way through lonely times really resonates. In the last third, when the team of heroes gradually assembles and goes off to do battle, it’s certainly fun, and the visuals – and Henry Jackman’s score – justify seeking out a well-equipped cinema. It’s just it feels, notably, the least interesting part of the film, and its plot reveals towards the end don’t feel as surprising and impactful as they perhaps should.
Still, there’s lots and lots to like here, with an energy, confidence and depth to the film that surprises and never fails to entertain. And a quick tip: as is becoming par for the course, it’s worth sitting through the extensive end credits for a nice treat that’s hidden there.
It’s all – somewhat inevitably – primed for a sequel. Time will tell if the best part of the Big Hero 6 story has already been told. For now, this will do nicely.
Big Hero 6 is in UK cinemas from January 30th.
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