One reason why I opted to do my blog’s Disney month in November was so it would coincide with the release of Big Hero 6, the latest from Disney’s animation crew. I’ve been really loving the studio’s output from these past few years (Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, and Frozen have all been totally solid to me) and had some pretty high hopes for this one. With the directions that Disney animation has been taking as of late, they seem to be offering a very welcome replacement for Pixar’s gradual downhill slope in quality. But alas, for every Finding Nemo there is a Cars. This film is sweet enough and hits all the marks of a satisfying Disney flick, but blatantly lacks the useful kick needed to propel this to memorable territory.
I’ve made a joke elsewhere where I theorized that the only reason Big Hero 6 was set in the fictional hybrid town of “San Fransokyo” was to justify having white characters with Japanese-sounding names. But in all seriousness, the animation for the backgrounds and special effects are some of the loveliest parts of the film. Having lived in San Francisco for 3.5 years, I could honestly say that a lot of the street scenes really fit the look and feel of downtown SF fairly well. The animation for the action scenes – especially the ones involving robots – are also some of the movie’s strongest points. The ‘bots in general are all pretty awesome in conception and execution, but Baymax is undoubtedly the strongest in such regards. I don’t know what it is about non-sentient characters seemingly equipped with humanly personalities that draws me in so much (see: The Iron Giant, WALL-E), but Baymax could certainly be added to the list of such figures whom I want to be friends with so badly.
The aesthetic development of the main human characters are alright, albeit rather uninteresting – though perhaps not as dull as many the characters themselves. Hiro Hamada could be much more interesting to watch if his personality and development were actually fleshed-out. Instead, we have as bland and typical of a character as any. The relationship he held with his older brother was a really interesting one, as we don’t get that sort of male-to-male bonding in very many kids’ flicks. This is why I was slightly disappointed with the way they cut off that tie so quickly in the film, along with it being such a “Disney” thing to do. With that being said, the way Big Hero 6 deals with the subject of grief was rather nicely done, even though it, once again, becomes less of a major theme as the film progresses.
It’s unsurprising that Big Hero 6 took the route that it did, in its turn in the second half as a more superhero-centered film (especially given Disney’s recent acquiring of the Marvel universe). What is perplexing, however, is that the film was not really marketed as such, at least not from the ads that I saw. I see this as a continuing trend from the studio in not taking non-submissive female characters as something sellable (also why I believe much of Frozen‘s marketing revolved around Olaf). Truthfully, I really liked the major female characters that were presented in this film. They offer young female viewers more options than the sole “traditionally feminine” or “tough girl” caricatures; there are multiple female personalities, which is what I love to see in any picture. What I really hated was the sudden reversion in the final third to a narrative that relied on a passive “damsel in distress” figure who needed to be rescued. I get that a lot about this film takes from video game culture and aesthetic (a trend also seen in Wreck-It Ralph), but such narratives are distractedly sexist and, if nothing else, dreadfully lazy.
Overall, however, I’d say that Big Hero 6 is worth a watch. Boiled down, it’s a fun trip the the movies and a family-friendly flick that I could see anyone enjoying at least a little bit. By the end of the day, however, it’s little more than this. Besides the spellbinding visuals and a few charming characters, it follows many of the typical narrative conventions one could expect of a flick of its kind. It doesn’t do much of anything new to get from point A to point Z, even more embarrassing considering that most of the “twists” in this film can be predicted almost verbatim. In many ways, this felt more like a Dreamworks animated picture than one from Disney, with its lackluster storyline, clumsy human animation, and a sense of humor that won’t generate many laughs from anyone. With that being said, it’s not a bad movie – just a bland one. Hopefully, the second Disney Renaissance will be back up on its feet fairly soon; time will show, however, that Big Hero 6 is one of the more forgettable ones of the bunch.