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Big Hero 6

November 6, 2014
Big Hero 6

Disney is finally making the most of Marvel, which it purchased in 2009. Sure, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been raking in the cash for years now, but can you imagine bringing the newly Pixar-infused Disney animation — source of Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen — and mashing it up with all the fun of a Marvel property like Guardians of the Galaxy? Welcome to Big Hero 6.

Now, there is an actual Marvel comic book with this title, but the movie is all but unrelated. The names and setting are drawn from the book, but the characters and plot are so completely reworked by director Don Hall and writer Jordan Roberts that it’s practically a whole new story. And what a story: a meditation on loss, grief, and healthy recovery in the best Marvel tradition, rendered by Disney in terms that manage to be friendly to a young audience, respecting their intelligence without patronizing them.

Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a robotics prodigy who already graduated high school at 13. He lives in San Fransokyo — a lovingly textured blend of Tokyo and San Francisco — with his aunt (Maya Rudolph) and his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), who studies at the Institute of Technology. But all Hiro wants to do is clean up at the underground bot fights, until Tadashi shows him all the cool stuff going on in his research lab.

There’s GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung), using electromagnetic suspension to make her bike even faster. Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez) is a bubbly chemistry whiz. Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) is a fastidious sort, working wonders with lasers. Tadashi himself is working on an inflatable robotic health care assistant called Baymax (Scott Adsit). And it’s all overseen by the great Professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell).

Star-struck, Hiro will do anything to get into the institute, and he works up an impressive new technology to convince the admissions board, but there’s a terrible explosion and fire at the unveiling robotics fair. With Professor Callaghan trapped, Tadashi runs inside to save him, but doesn’t come back out.

Months later, Hiro stumbles across the Baymax prototype, who begins to treat Hiro’s depression over the loss of his brother. Coincidentally, they discover someone using Hiro’s project, long thought lost in the fire. Hiro and the rest of the gang decide to track down and stop whoever it is, and the comic-obsessed school mascot Fred (T.J. Miller) suggests they do so as a team of technology-driven superheroes. Thus, the Big Hero 6 are born.

The animation is as lush as ever for Disney’s recent work, with plenty of bright colors closer to Ralph than the more delicate blue-grey palette of Frozen. And the action is as fun and exciting as the best of Marvel’s lineup. The two styles are perfectly blended here; it feels as much like a Marvel movie — right down to a Stan Lee cameo and a post-credits stinger — as one from Disney.

And, like both Marvel comics and recent Disney animations, Big Hero 6 offers a surprisingly nuanced lesson on the difference between revenge and recovery. Anger is an entirely natural response, and Hiro would like nothing better than to wreak his vengeance on the greedy industrialist (Alan Tudyk) who clearly stole his work and killed Tadashi in the process. But hastily lashing out usually leads to a backlash that will only make things worse. Dealing carefully and constructively with sadness, anger, fear, and other negative emotions — while not pretending that they don’t exist — is an important step towards maturity that any audience can benefit from.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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