Take the best of Disney’s genius at animated storytelling, mix in a generous helping of Marvel’s knack for superhero comedy, and throw in a smidgen of Pixar’s ability to tug at heartstrings, and you have this year’s best superhero movie: Big Hero 6. That’s right, in a year that has produced Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, we can confidently say that Big Hero 6 ranks above them, and is a unique addition to the genre.
Long story short, Walt Disney Animation Studios adapts one of Marvel Comics’ most obscure superhero teams and transforms them into the stars of a film that will delight both young and old alike, regardless of gender or race. Big Hero 6 may very well prove to be Disney’s biggest hit yet, surpassing Frozen.
Find out exactly why we’re so enthused about Big Hero 6, in our spoiler-free review under the cut.
As one of the few fans of the original Marvel Comics characters, I thought it would be difficult to appreciate how drastic an adaptation the movie promised to be – but I dare say that the film is far superior to the comics simply because Disney distilled and retained the essence of the comic book team even though they discarded everything else.
In the comics, Big Hero 6 is the government-sponsored, privately-managed national superhero team of Japan, including a couple of former criminals. The movie naturally does away with this overly complicated premise, and Wasabi (voiced by Damon Wayans, Jr.), GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung), Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez) and Fred (T.J. Miller) are all members of an elite robotics college programme at San Fransokyo Tech. Well, everyone but Fred. Fred’s… uh… special.
Working together with them is Tadashi Hamada (Daniel Henney), who is original to the film. Tadashi and his younger brother Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) are orphans, but while Tadashi is the mature, well-adjusted one, Hiro is a bit of a spoilt brat in a teen rebel phase. Both of them are robotics geniuses, except Tadashi invests his gifts in San Fransokyo Tech and Hiro is a fan of underground bot fighting.
In another deviation from the comics, it is Tadashi, not Hiro, who creates Baymax (Scott Adsit), an inflatable “Healthcare Companion” robot. As anyone who has seen the trailers will tell you, Baymax is clearly the real hero of the movie, and quite possibly every kid’s new favourite character, giving Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon and Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy a run for their money.
I appreciated how the brains behind the animated Big Hero 6 chose to retain much of the comic book characters’ defining personalities when adapting them: Honey Lemon is friendly and caring, GoGo Tomago is gruff and doesn’t suffer fools, Hiro and Baymax have a close, almost familial relationship. While the original comics characters are all Japanese, the film’s original setting of San Fransokyo allows for a racial diversity rarely seen in other animated films. The best part is, at no point in the film does anyone draw attention to it – it expects the audience to take at face value that a multi-racial superteam is perfectly normal in San Fransokyo.
Ultimately, Big Hero 6, like the comics (and just about every family friendly movie since time immemorial) is about the adolescent Hiro’s journey, the monomyth of seperation, initiation and return.
Despite its comic book roots, and its superhero team premise, there’s actually very little of Marvel in Big Hero 6. Strangely enough, that very lack of a Marvel presence is what makes this film succeed. Recent announcements reveal that superhero movies over the next six years are essentially sequels, spin-offs or at least tied-in to a larger universe. In that light, Big Hero 6 is a breath of fresh air in a way that even Guardians of the Galaxy couldn’t be. Straddling a fine line between paying homage to its comic book roots and distancing itself from them, the movie more than manages to stand on its own. In fact, the only overt reference to Marvel in any form we spotted was a blink and miss cameo, one that got expanded in a head-scratcher of a stinger. (Yes, like any good Disney/Marvel movie, always stay till after the credits!)
Big Hero 6 is a fun comedy-adventure that is also capable of several very emotional moments. I’m not ashamed to admit that there were times I came close to crying and one time when I actually teared. The heartstring-tugging scenes are few, but they’re so superbly done that they never feel out of place amidst the general wackiness of the movie. Of course, I’m not going to spoil anything, but definitely bring tissue.
That is not to say that there weren’t parts when the movie fell flat. Reminiscent of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, the time spent introducing and bringing together the team meant less time to really develop the villain, Yokai aka Kabuki Mask. The other supporting characters, Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph), Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell) and Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk) were also insufficiently developed, leaving them two-dimensional at best, which is a real pity considering their voice actors’ experience.
But these quibbles really don’t distract much from how enjoyable Big Hero 6 really is. It’s a solid 9/10 for me.
Big Hero 6 opens in Singapore, November 13th!