Big Hero 6

Directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams
Starring Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell & Maya Rudolph
In UK Cinemas January 30th, 2015

by Richard Hamer

Right near the start of Disney’s latest animated offering Big Hero 6, there is a scene of literally explosive tragedy. The kind typical of any Disney movie; the almost contractually obliged ‘sad bit’ that kickstarts the story’s emotional arc and drives the characters to action.  As it faded to black on this particular scene, a lone child in the audience shouted to her parent, in a tone of genuine alarm, “what just happened?”. Her cry really stuck with me, because while on many levels it’s exactly the movie you’d expect it to be, Big Hero 6 stands out for one reason:  While death, and loss, occur in every Disney feature, Big Hero 6 is about it.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great big, fun, family movie, and one that can be heartily recommended on that basis alone. But it’s also touching in ways you don’t entirely expect, sad without being mawkish, moral without being moralising.  Central to this is the dynamic between its two lead characters Hiro Hamada, a teenage computer genius who has recently suffered a great loss, and Baymax; a hilariously fat, inflatable “personal healthcare companion” robot that he has inherited. As Hiro struggles to come to terms with what has happened to him, Baymax scans him, hugs him and refuses to go away until his patient says to him “I am satisfied with the standard of my care”.

Their friendship is never less than touching. As Hiro goes to increasingly extreme lengths to get back at those responsible for his loss (“This is a revenge story!” as one of his friends knowingly remarks), Baymax is there to softly, in a voice as soothing as a thousand puppies, keep him from straying too far onto the path of violence.  Its message on the value of friendship and the futility of revenge is nothing new of course, but here it’s given room to breathe. This isn’t a movie where token tragedy is an excuse to build a giant robot and kick some arse – this is a movie where tragedy hangs over everything like a shadow, and even when Hiro is kicking arse with a giant karate fighting robot, it’s all part of the grieving process.

Thankfully it’s also really funny. Baymax is a wonderful creation; rotund and balloon-like in both shape and material, his gentle, slow moving buffoonery the hook for all manner of great slapstick. Scenes of Baymax trying to navigate small rooms, deflate to get through windows, or simply waddling around like a baby Penguin are milked for all their comedic worth.  He’s also disarmingly nice, giving warm hugs that fill the screen, and stealing entire scenes with the simplest, joyfully naive remark. If Olaf probably gets the best laugh in all of Frozen just by saying “Do you think she knows how to knock?”, Baymax achieves similar things with a single, innocent cry of “Uh-Oh”.

Once the action kicks into high gear, things take a slide into the predictable. For all it has going for it, Big Hero 6 can’t entirely avoid the common pitfalls of comic book origin stories. After what is essentially an hour of set-up, the big action set pieces feel somewhat perfunctory – if stunningly animated – the team progressing from ‘small circle of ordinary college students’ to an effective, organised crime-fighting force with unconvincing ease.

But ultimately, Big Hero 6 is hugely satisfying. It doesn’t feel destined for classic status in the same way as Frozen, but its heady mix of common Disney tropes, all carefully homed within in an inch of their lives, is practically irresistible.

Big Hero 6 is simple, but fun, funny and has a lot of heart. Baymax: I am very satisfied with the standard of my care.

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