“Big Hero 6” is set in the future, in a hybrid city of Tokyo and San Francisco called “San Fransokyo.” The original Marvel comic books, created by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau, are set in Tokyo — sans San Fran — but hey, why not make the setting half-American?
Because the film will lack grounding, and after the lights come up in the theater, the film will float within the audience’s minds as a vague puddle of apathetic indecision. I apply this to most aspects of the film. Although there are certainly some good parts to the sum, the fact that everything is recycled but masquerading as innovation makes for an ultimately annoying and forgettable family feature.
The film begins with a “bot fight” in which engineers bring homemade robots to underground venues to battle with, hoping to rake in some serious illegal cash. Did you see that recent Hugh Jackman movie about the exact situation? Yeah, neither did I. In any case, it’s a fun intro and revs up the audience. Our protagonist, high-school-grad-at-13 Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), gets in a bit deeper than predicted after his bot fight and is thankfully snatched up by his older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney). They zip away together on his motorcycle, bickering and laughing on their way home. The relationship between Hiro and Tadashi is adorable, authentic and easily the best part of the film.
Hiro isn’t too keen on ceasing illegal activities in favor of going to college, but when his brother takes him to his school, the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, Hiro is captivated by the bells and whistles of scientific projects constructed by Tadashi’s enthusiastic friends. The friends are given great introductions: bubbly Honey Lemon (Gnesis Rodrguez) is all about chemistry, Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) loves lasers, GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung) zooms around on epic bikes and roller blades and Fred (T. J. Miller) is the laid-back school mascot who dreams about dynamic superheroes. Fred’s great, but we don’t get to know much about the rest beyond their primary personality quirks and scientific interests. But hey, they look great! Expect to see them on your neighborhood toy store shelves this holiday season.
At the school, Tadashi shows Hiro his pride and joy: a blow-up robot named Baymax with the purpose of acting as a personal health-care system. When someone says “Ow,” Baymax automatically inflates and is at the ready to scan, diagnose and treat the problem. Baymax is precious, although his lack of facial expression will sadly cause him to fade away in the minds of Disney fans; I am aware that Baymax is a robot, but when one thinks of Wall-E, it’s his hopeful, upturned eyes and trembling claw-hands that spring to mind. Animation is the place where expression reigns supreme. Baymax is a fine character, but slight physiognomic changes would endear him to us tenfold.
After a tragedy that causes Hiro to sink into a depression, Baymax is awoken and seeks to facilitate Hiro’s recovery. When Hiro learns of a plot that may have led to the tragedy, which was originally perceived to be an accident, his verve is back and he, Baymax and Tadashi’s science friends go on a mission to figure things out and potentially right some wrongs.
It’s cute. It’s forgettable. The directors, Don Hall and Chris Williams, have worked on some of Disney’s most mediocre recent works, such as “Bolt,” “Home on the Range,” “The Princess and the Frog” and “Meet the Robinsons.” Most of them aren’t bad; they just aren’t good.
Here we have one-note characters bustling about in what could have been an original film about the process of coping with trauma. In fact, there are a lot of “could-have-beens.” The setting could have been Tokyo, rather than the corniness that is “San Fransokyo” Ñ heck, all the characters could have been Japanese, as was the case in the original comic book series. Baymax could have been a great character with better animation; even Brad Bird’s 1999 “The Iron Giant” incorporated ocular expression into the hulking mass that was the titular character. The flight sequences are flagrant subpar rip-offs of the incredible scenes in Dreamworks’ “How to Train Your Dragon.” The masked villain is irritatingly boring, as is the film’s climax (you may think otherwise, but I was yawning). This movie could have been a stunner! Like “Frozen,” Disney came maddeningly close to something good with “Big Hero 6” but took the easy routes one too many times in the creation process.
Alas. If nothing else, “Big Hero 6” will certainly inspire kids to make homemade volcanoes and trick out their bikes, all the while sporting big grins on their faces. The bright and shiny side characters will give them notions that science is fun, stimulating and invigorating. “Big Hero 6,” unfortunately, on the whole, is none of the above.