The kids already know who he is – and they already love him.
Occasionally, film critics and industry folk are encouraged to bring their little ones to check out advance screenings of particularly family-friendly fare. These screenings typically happen at more kid-appropriate times – think ten o’clock on a Saturday morning – and are flooded with loud-mouthed little ones eager to make their opinions heard (even if that opinion amounts to a well-timed “ewww”). It may sound sort of awful, but it’s often an excellent way for a grown film critic to determine if a film’s target audience has actually had their needs met in regards to the entertainment set before them. (On a personal note, I have a distinct memory of going to see Mars Needs Moms on a weekend morning, an experience that was frightening and nauseating both due to the film’s actual content and the hoards of crying children who needed to be removed from the theater. I’ve never been so in tune with an entire audience in my life. We all hated it. We all feared it.)
This week’s animated opener, Big Hero 6, was screened to some critics under these kid-attentive conditions, and the younger set proved to be sharply in tune with the film’s breakout star before the film’s first reel even unfurled. Big Hero 6 hadn’t even started before the kids were cooing about its over-sized robot Baymax, eager to meet him for the first time. Again: the kids already know who he is – and they already love him. They’re right about that.
Big Hero 6 is a relatively straightforward animated tale about friendship, grief, and growing, bolstered by a puffy robot, more than enough tragedy, and the kind of superhero hipness that seems unavoidable at the local multiplex. The feature centers on our, uh, hero, young Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter), who is undeniably engaging, a big-brained kid genius who hasn’t yet found his place in the world (graduating high school at age thirteen would do that for most people). Hiro doesn’t have a lot of ambition, but he does have a way with robots and a cool attitude, two things he uses to great effect while participating in underground bot fighting (imagine Real Steel, just smaller). That’s where we meet Hiro, actually, at a bot fight, wry and clever and totally, totally dominant.
Still, Hiro is just a kid, and when he gets into a scrape with some other fighters, his cool older bother Tadashi (voiced by Daniel Henney) is there to save him. While Hiro doesn’t have direction, Tadashi has a surplus of it – he may always have time for his little brother, but he’s also busy at his “nerd school” (as Hiro dismissively calls it) building a health care companion robot and hanging out with his science-obsessed pals. Once Hiro finally sees those things in action – the lab, the robot, the friends – it sparks something in him. He wants to go to college!
Through a series of glossed over contrivances, Hiro comes up with essentially the world’s coolest science fair project (microbots, which are exactly what they sounds like – mini robots that can do almost anything and are controlled by pure brain power), the key to getting accepted to “nerd school.” Along the way, Hiro bonds with Tadashi’s motley crew of pals – Fred, Go Go, Wasabi, and Honey Lemon – in one of the most abbreviated “hey, here’s our team” montages put to film in quite some time.
The microbots are a success, but their creation has some extremely unforeseen consequences (they are stolen for nefarious purposes), and it’s suddenly up to Hiro and his crew to save the day. Using the powers of science – gosh, this movie is good propaganda for science – the team eventually becomes “Big Hero 6,” and their attempts to be superheroes in a mostly real world are both very funny and appropriately ill-aimed. If Disney wants to make a franchise out of this one, this is a fine start.
The film recalls a whole mess of similar fare – from How to Train Your Dragon and The Iron Giant to The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man, the feature is aware of its DNA, even if some of its longer sequences feel too familiar to really inspire any new emotions in its audience. We’ve experienced the joy of flying before, and although Big Hero 6 nails those kinds of sequences, they’re now too overdone to spark original sentiment. The film may have sprung from a Marvel comic book – and, no, this isn’t a Marvel movie – but it still hearkens back to plenty of Disney fare, too. Mainly because, good God, this thing is sad. Disney has long enjoyed robbing its Princesses of one or more parent, and Hiro falls victim to the same curse. When we meet the Hamada brothers, they’re long-time orphans who live with a charming (if ditzy) aunt (voiced to absolute perfection by Maya Rudolph), a not exactly ideal family situation that will be blown to hell by the time the film’s first act concludes.
Big Hero 6 takes some big risks, willing to let bad things have actual consequences, unafraid to make villains look truly terrifying, and bravely interested in showing all kinds of personality shades in Hiro. Adults may actually be more disturbed by it than kids – the children at my screening were too enamored by the film’s beautiful animations and its crackling humor to perhaps fully process the enormity of some of the things happening on screen – but it has a real emotional resonance that will stick with viewers of all ages.
If nothing else, though, Big Hero 6 is a big-hearted introduction to the health care companion robot Baymax, who gives Guardians of the Galaxy’s Groot a major run for his money in the should-be-an-Oscar-category of Best Sentient Non-Human Sidekick in a Motion Picture. Kids may already be walking into Big Hero 6 eager to see Baymax in action, but they’re going to walk out of the theater utterly obsessed with the big guy. He’s a star – a puffy, inflatable, sentient star, but a star nonetheless. He’s worth the price of admission alone, but the further adventures of the Big Hero 6 (Big Hero 7, anyone?) should be able to build on his wattage for more widespread charms.
Latest posts by Kate Erbland (see all)
- Review: ‘Horrible Bosses 2’ Owes Everything to Strong Cast Chemistry, Not Recycled Plot - November 25, 2014
- Review: Haunting ‘Foxcatcher’ Hunts Down the Depths of the American Dream [NYFF] - November 14, 2014
- Review: ‘Big Hero 6’ Is the World’s Most Effective Baymax Delivery System - November 6, 2014
- Review: Miles Teller Pounds His Way Into Stunning, Drumming New Levels in ‘Whiplash’ - October 10, 2014
- Review: Overwrought ‘Maps to the Stars’ Can’t Stay on Course [NYFF] - October 6, 2014