Combustible Celluloid
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With: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph (voices)
Written by: Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, Jordan Roberts, Don Hall, Paul Briggs, Joseph Mateo, based on the comic by Duncan Rouleau, Steven T. Seagle
Directed by: Don Hall, Chris Williams
MPAA Rating: PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements
Running Time: 108
Date: 11/07/2014

Big Hero 6 (2014)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Superhero movies are the movie industry's bread and butter now. They know that they can crank out just about anything and people will come. So many of them are so half-hearted, made by people who just don't care, and lured by the super-size paychecks. But animated movies are flourishing. It takes so long to make them that the scripts need to be in tip-top shape before production even begins. Now we get an animated superhero movie, and it has more heart, more fun, and more laughs than most of the last dozen live-action superhero flicks.

Big Hero 6 is the fifty-fourth official Disney animated feature, and it takes advantage of the company's merger with Marvel Comics, offering an animated kids' version of a comic book miniseries from 1998. Directed by Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh) and Chris Williams (Bolt), the movie begins as young Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) uses his big brain to built fighting robots for seedy gambling dens. (His ridiculous looking toy-doll robot actually has enough moves to take down the most vicious, weapon-laden machines.)

His older brother Tadashi (voice by Daniel Henney) rescues him from a gang of angry gamblers and talks him into going to "nerd school," i.e. a university where his skills can be put to good use in serving mankind. Tadashi, for example, has built a health care robot called Baymax (Scott Adsit), shaped like a big white marshmallow. To gain acceptance to the school, Hiro invents a bunch of microbots that can be controlled via a headset and ordered to do just about anything. An evil corporation becomes interested in buying them, an accident occurs, and Hiro is put into a position where he must try to save the world from his own invention.

He retrofits Baymax into a flying, fighting machine, and recruits his brother's schoolchums to help. There's Wasabi (voiced by Damon Wayans Jr.), who specializes in laser cutters; Honey Lemon (voiced by Genesis Rodriguez) an expert in goopy, colorful chemicals; Go Go Tomago (voiced by Jamie Chung), who builds electromagnetic stabilizers; and the school mascot Fred (voiced by T.J. Miller). To be honest, I was impressed that this cast seemed to have been hired for their abilities to play the parts rather than their marquee value.

The movie almost sheepishly, knowingly sets up the origin story, leading to a bungled first attempt to nab the bad guy, a mysterious man in a kabuki mask. They must then learn teamwork, and Hiro must learn what it is that he wants, exactly. Is it revenge? Or something more positive? Through all of this, our filmmakers (and a team of writers) keep just the right flow of good, smart humor -- with a mix of sound effects and silliness for younger kids -- with genuine, heartfelt warmth. Maya Rudolph provides the voice of Aunt Cass, who takes care of her orphaned nephews and lives over a cafe that she runs. When she's forced to discipline them, you can just feel the love dripping from her line readings.

Unsurprisingly, the movie looks and sounds great with wonderful stretch-squash characters and a colorful, mind-blowing cityscape that combines San Francisco and Tokyo into "San Frantoyko." A chase scene and a learning-to-fly sequence are quite dazzling, even as they help to advance the characters and plot. It's a movie that celebrates all the good stuff in life, thinking for yourself, being creative, but also being part of a team or a family and helping others. In a year where most sci-fi movies are warning against the apocalypse, it's really nice to see one that just wants to give you a hug.

Big Hero 6 won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature just as Disney's new Blu-ray arrives. It's absolutely superb, both aurally and visually, and it includes the delightful Oscar-winning animated short Feast (two Oscars for the price of one!) The extras are a little slim, but still entertaining. Jamie Chung (the voice of Go Go) hosts a kid-friendly behind-the-scenes look at the movie. There's a round-table discussion among the filmmakers and designers, some "deleted scenes" (pencil sketches), and a trailer.

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